South Korea has long been considered an “early adopter” of technological advances with widespread access to high-speed internet, and high usage of mobile internet and social media, and so it is an interesting market for foreign companies to expand into when looking for new business.
It is one of the best-connected countries in the world with the highest average internet speed worldwide (great 5G!) and an internet adoption rate of 98% in February 2022. For comparison, the North American internet penetration rate in the same month was around 82%.
According to Datareportal, there were 50.29 million internet users in the Republic of Korea at the beginning of 2022, and the number of internet users in the country increased by 543 thousand (+1.1%) between 2021 and 2022, keeping the increment steady from the previous years.
Social Media Usage Overview
For a country with such a good internet infrastructure, we would expect to see high engagement with social media platforms, which is very much the case. In the same month, February 2022, there were reportedly 46.81 million social media users in the country, with an increment of 1.0 million (+2.2%) between 2021 and February 2022. We can certainly say that Koreans are heavy social media users. On average, people spend 1h and 13 mins of their day on social media, swapping among 4.9 platforms. If we focus on YouTube alone, the number ascends to 39.9 hours per month. This social media craze might be the reason that many foreign companies are looking to hire Online Marketing Services to penetrate the Korean Market.
Most Popular Social Media Platforms in South Korea
While the usual social media platforms all have a presence in South Korea, the country is home to several networks that might seem less familiar. Many of them may have similar features to more common platforms but they also sport some more innovative features that were developed as a way to stay ahead of interlopers from the United States and elsewhere. For example, Daum/KakaoTalk is the result of the merger of two major Korean digital service providers and has successfully carved out a sizeable chunk in the market.
According to KakaoTalks Q3 2021 report, the platform counts with 46.81 monthly active users in South Korea, which equals 91.2% of the total population (93.1% of total Korean internet users). After checking out this data, we can affirm that KakaoTalk is the most popular social media platform in the country, especially when it comes to keeping in touch with family and friends.
Other popular social media platforms in the country are Instagram, Facebook, Kakaostory and Twitter. (Please, Keep in mind that this list is not regarding YouTube, which has a total of 46.40 million users and a 90.4% penetration rate, so it is quite close to KakaoTalk).
In 2022, Instagram proves to be the most frequently used social media platform in South Korea, after KakaoTalk but Facebook is the next in line, followed by Kakaostory, ranking ahead of international social media giants Twitter and TikTok. KakaoStory is a similar platform to Facebook and provides a plethora of services, and exists alongside KakaoTalk, a WhatsApp-style messaging service, which is actively used by 97% of all smartphone users in Korea and serves more than 43 million monthly active users. Like the Chinese WeChat, Kakao has since engaged in a diversification strategy, offering online banking and taxi services, for example, and Kakao users are also able to send each other gifts.
South Korea’s most popular search engine, NAVER, has a variety of different products on offer, including a communication app for teams and groups called BAND. In the US, it’s marketed as something closer to a business tool, like Slack, but it become popular in South Korea via the gaming community, which used it as a way to talk online when users were playing games in teams. South Korea’s love of social media can be traced to Cyworld. Created in 1999, way back before Facebook and Twitter, Cyworld was the first major social media network and a huge hit in South Korea. One of its unique features is that it allows its users to organize, manage and prioritize their relationships according to a hierarchy consisting of three different “ranks”, matching the structure of Korean society.
Businesses looking to expand overseas into countries with new and exciting marketing opportunities would do well to note South Korea’s love of social media and high mobile internet usage. Korean marketers have noticed a rise in the demand for Social Media Services such as Instagram and Facebook Ads and account management. In January 2020, there were around 60.61 million mobile connections in the country, and the number of mobile connections in South Korea increased by 699 thousand (+1.2%) between January 2019 and January 2020. The number of mobile connections in South Korea that month was equivalent to 118 percent of the total population. A market with a huge audience that is already heavily engaged with social media and mobile internet provides opportunities to play with new types of video marketing, search engine optimization and programmatic advertising.
It wasn’t long ago that the South Korean market was dominated by domestic social media platforms but Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook have been on the raise over the last few years. Overall, this could suggest that South Korean social media platforms are in trouble; as young people get smartphones, they join Western platforms like Facebook and Instagram instead. In 2019, the share of social media users who used Facebook in South Korea aged between 10 and 19 was 84.1 percent, compared to just 50 percent of those over 50. However, it might just mean that – as in most Western countries – some social media networks are just more suited to some demographics than others. BAND, for example, may appeal more directly to users who need slightly more professional elements, with its shared calendars, user polls, and an inherent organization that benefits older users.
Update: 28. July. 2022