Marketing 7 min read

What Media Companies Can Learn From Russia Today

Russia Today is certainly one of the most controversial news sources out there at the moment -- but what is it doing right? | Image by Di Pe3k | Shutterstock

Russia Today is certainly one of the most controversial news sources out there at the moment -- but what is it doing right? | Image by Di Pe3k | Shutterstock

Millenials are a demographic who are increasingly more politically aware. The majority of young people get their news online and aren’t afraid to challenge traditional viewpoints.

Russia Today, or RT, is a media company who is aware of the power of millennials. Regardless of their message, RT’s marketing strategies show that they understand just how political young people are.

Today, technology and data transfer make opportunities for sharing information boundless. The result is a drastic change in how information is received, consumed, transferred, and perceived.

Thanks to the internet and social media, businesses can transfer information directly to their target audience. On the other hand, audiences want high-quality resources that are accessible at any time. This shift has made consumers become more demanding.

Although the internet has affected the majority of people’s experience with media, the movement has been led by younger generations. The 16-24 year old demographic was the first to normalize social media. This movement has pushed new media platforms to the forefront of journalism and marketing.

Young people get their news on social media and other online platforms.
Younger generations seek news online rather than turning to traditional journalism. | Image by metamorworks | Shutterstock

In a recent article, we looked at how many companies now have a social media marketing strategy in place and many marketers are targeting 16-24-year-olds. The major shift made us ask if millennials could harness this power to drive politics and whether or not they should be allowed to have a say in the society they are already active players in.

This time around, we take a closer look at how Russia Today, or RT, is one major company that has recognized just how much of an impact young people can have on politics. We also see how RT’s successful digital marketing strategy harnesses millennials’ online habits to ensure their own success.

Read More: How Will Millennials be a Driving Force in Politics?

What’s Russia Today?

In case you’re not familiar, Russia Today, or RT is an international Russian television and news network. Funded by the Russian government, Russia Today was launched in 2005 to showcase “a Russian viewpoint on global events”.

RT broadcasts everything from around-the-clock news bulletins, to talk shows, to sporting events in Russian, English, Arabic, German, and French. It could be described as the Russian equivalent of soft-power television stations like the BBC, France 24, and CCTV.

RT target youth with their online strategies, including their website shown here.
RT target youth with an ethos of questioning more. | Image by Jarretera | Shutterstock

RT television channel reaches about 382 million weekly viewers and also posts content on social media along with a successful YouTube channel. While there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the network’s political agenda, RT’s online media platform has come under less scrutiny.

How Does RT Target Youth?

RT’s online platforms reach millions of people every week. The main theme of their online content is questioning. The ethos of RT’s online campaign that spans social media focuses on sowing mistrust towards well-established mainstream media and news sources.

RT’s main Instagram account bio reads ‘RT is broadcasting the news the mainstream would rather not. Question More’. While their sister account ICYMI prides itself on ‘ [taking] a sideways glance at the details you missed lurking in the crevices of the week’s big stories’.

RT target youth using Instagram. RT's Instagram bio promises to 'question more'.
RT’s Instagram accounts are marketed towards young people. | Image taken from RT Instagram

Their social media platforms speak to those who mistrust, who question, and who feel misunderstood.

RT established themselves online as an alternative news source young people can turn to.

RT uses internet culture to connect with young people. The direction they take on Instagram continues across their social media accounts. Their content ranges from fresh unregulated takes on mainstream news to live stream coverage of protests all splattered with snarky memes and trending hashtags.

They promote their articles laden with gifs via Instagram stories and use hashtags to harness community responses. They keep up to date with online trends and make fun of them in their commentaries.

The tabloid-esque headlines scream for attention in the attempt to go viral. Their extreme takes on topics deter from the respectful tone of traditional journalism. RT’s online content blends seamlessly into our Facebook newsfeeds but would stand out in stark contrast in any broadsheet.

Examples of RT target youth on social media using memes, screaming headlines, and emojis.
Posts from RT’s and ICYMI’s social media pages show how their marketing strategy targets youth, often poorly. | Images taken from RT’s and ICYMI’s Instagram accounts.

With media manufactured for the internet, it’s RT’s way of saying, “we get it” to the always online youth.

Russia Today’s target audience is made particularly apparent on their YouTube channels. It’s clear that Russia Today is very aware that by next year, an astonishing 80% of all web content will be video based. Virtually all of their anchors are under the age of 35 and usually witty and sarcastic. They aren’t afraid to poke fun at the most serious news stories. Their YouTube news segments also make use of onscreen emoji reactions that can only be tailored to the smartphone-addicted youth.

It’s clear that RT knows their niche inside out. Regardless of their message, their strategy for delivering news to the 16-24 year old demographic is forward-thinking and effective.

Why Does Russia Today Target Youth?

It seems that Russia Today has kept up to date with trends. In Russia, internet usage increased by 61% between 2012-2015. This trend is not just happening in Russia.

16-24-year-olds watch 26% less television than other generations. Globally, it’s safe to say that many young people have replaced television with YouTube. Young people have grown up with access to unlimited sources of information with television offering a more limited view. When people access information online, they feel like they are choosing it themselves and so are more likely to trust it.

In Russia, an investigative report created by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation was broadcast via YouTube. It sparked a whole new anti-corruption movement, primarily lead by youth. This is what RT has to compete with. RT realized that they needed to shift their marketing strategy if they wanted to reach this powerful demographic directly.

2017 saw a wave of anti-corruption protests wash across Russia. The largest demonstration that took place in five years was primarily made up of high-school and university students. Young people are at the core of protests. It’s clear that activism is an integral part of the Russian generation who are coming of age.

The 16-24-year-old demographic are drawn to political protests despite facing expulsion, police interrogation, and even intimidation by federal agents. According to sociologist Elena Omelchenko, research has shown that social involvement and political activism are on the rise within Russian universities.

A Russian anti-corruption protests with many young people involved.
Russian anti-corruption protests showed just how political young people are. RT targets youth by using this to their advantage. | Image by FotograFFF | Shutterstock

As well as those who are fighting for change, young people also make up a strong portion of those who support the status quo. According to a survey carried out by the Levada Centre, 86% of Russians aged 18 to 24 years old approve of Putin as president. Plus, according to the poll, 67% believe that Russia is headed in the right direction politically.

Young people are more politically involved than many assume. They are a driving political force who want to have their voices heard. It’s important for the media to make an effort to hold onto the attention of this group. And whether or not you agree with the ethics of the network, you have to admit RT recognizes this fact.  

Young minds are ready to be molded. Whether it’s exploiting this or just using it to their advantage remains a grey area. However, you have to admit RT’s marketing strategies are powerful.

Should every major media influence steer its content towards young people?

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