There has been a movement to ban bosses from sending KakaoTalk messages after work, although a ban hasn’t yet materialized. It sounds quite weird to non-Koreans, but it makes good sense to Koreans, who use KakaoTalk in almost every situation. The usage of KakaoTalk is very common in general and also widely used in work environments. It is quite common to get instructions, orders or just plain requests via KakaoTalk almost 24 hours a day. The legalization effort mentioned above has been initiated due to the distinct situation of Korean text message usage, and it is yet to be enacted.
You may wonder what KakaoTalk is exactly. KakaoTalk is the No. 1 text message mobile app in Korea, and most Koreans use this app to send basic mobile text messages. It is quite different than the other parts of Asia, not to mention Europe and the US. It is important to know what kind of mobile apps, search engines and other digital tools would surely be helpful to do digital marketing or PR campaigns in Korea.
Google or Not Google!
Google is the facto standard of search engines in the world. That is not exactly true in Korea. The overall market share of Google searches is increasing continuously, but the search engine that most Koreans use is Naver, the so-called Google of Korea. Naver started as a portal and subsequently replaced the previous leader among portals and search engines, Daum. Naver is now the most popular search engine in Korea, and most Koreans mainly use Naver and Daum instead of Google. Koreans are so used to and familiar with Korea’s two search engines that it is hard for Google to penetrate the Korean market. Although it is steadily gaining popularity in the Korean market, Google is still not being used widely, especially in the PR and marcom area. Korean search engines are closely linked with the media, and only approved media, which include mostly important media or publications with sizable readership and circulation, are exposed and searchable. As I said briefly in a previous article, Korea’s media depend heavily on ad revenue rather than subscriptions, and most advertisers pay close attention to the click through rate of these publications. Korea’s PR and marcom practitioners used to only pay attention to Naver or Daum searches and did not need to do a secondary check on Google search, because some online media not approved by Naver can be search only via Google.
There are a lot of mobile-based text messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype and Line. However, none of the above-mentioned apps are widely used in Korea. KakaoTalk is the main text messaging app that most Koreans use, followed by possibly Line, which is developed by Naver in Japan. A lot of people in Asia use Line, but not Koreans.
KakaoTalk is becoming more like a platform in Korea, and it keeps adding features, including transportation, food delivery, finance and fintech, e-commerce, music, online games and webzines, to name a few.
I have a friend in Thailand who likes to travel around the world. He travels to Japan quite frequently but not Korea. I asked him the reason out of curiosity, and he jokingly said that he can’t use Google Maps if he needs to drive in Korea, which is true. Google Maps and Apple Maps are available in Korea, but their accuracy is not as good as they are outside of Korea. The reason behind this is that the Korean government has refused to give Google the geographical data needed due to security reasons. This information is given to Korea’s portals and search engines, namely Naver and Daum. Most Koreans use Naver Map or KakaoMap rather than Google Maps or Apple Maps. Korea is still technically war with North Korea, and providing geographical information to multinational companies is discouraged at the moment. It’s been said that maybe it’s because of Korean companies’ and the Korean government’s unwillingness to open the market, but no one knows the real reason.
Social Media in Korea
Koreans usually flock to one or two key players due to the relatively small size of the Korean population. And, now only a couple of other players are left in the market, while other smaller players are typically forced out unintentionally. Naver blog is still one of the two main vehicles of social media in Korea, with the other being Facebook. When conducting digital marketing or digital PR, Naver blog and Facebook are the two pillars of every possible campaign. Instagram is gaining popularity, especially with brands or corporations targeting a younger and more vibrant population. The other social media, including Pinterest and LinkedIn, are not popular here in Korea.
Understanding these unique aspects of the Korean digital media scene will help you when you are planning to conduct PR or media relations in Korea.
This article is also published at author's (Heesang Yoo) LinkedIn account.