28 Mar 2018

What the Russian Embassy can teach us about social media

Everyone is trying to increase their social reach. A lot of people don’t exactly quite know why but they know it’s good for business. We do all know that we need to connect with audiences and enrich their lives by informing, entertaining or educating them and demonstrate our relevance, but then an algorithm changes and we question the whole point of it all – again.

The nagging question for every business is whether social is being done right. Are you serving relevant content to extend that reach? Does your content resonate?

Enter a real-life Tom Clancy novel for social media lessons.

While Russia was busy poisoning people on British soil (allegedly), and western democracies were busy condemning them, the Russian Embassy was giving a clinic in social media.

The attacks on ex-Russian spies living in Britain came just before Russia’s election where Vladimir Putin won by yet-another-landslide. Despite his country’s record poverty, the Russian strongman’s enduring charisma has earned him a record term matched only by another pillar of Russian history – Josef Stalin.

Observers say the Russian state-sponsored attacks on British soil helped Putin’s popularity (as if it could be bigger!), and the official Russian social media played a key role.

For years, the @Russian Embassy has relished the opportunity to showcase a famed dry wit.

Sergei’s Skripal’s poisoning created a war of words from aghast western democracies, and flippantly effective responses from the Russian Embassy. Now I’m not minimising the seriousness of an attack on an ex-KGB agent who defected to Britain and faced repercussions for it… but it was hard to remain po-faced at the responses from the Russian Embassy.

So, with our moral compass firmly pointed at “Bad Russia, Bad”, it’s worth looking at how they responded, why it was effective in the circumstances – and what you can take away.

Be funny to connect with people

One thing that transcends borders is humour. It’s a universal glue binding humanity. Funny is funny. Sure, different people think different things are funny, but when something is funny and someone bleats “Blah-blah, inappropriate, serious, important blah-blah…” those people generally don’t Get Funny. Don’t get me wrong, they laugh at things, they’re human after all. But they aren’t usually Proper Funny.

Russia contends that since Skripal defected, he was really a British spy poisoned in Britain, not a Russian spy as reported. Basically: “he’s not our spy anymore, it’s got nothing to do with us.” Haw-haw.

Russian TV backed this up with newsreaders announcing that Britain looks like a very dangerous place for people who betray Russia; all these weird things keep happening to them; you should avoid going to Britain if you’re thinking of betraying Russia coz it’s just not safe there.

Russian humour level: Gangsta
Don’t take yourself too seriously

Brands are not great at being roasted. People aren’t great at it either. Despite the notion that Aussies are just knock about larrikans who take the p!$$, I think we all know that concept is stretched.

Russian Embassy UK shows us that when you’re being sprayed with the full force of…everything, just roll with it because at some point it’s just kind of funny in a mad way.

In just two words and an exclamation point, the Russian Embassy seems approachable and connects with stunning likeness. Everyone knows what it’s like to be told off by an authority figure. Somehow, they evoked a universal suffering, diminished a UK minister, and made us snigger.

Russian humour level: Oscar Wilde
Be topical even if its not about your specific space

The Russian Embassy would normally be expected to be very serious and comment on domestic and geopolitics in a way that interests no one – like every other Embassy, or indeed all government departments.

Not this Russian Embassy. This Russian Embassy informs and educates, but also entertains. Yes, they post critical updates about what’s happening in Syria with heartbreaking images, and make cultural defences against accusations surrounding dirty Russian money being readily accepted by British interests when it suits. But there’s also this:

Your audience doesn’t always need something that’s directly related to your product or service. Sometimes showing some personality garners social reach that exposes you to new audiences.

Russian humour level: Strayan-as mate. Cold is to Vodka as Heat is to Beer.
Be fearless when confronted

As we’ve mentioned, brands, institutions, people are rarely at their best when confronting a crisis.

Things are serious, responses get serious. Participant groups in a royal commission or ICAC enquiry rarely start cracking wise on Twitter after a day of grilling. That wouldn’t be responsible, someone would say.

Does a country have any more or less to lose than a brand? Arguably more. A country relies on buyers and sellers on a massive scale. The positioning of a country is arguably no different to any brand, institution or personality which is also in the business of selling to a market.

Yet when most brands are faced with confronting subject matter, they are rarely confident enough to be fearless.

Fearlessness doesn’t have to be aggressive, arrogant or belligerent. When the Russian Embassy is confronted with an onslaught of bad news, they just described it – with viral content so cool it had icicles.

Russian humour level: Russian AF

Be funny, be approachable, be confident. Those are the social lessons from the Russian Embassy. Because if a corrupt regime of smiling assassins can make propaganda seem delightful, imagine what your brand could do.

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