In recent years, social media has changed the daily lives of billions of people around the globe. Thanks to tools like American Facebook and Twitter or Russian Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, people are able to participate in the international conversation and enlarge their scope to express and share their ideas, do business or simply stay tuned in a world overloaded with information. Despite some critiques concerning the lack of privacy, wasted time or spread of amplified ignorance throughout Internet space, all of which are hard to control, social media has seen continued growth and development. In order to increase the audience and enhance the attractiveness of a particular network in light of high competition on the social media market, (and there are more than 40 various social media networks that can claim a truly international status) leading platforms improve their interface and add some tricky new options on a regular basis.
Kazakh social media space is not an exeption. Ever since their introduction, social networks have attracted millions of users and people in Kazakhstan are members of some of the domestic and worldwide networks. According to research conducted in January by profi-forex.kz, the most popular foreign networks are Russian Odnoklassniki, a social platform helping people stay in touch with others from their school or university days, followed by the American video hosting channel YouTube and Russian platform Mail.ru. Each provides opportunities like writing one’s own blog, chatting with friends, reading news and listening to and uploading music. Other well-known social networks like Vkontakte, Facebook and Twitter are ranked fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. In comparison to the past year, the greatest growth in social network interest was shown on Odnoklassniki, YouTube and Vkontakte, while the popularity of Mail.ru fell dramatically.
There are also local platforms, the most recognised being kiwi.kz, yvision.kz, nur.kz and jnet.kz, although the current position of domestic Kazakh social networks is weak and requires improvements. As most successful worldwide social networks are based on the concept of profitability, Kazakstan must first secure a larger coverage of users throughout the country. The current rate of Internet penetration is still fairly low. In a 2012 United Nations report about worldwide access to the Internet, Kazakhstan was mentioned as a country where only 45 percent of the population used the World Wide Web in their daily lives. During the Kazakh Internet conference iMix, held in Almaty in 2014, the Central Asia company TSN noted that the cyberspace audience had increased to six million people and included 46.8 percent of the population. Thus the annual growth of Internet users was 13 percent. The widest coverage of users is in the two main cities of the country – Astana (78 percent) and Almaty (72 percent); in the rural areas, the Internet is available for 45 percent of the population. The most active users are between 15 and 24 years old, compared to people above 45, where 35 percent access the Internet on a daily basis.
Looking through different profiles, one may notice that social networks are mostly used as a platform for creativity, self-expression and civic engagement. While the first two options provide the opportunity to form an integral part of communicative exchange and build a stronger promotion of one’s identity, the last opportunity helps to create new places for civic engagement, share information about current events and expand one’s business and professional contacts. Taking into consideration the above-mentioned advantages, which can be considered as effective marketing tools for self-promotion, it’s not suprising that celebrities and public figures integrate social media into their professional activity.
Facebook, rather than Twitter, is the most preferable social network for local public figures. Their posts are written mostly in Russian, sometimes in Kazakh, and embrace a wide range of topics like interesting events to attend and social and cultural issues for Kazakh society, as well as an analysis of the economic and political situation in the country.
EdgeKZ interviewed one of the most active social network users among the country’s successful public figures, whose number of subscribers totals more than 6,000. Murat Abenov, an ex-Vice Minister of Education and Science and chairman of the board of directors of Orleu, the National Centre for Advanced Training, is one of the most active and popular public activists in Internet space. Abenov’s audience is composed of more than 11,000 Facebook followers and more than 56,000 Twitter subscribers. Presented in both Kazakh and Russian, his posts are dedicated to Kazakh society, politics and educational issues. Abenov is lending a great deal of effort towards supporting the Kazakh informational space and creating an independent Kazakh point of view. In his 2014 interview with radiotochka.kz, he claimed that despite all the efforts made by local media, no informational source can compete with Facebook.
“I am an active user of the Internet, as this is mostly the main source of information for me, and I can say that Facebook is an influential source that creates public opinion. So I gave up reading our local sources, because they usually reprint foreign opinions and ideas. It is dangerous for us, as these ideas are the guide for the geopolitical and economic interests of other countries.We need our own local strong and influential information provider,” said Abenov in his with radiotochka.
