South Korea Media: Communicating in a High-Context Culture in 2021
*This article is an updated version of High context culture: What PR Pros need to know about South Korea, with figures and information from 2020.
South Korea is set to receive global attention in June 2021 as it is one of the four countries that has been invited to participate in this year’s G7 summit in the United Kingdom. The annual summit, which is organized by G7 (Group of 7), where government leaders from the world’s most affluent nations discuss pressing global issues.
Key issues on the agenda are likely to be the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its global vaccination drive, and climate change. While the COVID-19 situation is still developing in South Korea, the country was hailed for its success in containing the spread of the virus in the early stages last year through the use of technology for contact tracing and surveillance.
It comes as little surprise, as the country is known for its advanced technological infrastructure and network connectivity. The nation of 51.3 million has an Internet penetration rate of 97% and has 60.7 million mobile connections*.
Hwajin Choi, Senior Audience Development Executive at PR Newswire Asia, shares the current challenges of the media and what PR professionals need to know about the high-context culture of South Korea.
1. Share with us an overview of the media landscape in South Korea?
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 and social media is becoming a critical pathway for finding, sharing and reading news.
In South Korea, web-portal sites such as Naver and Daum are the most popular digital news platforms. 74.9% of Koreans accessed news from news portals via smartphone applications and mobile web in 2020, according to the Korea Press Foundation.
It also states that the most popular news destination in Korea is Naver – most Koreans access news through its home page rather than its stand-alone webpages.
As Naver’s news service has become the most influential, a new ecosystem has been created for news companies in Korea. The alliance between major portals Naver and Daum is considered the most practical and effective way to increase traffic and generate revenue for media companies.
2. What are the challenges and opportunities for the Korean media industry over the past year?
The decline of the traditional news industry has been widely debated in Korea with the slowdown in the print business, slumping advertisement sales and upheaval from mobile apps and social media. According to Korea Press Foundation, revenue from newspaper sales in 2020 increased by 4.1% compared to last year. However, if the increase in costs of living and the number of media outlets are factored in, there isn’t an actual increase in revenue.
Another challenge for the Korean news industry is trust. The level of trust that Koreans have in news is rather dismal. Based on the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020, South Korea is consistently rank amongst the lowest when it comes to the public’s trust in the news media among the 40 countries surveyed. This also can be seen by South Korea’s poor attitude ranking towards the media coverage of the pandemic.
Nonetheless, there are still some opportunities in the Korean news industry. While the growth rate of traditional media such as newspapers and broadcasts has fallen sharply, the number of visitors to Internet portals and social network services is rising.
While the overall public trust in news in Korea is low but its frequency of access remains high. In general, Korean digital news consumption is significantly higher than in other countries: 36% of Koreans said they access news via the Internet. Due to the COVID-19 movement restrictions, television news consumption saw an uptake in 2020 compared to the last year.
The Korean media is working hard to restore trust in the media industry, for instance, some major media outlets have fact-checking teams which review news articles for misleading or false information.
Naver and Daum jointly formed a Committee for the Evaluation of News Partnership to manage the quality of news on their websites. The Committee determines the eligibility of news providers who want to provide content, and penalises those that violate ethical standards.
3. Are there any cross-cultural differences that need to be recognised?
South Korea is a high-context culture. Koreans do not speak as much as lower-context cultures such as the US, UK or Germany and rely more on context when communicating. This cultural attitude is also reflected through digital communications. Koreans are more likely to have fewer, but more intimate relationships on SNS (Social Network Services) that are built upon trust and adopt a more indirect communication style.
Koreans tend to post content that is in line with their interests on social media, making it a vital channel for businesses to reach their audiences – especially when the public trust in news in Korea is low.
READ MORE: 2020 South Korea Media Landscape Highlights
4. How about mobile communication, what are the main differences in comparison to western countries?
South Korea still outperforms many OECD countries in terms of fixed and mobile broadband network connectivity. According to OECD, there were about 22.15 million fixed broadband subscriptions registered in South Korea in 2020. This figure is a slight increase from the previous year. South Korea is also a long-time broadband leader, with an over 80% share of fibre network coverage in 2019.
South Korea’s 3 telco operators (SK Telecom, LG Uplus and KT Corp) launched 5G technology in April 2019 and 5G networks are available mostly in large cities. The number of 5G subscribers in South Korea hit nearly 12 million last year.
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. Whereas, most western countries like the US and other countries in Europe still use PCs more than mobile phones 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.
Read More: For more communications resources tailored for the South Korean market, visit the newly-revamped PR Newswire’s Korean website
4. In terms of social media: Which channels or apps are primarily used in South Korea?
According to Wiseapp, the most commonly used social media in Korea is Instagram, followed by Facebook. Instagram is popular especially among those under 30 years old.
In terms of their influence as a news platform, Facebook is the still most used social media for finding, reading, watching and sharing news. The second most commonly used is Instagram.
5. How do companies and PR Agencies use the mentioned tools for their communications?
Social Network Service and mobile marketing remain the most important marketing and PR platforms in Korea. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the importance of digital marketing. Many offline events are cancelled so they can become more crucial for businesses to use digital marketing to engage with their clients and audiences. More companies are doing more social media campaigns, and business-related live streams conducted through Instagram.
As mobile connectivity has become an important platform in South 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’, a banner style article that contains images and text together and is convenient for reading on mobile devices.
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Hwajin Choi is the Senior Audience Development Executive focusing on the South Korea market at PR Newswire. If you would like to be featured, please get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.