High context culture: What PR-Pros need to know about South Korea
*Click here to view an updated version of this article, with figures and information from 2020.
The world’s attention was recently on South Korea as the nation hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics Games at PyeongChang in February. As one of the affluent countries in the APAC region, South Korea has been wowing the world with high-tech devices and impressive innovations, as well as creating a worldwide k-pop sensation. In addition to that, South Korea is leading the region in terms of overall internet penetration (93%) and it also has the highest penetration (84%) for the use of social media on mobile.
In lights of the increased interest in South Korea, TREIBSTOFF (blog site of news aktuell, a subsidiary of German Press Agency to distribute press releases) spoke with Hwajin Choi (CHOI), Audience Development Executive at PR Newswire Asia, about the current challenges of the media and what PR professionals need to know about the culture of South Korea.
TREIBSTOFF: Could you give us a sense of the media landscape in South Korea?
CHOI: As South Korea is a world leader in Internet connectivity, it boasts one of the fastest average connection speeds. To put this into perspective, digital media and mobile devices are major factors in the media environment in Korea. The Influence of web-portal news is growing tremendously. Social media is becoming a critical pathway for finding, sharing and reading news.
In Korea web-portal sites such as Naver and Daum are the most popular digital news platforms. 70% of Korean people are accessing news from news portals using smart phone applications and mobile web. The most popular news destination in Korea is Naver, most Korean access news through its main page rather than a stand-alone news website.
As the portal’s news service has become the most influential, a new ecosystem has been created for news companies in Korea. The alliance with the major portals is considered the most practical and effective way to increase traffic and generate revenue.
TREIBSTOFF: What are the challenges and opportunities?
CHOI: The decline of the traditional news industry has been widely debated in Korea with print business in decline, slumping advertisement sales and upheaval from mobile apps and social media. Indeed, sales in the Korean news industry in 2016 decreased by 0.3% compared to last year.
Another challenge for the Korean news industry is trust. The level of trust Koreans have in news is quite low. According to research from Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, Korea has lowest trust in news among the 36 countries surveyed. In Korea less than a quarter of respondents (23%) agreed that you could trust the news most of the time.
Nonetheless, there are still some opportunities in the Korean news industry. The growth rate of traditional media such as newspapers and broadcasts has fallen sharply, whereas the users of Internet portals and social network services is accelerating. Overall trust in news in Korea is low but frequency of access is high. In general, Korean digital news consumption is significantly higher than other countries: 44% of Koreans said they read digital news 2 to 5 times a day, and 17% Koreans reading 6 to10 times a day, 18% Koreans are reading the news over 10 times a day.
Korean media are working hard to restore trust in the media industry, for instance some major media now operate fact checking teams which review news to avoid any misleading or false information. Moreover, Naver and Daum jointly formed a Committee for the Evaluation of News Partnership to manage the quality of news displayed on their websites. The Committee determines the eligibility of news providers who want to supply content, and penalises those that are judged to violate ethical standards.
TREIBSTOFF: Are there any cross-cultural differences which need to be recognised?
CHOI: Korea is a high-context culture. Koreans do not speak as much as lower-context cultures such as the US, UK or Germany. Communication in Korea should be formal and not direct. This cultural attitude is reflected through digital communications. Koreans were more likely to have fewer, but more intimate relationships on SNS (Social Network Services) and adopted a more indirect communication style that represents high-context cultures.
TREIBSTOFF: How about mobile communication, what are the main differences in comparison to western countries?
CHOI: South Korea’s mobile market has had slow growth over the last few years due to a highly mature market. Organic growth by the three main mobile operators, together with the multitude of niche MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) will result in further growth in 2018.
Korea also outperforms many OECD countries in fixed and mobile broadband networks with very high penetration of fibre (74%), fixed networks and well-developed mobile broadband.
Broadband prices are decreasing and mobile data usage grew by 46% per mobile broadband subscription between 2015 and 2016. With the testing of 5G deployment at the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea is also expected to lead in 5G developments.
Not surprisingly, Korea has the highest daily share of mobile (non-voice) usage in the world. This is reflected through Korean’s news consumption attitude as well. Mobile devices are the primary method to access news in Korea, most Koreans use mobile phones more than PCs. I think this is the main difference with western countries. Most western countries like the US and other countries in Europe still use PCs more than mobile phone to access news.
Other than that, mobile devices have become a large part of Korean daily life, and I think the importance and influence are bigger than in other western countries.
TREIBSTOFF: In terms of social media: Which channels or apps are primary used in South Korea?
CHOI: According to the Korea Press Foundation, the most commonly used social media in Korea is a Kakao Story, linked to Kakao Talk which is the No.1 mobile instant messaging application in Korea. Kakao Talk has more than 220 million registered and 49 million monthly active users. It means around 93% of smartphone owners in Korea use this application. From this fact it can be assumed that Kakao Talk has led Kakao Story to become a top social media app in Korea. Other than that, Facebook, Naver and Instagram are also popular social media apps in Korea.
However, if we rank them only by their influence as a news platform, Facebook is the most used social media for finding, reading, watching and sharing news. The second most commonly used is YouTube followed by Kakao Story.
TREIBSTOFF: How do companies and PR Agencies use the mentioned tools for their communications?
CHOI: SNS and mobile marketing has become the fastest growing marketing and PR platform in Korea. It has gained attention from companies as a tool for cultivating relationships with the public. Most Korean companies are managing their official SNS account on Facebook, Instagram and Naver blog. Some companies and public organizations have a team of employees to manage social media while some large conglomerates run a separate division of social media experts.
As mobile connectivity has become an important platform in Korea for marketing and PR, new content formats have been adopted by some traditional Korean media. For instance, some Korean news outlets have started to publish Card news which is a banner style article that contains images and text together and is convenient for reading on mobile devices.
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The original blog first appeared on newsaktuell.de and republished with permission from news aktuell.