Interview with Alexey Orap, CEO of YouScan, a social media intelligence provider in Ukraine and Russia
Hi Alexey, what is your background and what is included in your current role at YouScan?
I am an entrepreneur with 20+ years in the tech industry, with experience ranging from large multinational companies to startups. I founded YouScan in 2009, and since then I serve as the company's CEO (that’s Chief Executive Optimist). I manage strategic development of the company and its operations, focusing on talent acquisition, developing internal culture, strategic partnerships, key product decisions and financials.
What differs YouScan from other media monitoring companies in Russia and Ukraine?
We launched YouScan as the first professional tool on the market for businesses to monitor social conversations and manage their online reputations. Since day one, we have been focusing on the ease of use (most of our users are not really technical, so friendly UI is a must) and great customer service. We understand that brand managers, marketing and research professionals mostly just don’t have enough time to dedicate to social media monitoring, so we try to simplify their lives - both by providing them with the ready-to-use smart analytics and quality support, such as setting up search queries, providing advice on their listening process, etc. I’d say we are super-paranoid about making our customers happy, and most importantly, successful in their social media monitoring projects. We are also really focused on providing great coverage of popular local social media outlets, and we invest a lot to acquire this data.
What type of companies benefit from your services?
We mostly work with big consumer brands, both local and international, representing multiple industries such as FMCG, pharmaceuticals, telecom, consumer electronics, retail, etc. Some of our clients are Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Michelin, Carlsberg, and McDonalds. Another important sector of clients includes agencies - marketing, digital and research. They use our tool to provide social media monitoring to their clients, who are big consumer brands.
You are currently shifting from basic monitoring to provide more actionable analytics and insights. Why is that?
We have been immersed in social media evolution since 2009 and we see a lot of change every year. The amount of information published on social media grows every month, and so does the amount of noise. "Noise" ranges from classic spam in social media, the amount of which today is just overwhelming (especially on Twitter), to the information which is simply not actionable and insightful for brands. So no one is really able to sift for insights manually these days. We noticed that our large customers require smarter analytics, a focus on actionable items (such as negative reviews from consumers posted on social media which requires the company’s immediate reaction) and easily digestible insights for their brands. That’s what we try to give them - both by developing our monitoring tool to provide smarter automatic reports (we use sophisticated natural language processing and machine learning), and also by providing them human analyst professional services.
What are your greatest challenges ahead at YouScan, when it comes to serving your customers business insights and analysis?
We have built really solid technologies in-house and have a very strong R&D team, so we are looking forward to leveraging these assets by serving broader international markets with our social media intelligence solutions. But these markets are quite competitive already so entering them would definitely be a challenge for us.
Can you give specific examples where one or more of your clients have made changes in their communication, organization or similar, based on the information or analysis you provided?
One of our recent cases, which I really like, is a Japanese diapers brand which entered our local markets recently. Consumers really liked the quality of their products, but by monitoring social media discussions about the brand, their marketing team was able to identify one common problem which many consumers complained about on the parenting forums and discussion groups, that the Japanese sizing indicators were not easily understood by local consumers, so parents often bought diapers in the wrong size for their babies. By identifying this issue, the brand was able to adapt its packaging for local markets and solve the customers’ problem. I like to say that in the meanwhile we have also saved bunch of kids from uncomfortable moments of wearing wrong-sized diapers 🙂
Which 3 sources of information are the most important for your clients in Russia and Ukraine for monitoring and business insights?
VK.com is #1, for sure. It is the most popular social network in Ukraine, Russia and adjacent markets. Message boards and review sites are also strong; most of the consumer conversations and reviews there are meaningful for brands - unlike Twitter for example, which is really spammy.
Which social platform do you see having the most potential in the future for your customers?
Instagram was a “rising star” recently, but with its plans to shut down API access, its future for social media monitoring is uncertain. That’s one of the difficult parts of our business - to a large extent we depend on third parties, such as social platforms and API providers, to provide our clients with good coverage of social media sources.
Are there any social platforms that are closed today that you would be interested in tapping into for monitoring that would benefit your customers?
Facebook, for sure. It is really sad that they have shut down their search API, because most of our clients are extremely interested in monitoring Facebook discussions for social media customer care purposes, and the like.
What kind of data or media that you do not have monitoring on today, can be interesting in the future?
Messengers like WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber, etc., are really interesting. There are a lot of public channels where tons of content that might be interesting for brands are shared.
What differs between the markets in Russia and Ukraine when it comes to media monitoring and business intelligence?
What makes local markets specific is the complexity of the languages used (Russian, Ukrainian). That requires a lot of investment in natural language processing technologies; for example, to provide automatic sentiment detection. Also lots of specific local sources - forums, message boards, social networks (VK.com, OK.ru and few others), as well as review sites, which we have to cover.
Are there specific or typical needs in the Russian or Ukraine market for business intelligence that you think differs from the rest of Europe?
No, I don’t think so. The goals which brands try to accomplish with their social media monitoring activities are pretty much the same as everywhere - social customer care, marketing research, mining for insights and managing brands’ online reputation.
What is your current focus when it comes to new products and markets?
We have just launched a new product targeted at the global English-speaking market, LeadScanr. This product is really unique because it uses our proprietary intent detection technology to identify Twitter posts that contain consumer needs or desires. Their authors are high quality leads for relevant service providers. We have initially started with lead generation for three specific industries - copywriting, web and app development, and design services, and plan to extend that list in the near future. We see a big future for this product because lead generation is a huge market globally, and there are millions of businesses across the world that would like to use new channels for lead generation.
How do you think the media monitoring and social intelligence industry will change in the next 5-10 years?
I believe the industry will shift from basic monitoring tools to smarter software, which will use AI technologies to help brands easily find true insights in the vast ocean of social media discussions. The rise of new social media platforms, such as messengers, is also an opportunity for brands to gather more consumer intelligence and interact with consumers in new and interesting ways. But I would not make predictions for more than a few years from now as the social media landscape is so dynamic that no one can really tell what will happen in 5 or 10 years. So we, as social media intelligence providers, need to be really adaptive to changing marketing conditions and our customer needs.
By Renata Ilitsky