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③ [South Korea Insight] User behavior on western social media in Korea

12.May.2020

All you need to know about western social media in Korea 

Will you keep an eye on digital marketing in Korea? According to the 2019 Korean Media Panel Survey by the Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI), social media usage declined for the first time in 2019. The drop in usage is partly due to ‘social media fatigue. Another reason is the distinction between social media platforms itself has become ambiguous. It is becoming more difficult to clearly distinguish which platforms are a “pure” social media platform. Messaging apps that serve as a communication tool, like KakaoTalk, can also be considered as a social media platform nowadays. Here’s the user behavior analytics on Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook to help you understand western social media in Korea. 

Korea Social Media Usage

The channel for public figures, Facebook

If we first look at Facebook, it had one of the highest user base in 2017 in South Korea amongst western social media platforms, but repeated international incidents of personal information leaks and privacy woes may have contributed to the shrinking user base since 2018. The data itself might be inconclusive on a number of subjects. A particular demographic group could have abandoned Facebook or rather swapped for alternate platforms. But for sure, the trend for Facebook usage has been on a continual decline in South Korea ever since.  

Facebook has become a channel for Korean public figures to express their opinions and for public institutions to deliver announcements. In the same way that Twitter is used to engage the public in the US, the South Korean local governments and provincial governors are recently using Facebook as a platform to release important information. For example, detailed real-time updates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. While such data is also widely available in domestic social media platforms, Facebook is fast becoming a medium to obtain announcements from officials and public figures.

western social media in korea - instagram

Sharing of personal interests, Instagram

Meanwhile, Instagram shows the steepest increase in userbase in South Korea in recent years. Instagram is now considered as the first marketing channel in various fields, including food, travel and consumer products. As a photo-sharing platform, Instagram’s ability to establish and maintain a personal relationship with users is more appealing to brands and marketers, as the target users share similar interests and tastes. In South Korea, the terminology ‘inchin’ (인친) was coined by the young to describe Instagram friends. Strangers that have never met in real life could be ‘inchins’ for following their favorite KOLs and brands, reinforcing each other’s affinity for a certain interest, service or product. 

The next search engine, Youtube

One social media platform that overshadows others in terms of the userbase is YouTube. According to the 2019 Internet Usage Survey Report by the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), 81 percent of South Koreans are using video services every day. YouTube is evolving from an ‘entertainment’ platform to a ‘life solution’ platform. Users flock to YouTube to look for solutions that resolve a wide array of life problems. It could be as trivial as teaching how to replace batteries in the remote control, to answering questions related to health, education, childcare, cooking recipes or anything you can think of. A 2019 South Korean Internet User Survey by NAS Media indicated that 60% of respondents use YouTube as a search engine for information. YouTube’s influence on the audience has pivoted from a video sharing platform to an information search engine.

This phenomenon represents a demand change for an individual-optimized social media platform rather than simply being superior to Facebook. In other words, people use Facebook when they want to share information quickly and clearly; Instagram when they want to showcase personal tastes; and YouTube as a tool for learning. The various needs of a diverse base of social media users are all satisfied.

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