For those who are interested in current Kazakh domestic policy issues, want to know the personal opinion of a Kazakh politician on actual social topics and are looking for content in Kazakh language, his profile might be very interesting to read.
Another active Facebook blogger is Aidan zhanov, a Kazakh banker and businessman, chairman of the board of directors of Visor Holding and one of the owners of Visor Capital and Tenis Service. Curious posts on actual economic issues can be found on his page, as Karibzhanov uses his writings not only to comment on the current economic situation of the country, but also to argue about his professional occurrences. In addition, the businessman talks about the political life of the country, actively replies to comments and uses vivid expressions while discussing serious topics, all of which make his page interesting to read. While describing his readers during his interview to kult.kz, he said that it is important for him to see how people react to a particular story and what they find especially interesting.
“Most of my subscribers are middle-aged professionals who value humanistic axioms. They are good, educated people who are at the same time pretty sentimental, so my activity in social media is always a two-way interaction,” said Karibzhanov.
The page is for those who are interested in Kazakh domestic economic issues and want to know the opinion on most actual events in Kazakhstan and around the world.
Some public figures use social networks to support changes in particular spheres of society, like Aizhan Khamit, the granddaughter of well-known Kazakh poet Ergali Khamit. Being an Orientalist, she used the publication to write articles about Kazakh history and culture. Separate from Facebook, Khamit also manages her personal blog in Russian to talk about profound Kazakh personalities, explain the origins of different national customs and post some rare pictures of Kazakh public figures of the past. Talking to Igor Hen in his programme “What are Kazakhs talking about?” Khamit mentioned her twofold attitude towards social media, as it offers a platform for everyone to provide information he or she finds suitable, but which may be painful for other readers. Aizhan Khamit, however, thinks social media is a good basis for social development.
“You can find a lot of various information you will never hear and see on television or read in newspapers, so I think the fact that people can choose what to read is what makes social media so attractive,” explained Khamit.
The page and blog of the Kazakh poet’s descendant is for those who are looking for information about the history of the Kazakh people or want to learn more about Kazakh traditions and literature.
With more than 60,000 Twitter followers, Alua Konarova, a successful Kazakh music producer, is another active and interesting public figure on the Internet. Her clients are the best-selling Kazakh boyband RinGo and girl group Ayumi. Konarova prefers Twitter, where she shares her ideas about the reverse side of Kazakh show bussines, updates information on future music events and posts photos from rehearsals and music video productions. Talking to EdgeKZ, Konarova mentioned that social media is a perfect platform for marketing purposes.
“My professional activity is producing and promoting the artists, so it is comfortable to use Twitter for posting information about coming concerts, shootings and other musical events that might be interesting for people and the media,” said Konarova.
Her Twitter page will be interesting to those who want to know more about the Kazakh music scene and what is new in local show business, as well as for fans of local pop music.
The current short list of active members of the Internet community in Kazakhstan wouldn’t be complete without Kazakh public activist, producer and TV presenter Aruzhan Sain. Since 2006 she has headed the charity fund Dobrovolnoye Obschestvo Miloserdiye (or DOM for short, which in itself means Home), which has the main purpose of helping orphans and children with cerebral palsy and young patients who need emergency medical help that can only be offered abroad. Sain uses two Internet platforms, Facebook and Vkontakte, to expose her activity, talk about things that have been realised and are planned for the future, post videos and photos from charity fundraising events and attract volunteers to help the fund’s activity. According to Sain, “social media is meant for supporting and providing social help.”
Her blog, which counts more than 14,000 subscribers, is interesting for those who want to know more about the position of orphans and disabled children in Kazakhstan, are interested in local charity activities and want to help children in need.
Even though social media is a relatively-recent phenomenon for Kazakh Internet space, it is no longer perceived as a passing fad and has definitely became a must for those who are seeking to secure a place for their business in the market or just eager to boost their own popularity.