It might look like everyone's on Instagram, but in Korea, it's a different story.
KakaoTalk, a social networking and messaging app, holds over 97% of the market share, leaving Instagram far, far behind. It's wild!
But, First: What's KakaoTalk?
Think of a social networking platform meets messenger. Almost seems like TikTok plus messenger plus shopping. Communication begins and ends on KakaoTalk in Korea, and according to SignHouse, 53.5M active users every month.
Founded by Kim Bum-soo in 2010, KakaoTalk partnered with global mobile games in less than three years. The parent company Kakao Corp, which owns a suite of products, such as KakaoStory, KakaoTaxi, KakaoBus, KakaoMusic, KakaoGroup, KakaoHome, and more, has generated $200M in the same year through its gaming, content, commerce and marketing.
In 2017, Kakao became Korea's first internet-only bank approved by South Korean regulators. From fashion and finance to entertainment and community — Kakao has legit transformed how Korea communicates, shops, discovers, and consumes content.
👉 Read: The basics of KakaoTalk
Heard of Kakao Friends?
Kakao Friends are characters based on emoticons from KakaoTalk; in fact, Statista reports Kakao Friends are the most-preferred characters in Korea, surpassing the following of Mickey Mouse, Marvel, Hello Kitty, and even Pokemon.
This popularity has led Kakao open stores across Korea to sell Kakao Friends merchandise. For instance, look at this. 👇
A case study on Kakao by Diva Portal talks about the meter-long queues outside a five-storied Kakao Friends store on its opening day in Seoul.
The report states, "After queueing up, we saw that all Korean bystanders were showing each other things on their smartphones. Many young girls were giggling behind their hands covering their mouth. Some sort of positive excitement was lying in the atmosphere. When we finally went into the store, the whole situation did not change. We were surrounded by shelves full of funny and really cute characters. You can find a broad range of merchandise from teddy bears over headphones to toilet seats. People were taking pictures with oversized character figures and leaving the store with bags full of hardly snagged shopping items."
Can you imagine this? A merchandise store inspired by emoticons creating such an uproar?
Just so you know, Kakao characters Ryan and Choonsik are quite celebrated influencers in Korea. Watch their viral dance video.👇
Korea Times reported, “Ryan and Choonsik first teamed up with Starship Entertainment, unveiling their own music video featuring girl group IVE's song "LOVE DIVE" (2022) and covering the dance choreography of their debut single, "ELEVEN" (2021). In September, they collaborated with aespa, NCT and their record label SM Entertainment.”
Read the entire report. 👇
And then, there's KakaoTalk Channel
Perfect for brands and creators!
These channels allow brands and creators interact with their followers directly — a lot like Instagram broadcasts, but even better. Because channels, as the name suggests, get dedicated pages and can communicate with their user base. Imagine discovering an open slot at your favorite ramen store through these channels.
Kakoa took this to the next stage with Bizboard — a B2B advertising board for brands to push ads on the messenger. Digital Business Lab says, "It serves as an end-to-end sales channel whereby users can select products directly based on the ads. Users will then be linked directly to KakaoPay (KakaoTalk proprietary payment system) without having to exit the app.”
This very thing makes Kakao so powerful — from discovering music and fashion to shopping and booking a cab, Kakao cuts down on downloading multiple apps. This could either be super convenient or cluttered, but I'd say convenient, observing how Korea uses this platform. You don't have to leave the platform for anything. See this. 👇
👉 Also read: How KakaoTalk falters overseas
Talking about Kakao Privilege..
Type Kakao Privilege on Reddit, and you'll stumble upon myriad conversations on privilege, nepotism, and Kpop stars. While Ella Marie Jansen calls Kakao Privilege a myth created by HYBE fans, there's more to it. She says it's to undermine the hardwork and achievements of groups debuting under middle-grade Korean entertainment companies, with Kakao as significant shareholder.
Several internet users claim the Korean band IVE has gained popularity only because of Kakao. This explains the significance of Kakao in Korea, considering how the internet assumes Kakao has the power to make or break popstars. However, all the products owned by Kakao run separately, and this video talks about this privilege. 👇
Kakao also holds a monopoly in the content business with its diverse entertainment platforms, including music, webtoons, gaming, etc. The advancement of AI will strategically help Kakao continue holding this monopoly.
Some internet users might say Daum or Naver compete with Kakao, but they are far behind. Don't you think a healthier competition is required?
I'd love to know your thoughts — have you used Kakao? What has your experience been?