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Can Facebook succeed where Google has so far failed in South Korea?
The East Asian country, one of the four markets founder Mark Zuckerberg identified as top priorities for the next two years, has long beguiled Western consumer Internet companies.
Thanks to government policy, South Korea has the fastest broadband speeds in the world and leads other developed nations in Internet penetration. Broadband access is so pervasive, that there are even government counseling programs to combat Internet addiction. So Facebook will not have to deal with the same kinds of connectivity or Internet literacy problems it faces in other emerging Asian markets.
However, because of its insular Internet culture, South Korea is walled off from American technology companies. Native South Korean companies like the search engines Naver and Daum along with Facebook’s domestic social networking rival Cyworld are the biggest daily destinations for the country’s roughly 40 million Internet users.
Cyworld has about 16 million unique visitors every month, according to Google Ad Planner, to Facebook’s current 1.7 million active users.
The site has standard social networking features like custom profile pages, blogs and messages, but it also has a strong virtual worlds component with mini-rooms where users can make special avatars and buy virtual goods with Dotori or “acorns.” Like in Japan, Twitter is also an emerging rival with 3.5 million unique visitors.
All of these factors considered, there are a number of reasons why Facebook may do better than other American companies in this market. South Korean consumers are already comfortable using their real identities, as Cyworld requires new users to submit their National ID number, which is like a social security number, when they register. Authentic identity has been a core part of Facebook’s business strategy all along, unlike early rivals such as MySpace, which tolerated aliases.
Naver was able to hold its lead against Google in part because it built a walled social question-and-answer platform, Knowledge iN. That gave it extra private content to crawl and surface in queries. Facebook, of course, has its own such platform called Questions. South Korean users also rely more on friends and family to give them advice when making purchasing decisions, which plays into Facebook’s favor and its strategy around brand advertising.
There is also a very mature virtual worlds and goods market in South Korea, which Facebook’s social gaming partners like Zynga and Electronic Arts’ Playfish can help recreate.
For a good overview of Facebook and Twitter’s rising prominence in the country, Global Voices has translated several Korean blog posts on the topic. Both companies are becoming increasingly formidable rivals to Cyworld and Naver’s me2DAY.
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