With a prosperous economy, nationwide 5G internet, and digitally savvy consumers, South Korea is a ripe environment for marketers. But to reach this valuable audience, you’ll have to navigate the complex South Korean social media landscape.
In 2019, South Korea was ranked 3rd in the world for online retail sales, and eCommerce has continued to grow every year since. To entice Korean buyers, marketers will need to deliver localized digital campaigns that satisfy their appetite for savings and appeal to their uniquely Korean tastes. And they’ll need to do so on the social media platforms they use every day.
SOUTH KOREA: THE WORLD’S MOST CONNECTED COUNTRY
South Korea is home to 51.3 million people. In recent decades, the country has emerged as a global technology leader and has achieved a status as the most wired country in the world. Its nationwide, high-speed internet accessibility has produced highly engaged digital consumers. 98% of South Korean households access the internet daily, and over 85% of the Korean population owns one or more smartphones.
Over 80% of the population is clustered in urban areas, due to the largely uninhabitable mountainous countryside. Even though it’s a relatively small country – just slightly larger than the state of Indiana – South Korea is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The current population density in Seoul is twice that of New York City.
Korean consumers are heavily persuaded by information on social networks and what influencers have to say about products and services. These urban dwellers are image-conscious and will put their money toward name-brand fashion, cars, beauty products, and other lifestyle goods to benefit their social status – particularly if it looks like a bargain.
To tap into this country of eager consumers, marketers will need to develop a localization plan that considers not only language, but also capitalizes on the highly digital nature of Korean consumers. And uses creative content strategies that reflect Korean culture.
LANGUAGE CONSIDERATIONS IN KOREA
Over centuries, the Korean written language has evolved with influences from other languages and cultures. Today, the modern written language comes in three forms:
- Han’gul, the Korean alphabet
- Mixed-script with both Chinese symbols (Han’ja) plus Han’gul
- Mi-ahl’bhet-gul, the Western alphabet used to phonetically spell Korean words (used in public utility applications, like transit signs)
With Western influence entering Korean culture over the past hundred years, modern Korean not only has borrowed some Chinese and Japanese words, but it also has some words with English roots, such as computers (컴퓨터 k’ŏmp’yut’ŏ) and television (텔레비전 t’ellebijŏn).
English proficiency in South Korea is moderate. Like most global consumers, South Koreans prefer to engage and buy in their own language. Since commerce in this market is so socially driven, localizing into Korean is non-negotiable to make headway in the market.
While Han’gul is the most common written language approach in Korea, a local language expert can help guide whether either of the other two forms may be useful in your marketing efforts.
The importance of honorifics
Koreans place a high value on respect in their culture, and this comes through in their language.
Korean verbs and other grammatical elements can be used in different forms to imply the status of one speaker to another, or to indicate the level of formality appropriate for the situation.
Honorifics are a critical aspect of Korean language that a localized campaign must get right. Content creators will need to align these levels of address with the target audience, as well as your industry vertical and localized brand positioning. So it’s crucial to enlist the help of in-market, subject-matter experts to ensure your localized marketing and creative content is on point.
CREATIVE MEDIA: WEBTOONS & VIDEO ADS
Marketers will be challenged to grab South Koreans’ attention with content that builds affinity in their dynamic digital landscape. Short-form video marketing, influencer marketing, and webtoon advertising, in particular, may be key creative media approaches to your success.
Webtoons are digital comics designed for online viewing, and they are a booming market in South Korea. Naver, the largest internet portal company in the country, introduced its “Webtoon” platform in 2004 and was the first to bring comics to the digital space.
The platform is visited by 8 million Koreans daily, and advertisers can reach them in a culturally relevant way through embedded advertising in the comics. Research has shown branded webtoons can overcome psychological resistance to advertising and positively influence consumer attitudes and behaviors. So they’re an excellent vehicle to get in front of a more attentive, receptive audience.
Video advertising is a key creative tactic to reach Korean audiences. Major Korean social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Meta offer opportunities for placements. But your message must be short, and excellent marketing localization will be imperative to resonating with viewers.
Koreans are heavy social video consumers – a trend closely aligned with the culture’s K-pop and influencer obsession. As the preferred platform for video streaming, YouTube will be critical to your channel strategy in Korea. In 2022, YouTube ads reached 92.3% of South Korea’s total internet user base (regardless of age).
A typical Korean consumer spends, on average, 39 hours per month on YouTube (nearly three times more than the next-ranked social or video streaming platform, TikTok (13.8 hours per month).
Videos under two minutes long that feature Korean influencers reviewing or endorsing products are impactful in this market. In the celebrity-centric culture of South Korea, influencers are a major component of advertising. If your campaign is able to reach consumers through trusted Korean influencers, their endorsement will help drive results in-market.
POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
For businesses to broaden their reach in South Korea, social media marketing offers significant potential. Korea has the second-highest rate of active social media users in the world. Users toggle between multiple platforms, such as KakaoTalk, Meta, Instagram, Naver LINE, and TikTok.
What Is KakaoTalk?
KakaoTalk is the second-most popular social media platform in South Korea (behind YouTube), with 80% of internet users of all ages engaging on the platform. KakaoTalk began as a free call and messaging service, and has since evolved to include photo sharing, shopping, email, and wallet features, plus channels for businesses.
The presence of this app in everyday South Korean life cannot be overestimated. KakaoStory, the company’s photo-centric social networking service (SNS) product, is installed on 98% of the country’s smartphones. So advertising on this Korean-made platform offers a targeted way to reach nearly any subset of the entire population via banner ads, a brand channel, and targeted communications like smart SMS.
SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING
In South Korea, even search is social.
Koreans use Google, but not as much as they use Naver – a search engine designed by Koreans for Koreans. (The platform has evolved to add more features around social media, webtoons, and user-generated content.) Naver is the first call for consumer research about a brand or product. Promoting your business on Naver ensures connection and engagement with South Korean consumers that you’re unlikely to reach via Google alone.
Naver’s search engine offers various ad types, such as display ads, brand search ads, keyword ads, and shopping ads. If your digital strategy reaches for a mix of SEM and SEO marketing, you can also create a profile on Naver blog to help with your website ranking.
Similar to how you might form an SEO-driven blog strategy for Google-dominant markets, keyword research is crucial for Naver. Naver’s SEO tools include popular keywords, search volume, and blog post data. Working with a skilled in-market copywriter to leverage trending keywords and subject matter in blog content will help you build a strong community on Naver.
BUZZ AND FORUM MARKETING
Using forums to develop content around your products will allow you to engage directly with Korean audiences, who are particularly active on forums and blogs, like Naver Cafe. Not only does this provide a more meaningful conversation with targeted consumers – it’s also essential to ranking on Naver’s search engine.
Naver relies heavily on user-generated content, encouraging a more exploration-driven search experience. When a user searches a keyword, they’ll see several curated sections displayed on a single results page. Naver prioritizes its own user-generated content – including Naver Blogs, Cafes, and Knowledge iN – before other third-party content. (Even official brand webpages.)
So investing in your Naver presence is a critical factor in your website localization strategy for South Korea. Think beyond translation to ensure your site can be found and drive engagement/conversions from your South Korean target audience.
Despite its relatively small size, South Korea offers an enormous opportunity for US marketers. South Koreans are eager spenders when it comes to products and brands that will elevate their social status, and their digital-savvy culture makes the eCommerce landscape particularly lucrative. Engaging your South Korean audiences with content that’s authentic and relevant via Korean social media platforms will help you develop a successful, localized presence.