KakaoTalk was launched by Korean company Kakao Corp. (now Daum Kakao) in 2010 and quickly became the top messenger app in South Korea. It has since become the #1 most frequently-used messaging app in the world.
Following the breakout success of KakaoTalk, Daum Kakao launched KakaoStory, a social network app, in 2012. KakaoStory is a picture-sharing app that allows users to take, edit, and share pictures and follow content shared by brands and friends. One YouTuber described it as “the perfect marriage between Facebook and Instagram.”
Who Uses It?
How Do People Use It?
KakaoTalk boasts more than 49 million monthly active users across 230+ countries, but its biggest success has been in South Korea, where 86% of its users reside.
99% of South Koreans surveyed said they use KakaoTalk. And according to Nielsen KoreanClick, users spent an average of 849.6 minutes in the app in November 2016 – nearly five times what South Korean users spent with Line and 30 times what they spent with Facebook Messenger.
Timing, plus market opportunity, was a key contributing factor to KakaoTalk’s success. When the platform first launched, mobile customers in South Korea (as in many other places) had to pay for incoming and outgoing texts and phone calls. Because the app allows people to chat using their data connection, it was an incredibly appealing option to users, and this helped drive the initial influx of signups. Moreover, KakaoTalk launched just a few months after the iPhone first debuted in Korea.
Kakao’s CEO, Sirgoo Lee, told Business Insider that he sees KakaoTalk as more of a social network than a messaging app. Chatting and making calls are the app’s core functionalities, but users can also play games, make online payments, create restaurant reservations, and book hotel rooms via the platform. They can also send each other gifts (from coffeeshop vouchers to electronics and even jewelry) via KakaoTalk’s Gift Shop.
Riding the wave of KakaoTalk’s popularity, KakaoStory surpassed 3 million users just two days after launching. KakaoStory is now the sixth most-popular smartphone app amongst South Korean Android users, beating out both Facebook and Instagram.
Users can edit and share photos under the MyStory section and react to their friends’ posts with “mood buttons”, including Like, Cool, Happy, Sad, and Cheer Up. KakaoStory is heavily integrated with KakaoTalk; users can import their contacts from KakaoTalk into KakaoStory. And when users add a cover photo to their KakaoStory profile it automatically appears on their KakaoTalk profile.
The fact that KakaoTalk is not limited to messaging and call features allows the app to explore unique ways to customize the user experience for specific markets. Bloomberg points out that:
“Seoul to Manila is about a three-hour flight, but there are countless cultural differences between the two. That’s why Kakao adapts its software to each market by recruiting local artists to make virtual stickers sold through the app and by bringing on local businesses.”
Additionally, KakaoStory was ahead of the curve on allowing users to express a more complex spectrum of emotions when reacting to a piece of content in their feed. KakaoStory included its mood buttons mentioned above years before Facebook launched Reactions in 2016.
How Are Brands Using It?
KakaoTalk’s version of a brand page is called PlusFriend, which enables brands and celebrities to have a dedicated page in the app. Brands can publish updates to their page or pay to send direct messages to their followers, including coupons, product information, photo albums, video clips, audio files, events, and even raffles.
Big-name brands like Uniqlo use KakaoTalk. To celebrate opening its PlusFriend account, Uniqlo gave away discount coupons to KakaoTalk users. Within 16 days, 20% of the coupons had been opened, and 40% of the coupons opened had been used.
Beauty brands are especially active on KakaoTalk. They average 413,559 fans, which is nearly quadruple the fan base of their Korean Facebook pages. Local beauty brands in particular have found success in the app; they make up 75% of the Plus Friend beauty category.
International beauty brands who aim to reach the South Korean market have also amassed sizable followings on KakaoStory. The Face Shop and Skin Food both beat out several local beauty brands in terms of audience size, with followers in the many millions.
Native advertising in users’ feeds is popular on KakaoStory. Through KakaoTalk’s partnership with InMobi, advertisers can launch hyper-targeted advertising campaigns on the social network app.
Daum Kakao’s primary competition is Naver, a search giant in South Korea that also owns two major messenger apps: BAND and Line. In 2014 Naver introduced games into Band, encroaching on KakaoTalk’s unique offer of a blend of messaging, talk, and gaming features.
That said, Kakao’s apps are still a leading option for brands who are aiming to reach the South Korean market. For international brands looking to connect with consumers in South Korea, it is critical that they consider a presence on KakaoTalk and KakaoStory.
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