"We know personally" is a project developed by the MTS team “Your Business”. It is a part of the Digital Ecosystem Products Centre, where MTS creates a platform of services to digitalize all types of small business processes. In this context MTS works only with micro businesses, very small companies of maximum 15 people. The "We know personally" project was launched during the pandemic, and it helped small local businesses whose survival depended mainly on the physical flow of visitors. When the first lockdown struck in 2020, the circumstances dramatically changed for them.
In this sense, "We know personally" helped to support such small businesses by giving them more visibility. A platform, quickly created thanks to MTS resources, allowed small businesses to better connect with customers. The initiative consists of selecting small entrepreneurs and showing them on a digital map that customers are able to consult, and, at the same time, the entrepreneurs are also present on the Instagram account of the project (for Krasnodar) where they can tell their stories in more detail. When the first lockdown ended, the pandemic was not over; under these circumstances, and after having received very good feedback on the projects from all of the engaged stakeholders, MTS decided to carry on with the initiative and to better adjust its tools to meet the needs of the small entrepreneurs.
National Research University Higher School of Economics
When the first lockdown struck, MTS being a large company was able to quickly launch a new project. The team decided to create a double end online map: on one end with the message to small businesses, on the other end with the message to potential users. For the local entrepreneurs the message was that of embarking on a new project to try to overcome the hard times, for the customers the message was that of supporting local businesses by switching to delivery and home shipping to allow small enterprises to stay afloat even during the lockdown. In a matter of days, even businesses that had never had an online shop and never had thought of having one quickly managed to create it. At the beginning it was not easy, as everything had to be arranged as soon as possible and switching to online shipping and delivery was merely the first tool that came to mind. Nevertheless, “Things moved and changed pretty quickly and it became also a pretty exciting time to live”, told us Natalia Sergeeva, leader of the project "We know it personally".
The most immediate tool that MTS had to offer was that of sending notifications to subscribers of the local area, informing them that products sold by local businesses were available and could be ordered online. How does "We know personally" work in practice? Everything is on a website, where a city is shown on the map as soon as there are five valid entries there. To get on the map, the entrepreneur submits an application that is checked by the MTS moderator. Moreover, with the first application the business owner has the opportunity to give detailed information on the company, as well as providing the contact details on what products can be ordered from the business. Then, when the small business gets indicated on the map, the users can leave the mark “I was here” to recommend it and to give it more visibility, so "We know personally" initiative aims to help small local businesses to attract new customers by creating a positive image of them.
Moreover, there are currently three Instagram accounts for three of the cities that are shown on the map - Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Krasnodar - where local entrepreneurs that are shaping our cities can tell more about their story, their business and their inspiration.
Digital map "We know personally" of Moscow
Small businesses represent a significant amount of jobs in Russia, and they are the beating heart of any city. If we go often to a small café in our local community, we know the owner and vice a verse, a mutual connection and friendly relationship is created. A small entrepreneur usually does everything on her own, she has to deal with several problems all at once, she plays many roles as she does not have a PR department or a marketing department. MTS was inspired by these business owners (men and women) and decided that it would give these people a louder voice and give them the opportunity to tell their stories, also with the aim of inspiring other people by showing them that being an entrepreneur is a good job and is also personally rewarding.
MTS purpose and mission was, in this case, that of enabling small businesses to tell their stories and in doing so to create a stronger reputation of the brand in general, as well as empowering entrepreneurs and creating live connections with their local communities. MTS dives into the projects in detail, they do not showcase only the highly successful stories, but each unique story of each unique small local business is taken into consideration. MTS interviewed a lot of micro businesses in order to understand what their needs were and how they could have better been met. As a rule entrepreneurs do not ask for help, and under these circumstances MTS wants to create a place where business owners can ask for support in a simple and convenient way.
What does a small business need beyond preferential credit terms and physical help? “What business needs is recognition, an opportunity to tell its story without any complications” Natalia Sergeeva told us. MTS believes that values of small business are the right ones, and that it is because of the contribution of the small private initiatives the local culture of our cities and communities is shaped. At the moment the initiative is present in 41 cities across Russia. Only 5 businesses that take part in the project are needed to show a new city on the map. So far 2,155 small enterprises have embarked on the "We know personally" journey.
The faces of the project are local cafes, workshops, salons and shops in all of the cities: those small businesses, thanks to the initiative, received support during the hard times of lockdown by the most important stakeholders, their customers and local communities. The map worked so well for so many entrepreneurs and also created such a strong sense of local culture that MTS decided to carry on with the project even after the lockdown was lifted.
"We know personally" is currently a non-profit project, but it is not going to remain purely a charity, in fact, as Natalia Sergeeva said, “I do not believe that a socially responsible project should be equal to a charity”. The project makes a positive impact on the MTS ecosystem, many entrepreneurs came into MTS business through the new initiative. Natalia pointed out that, “We could also develop and launch some commercial products such as business websites and loyalty programs”. For MTS, the best kind of advertising are businesses that are satisfied with the service that MTS provides and genuinely grateful to them, and this also helps to improve the image of MTS as a sound and responsible business partner.
In fact, it made them notice that within the company there are a lot of truly caring and socially engaged people that took this project close to their hearts. Natalia’s team is a link between customers and local businesses, creating a positive brand image for MTS. Customers are now beginning to perceive MTS not just as a regular telecom company detached from societal challenges, but they are now realizing that MTS actually helps and supports the local community and that MTS has a human side. This vision is also highly appreciated within the company, as MTS also tries to innovate and embark on new projects in different fields.
"We know personally" had a very strong positive impact on the local communities, especially during the lockdown, as the map strongly helped customers to see all of the businesses in their area that were still eager to work and to provide their products. At the same time, clients could support them in two ways: first, by ordering products from them, and secondly by putting the mark “I was here” to recommend businesses on the map. Now that the project has become more widespread, a lot of businesses that give value to society and to the environment and that meet the criteria of “social business” also became interested in "We know personally" and want to be placed on the map.
Natalia told us about lots of examples: “We have contacts with a business that made products from recycled old banners, and also with a small company that takes materials from recycling plants and gives them a new life in the form of fashionable items. We know many local businesses that treat their employees with respect and dignity and take responsibility of their wellbeing”. "We know personally" also works with companies that do not engage in such sustainable and socially beneficial practices, but at the same time the many responsible and sustainable companies present on the map set an example for other businesses, by showing responsibility and sustainability can truly be pursued by anyone and it is beneficial in the long run.
Natalia Sergeeva, Product manager, MTS
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Moscow, Russia, RU
Business Website: https://znaem.mts.ru/
Year Founded: 1993
Number of Employees: 10000+
A Russian telecom giant MTS launched the project "We know personally" that aims at connecting local small businesses with local community by showing them on a digital map, that customers can consult and where they can also mark "I was here" to recommend that business.