There has been much talk about Facebook's inability to crack the tough, localized Korean market, but in an interview with Facebook's top brass in Korea, this situation seems to be improving. Korea is a key test market for Facebook and this should send a message to other global tech companies hoping to do business in Korea, particularly those engaged with expansion on mobile. It was also proven last year that Facebook was taking the Korean market seriously when their CEO, Mark Zuckerberg visited Korea to hold high level talks with Samsung and other top Korean companies.
“Korea is a unique market where over 90% of users access Facebook through smartphones,” said Benjamin Joe, head of Facebook Korea, in an interview with The Korea Herald. Joe went on to explain that despite rumors that Facebook Korea was struggling to attract users, the organization has been ramping up its Seoul facility, with a three-fold increase in the number of staff over the last two years. He assured reporters that further expansion is in the pipeline. His comments were aimed at dispelling rumors that Facebook Korea is going to shut down on account of low ad revenue.
“Facebook sees Korea as an important country due to its high mobile usage and the presence of global companies like Samsung and Hyundai,” he said. “This makes Korea an important test bed to Facebook (which is) wishing to be a mobile-first company.”
Facebook has heavily invested in global mobile applications and only last week surprised the markets by acquiring the world's most popular mobile messenger, WhatsApp, for $19 billion.
Ramping up office staff in Korea is one thing, but Joe went on to highlight that Korea’s number of daily mobile users has increased by 17.7% to 7.3 million last December, from six months ago when the company first released the data - the presence of global electronics and automobile companies in Korea makes the nation attractive to the global IT giant.
“Korean handset makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are very important partners to Facebook, and it has even been suggested that the Korea office was initially established in order to fully leverage the important relationship with Samsung, the maker of over 30% of the world's smartphones. "We are working closely with [Korean tech companies] to make their devices more social,” Joe stated. “Share” buttons letting smartphone users share links on Facebook is one example, he added.
Facebook has also recently partnered with the nation’s automobile manufacturer Kia Motors to increase the social experience for passengers in their vehicles. Kia is now jointly developing the in-car voice recognition system UVO, which provides quick access to a vehicle’s multimedia and infotainment systems, which will be integrated with Facebook in the future. “Once the system is commercialized, drivers will search for information on Facebook in their vehicles and not through their smartphones,” said Joe.
Facebook is also offering a marketing platform for Korean companies to reach global users. Not only major brands but also many small and medium companies in Korea are clients of Facebook, which has over 1 million advertisers globally.
“The biggest advantage of Facebook is to enable companies to have targeted marketing based on demographic factors such as age, workplace, school or interests,” Joe said. Using the Facebook platform is one way that Korean SMEs and large corporations can effectively engage overseas customers, an issue that has plagued many Korean tech companies in the past.
Joe believes that the outlook for Korea’s user base is also great, and he expects that the social giant will continue to expand the number of users by implementing more local features and better translation service pages.
Facebook's monthly active users (MAUs) reached 13 million last December, up 18% from six months earlier. This figure is still well shy of the MAU figures achieved by Kakao Talk, Korea's top social platform, but demonstrates solid growth.