I’m excited about finding new ways to market and promote SochiReporter.ru that inspire the citizens of Sochi, Russia to contribute to the site. I believe that you can be a lot more creative when marketing a website. As opposed to a newspaper or radio station, a website can reach a larger, even global, audience. I strongly believe that, because it is a form of new media, the marketing and promotion of a website should also break from tradition.

We’ve done just that by pursuing a partnership that would probably make a lot of people scratch their heads.

With the 2014 Olymic Games coming to Sochi, local Internet providers are working to expand areas of coverage and increase network speeds. Not too long ago, the main web hub for many locals was the McDonald’s situated in the heart of Sochi. You can see plenty of locals and tourists working on their laptops there, and I’ve also spent a lot of time at that location. That’s how an idea was born.

Partnering with McDonald’s

SochiReporter.ru became a media partner for the McDonald’s World Children’s Day, a charity event wherein McDonald’s and the Ronald McDonald House Charities raise funds to open so-called “family rooms” inside Russian hospitals. On November 20, some of Sochi’s local celebrities volunteered to sell hamburgers to customers and help raise money. To support the initiative, SochiReporter produced a report and video about the event.

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Then, over the course of two weeks in January, McDonald’s handed out hundreds of thousands of leaflets in 240 McDonald’s restaurants all over Russia to announce the results of its fundraising initiative. It raised 10 million rubles ($330,000) and enabled the creation of three new family rooms. As a media partner, the SochiReporter logo and URL were on every leaflet. (A leaflet was placed on each food tray.)

Partnering with McDonald’s brought 35 percent more visitors to SochiReporter, and drove a 30 percent increase in the amount of content uploaded by citizen journalists. As a result, we were able to change our “Video of the Week” feature into “Video of the Day.” Partnering with McDonald’s enabled us to reach many more local web users (and hamburger lovers, too!).

Main Messages

When thinking about our marketing campaign, we wanted to communicate these messages:

SochiReporter is a hyper-local website, where pople can create and discuss news about Sochi, Russia. We want people to understand that traditional media — especially TV — are paying more attention to content created by bloggers and Internet users. So if you create online content, you can get famous. Your story might be told and retold by journalists. Other local news sites have already started citing reports on SochiReporter and linking to our work, which is helping drive traffic.

SochiReporter is a place to engage in respectful debate about the changes going on in the city. On one hand, SochiReporter is a hyper-local website; but, on the other hand, the city itself is facing an unprecedented amount of global scrutiny and interest because it will host the 2014 Olympic Games.

SochiReporter is a website where anyone can contribute, participate and tell his or her story. It’s also a place for communication and interaction, and that’s why we are integrating additional social networking functionality.

SochiReporter is more than just a blog. It’s a place where people can upload their own content, such as videos. It also has additional sections (such as a wiki guidebook) that help turn it into a virtual portrait of the city. Right from the start, the project was designed to be an educational platform, as well as a news source.

Reaching the Youth of Sochi

Our marketing has been focused on reaching younger people, as they’re the most active web users in the city. I’ve organized about 40 presentations at schools and universities and, as a result, the website is known to many students — even though it’s only been online for three months.

We are also using social media to spread awareness. I created an open SochiReporter group at Vkontakte.ru, which is kind of like the Russian version of Facebook. In January, we also organized a two-day SochiReporter seminar on Web 2.0 and mobile journalism for local students. We talked about the web’s influence on journalism, and the possibilities for participation and creation that the web offers to people worldwide. To illustrate this point, we looked at some of the posts on SochiReporter, as well as at other global citizen journalism websites.

Finally, SochiReporter was selected to be a media partner of the Fifth Sochi Winter Music Conference, which is a two-day business forum and a three-day music program. SWMC brings together well-known show business figures, professional music journalists, DJs, producers, promoters, record company owners and managers, radio and TV presenters, brand managers, and music festival organizers. These creative, active and talented people are also advanced and sophisticated web users. Thanks to this collaboration, all of the 1,500 participants left with a SochiReporter in their conference bag.