Korea has the strange reputation of being one of the most wired countries in the world with one of the least-connected Internet populations. While everyone in Korea might be able to download at 1-Mbps, they use this awesome networking power to talk to each other almost exclusively, ignoring the outside world's Internet. Internet sensations such as MySpace, Facebook, and Google have all largely been ignored by Korean Internet users. However, one of the latest Internet crazes has finally gained the attention of the world's most-wired peninsula - Twitter.
The most surprising factoid about Koreans using Twitter is that North Koreans are using Twitter. Well, at least one is. The Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean state-run news source, started offering updates via Twitter early this year. It can be found at Twitter.com/KCNA_DPRK, in all its bombastic rhetorical glory. You must be warned, there is a lost of "blasting" going on in that Twitter account.
But the most popular user of Twitter who got the ball rolling was Kim Yu-na, the popular Korean figure skating world champion. She started a Twitter account back on May 10, and as of this writing has 36,563 followers. Her account is Twitter.com/yunaaaa. Her first tweet, which read "I somehow found myself subscribing to Twitter while eating lunch at the club," was the beginning of a Twitter feed that attracted 3,000 followers in just a few weeks. In contrast, this magazine has only 164 followers after starting our own Twitter feed at the beginning of June. Check out our own Twitter feed at Twitter.com/koreatech.
Kim Yu-na has been solid marketing gold for pretty much anything after she won the world figure skating championships. She has endorsed Nike, Kookmin Bank, Hyundai Motor Company, Smoothie King, and several different electronics and household products. People say that her own personal brand is powerful, and that she can pretty much do anything she wants to now. She does have an impressive resume, since she is the 2009 World champion, 2009 Four Continents champion, two-time (2006-2007, 2007-2008) Grand Prix Final champion, 2006 World Junior champion, 2005-2006 Junior Grand Prix Final champion, and four-time (2002-2005) South Korean national champion, according to Wikipedia.
But she isn't the only impressive resume using Twitter in Korea. Kim Hyung-o, the National Assembly speaker and five-term assemblyman, also joined the Twitter bandwagon on June 18. He can be found at Twitter.com/hyongo. He is a self-described "digital speaker," and uses his BlackBerry smartphone to communicate with his constituents. He tries to send out at least one message per day.
Sim Sang-jeong was one of the earliest Korean politicians to adopt Twitter. He has over 1,000 followers.
Chung Dong-young, a former presidential candidate in 2007 and former Unification Minister, has also embraced Twitter. His account can be found at Twitter.com/coreacdy. He has spoken about political issues such as small-scale supermarkets being forced out of business by national chains, and is said to post from his WiBro-enabled laptop. He has been a controversial face in Korean politics in the past, strongly supporting the Sunshine Policy and rhetorically opposing the United States on many occasions.
Former lawmaker Lee jae-oh, who is the current de facto leader of the largest Lee Myung-bak supporting faction in the Grand National Party, has also opened a Twitter account at Twitter.com/JaeOhYi. He uses Twitter to criticize policy and demand changes.
Other politicians that are using Twitter include Kim Yoo-jung, Choi Moon-soon, and Cho Yoon-sun, spokesman for the GNP.
This Twitter popularity has not gone unnoticed by Korean telecoms companies. KT, the country's largest telephony company and runner-up mobile operator, recently opened a Twitter account which can be found at twitter.com/ollehkt. It now has around 900 followers. It was following in the footsteps of SK Telecom, who had already opened a Twitter page at twitter.com/sktelecom-blog in May. This was more interesting because the company already operates a competing service called Tossi (www.tossi.com).
Although subscribing to Twitter two months earlier than its rival, SK Telecom trails slightly with around 800 followers. KT was able to generate a significant buzz over a shorter period of time, as it is expected to be the first among the two mobile carriers to release iPhone, Apple's iconic do-it-all smart phone that local tech geeks have been awaiting for years.
The KT Twitter page is currently flooding with questions about the upcoming iPhone release, although the company clearly prefers not to be too specific. SK Telecom said much of its followers are high-tech industry professionals and also students and early adopters, or trend-setting consumers.
Local Internet company NHN, which operates top Web portal, Naver (www.naver.com), has been pushing a similar micro-blogging service called me2Day (me2day.net), while SK Telecom is trying to gain traction for Tossi, which is provided on the mobile phones of its subscribers.
The ferocious rivalry between KT and SK Telecom had both companies spending obscene amounts of money on an advertising war in offline media. It remains to be seen how much of the battles in print and on television can be replaced by e-mails, instant messaging, social networking services and other online communication tools.
But there is no question that Twitter and other online platforms are adding a new, interactive dimension to how the companies reach their audience, and gain a clear understanding of them and serve their needs.
The popularity of Twitter and other broadcast texting services may have a profound influence on consumer behavior and change the way people gain information from the Internet, which could see them competing with traditional search engines such as Google, industry experts say.