A Cyworld user looks at her “Minihome,” a micro blog provided to individual users by the social networking service, in this file photo. Cyworld is trying to differentiate its services to attract foreign users. / Korea Times file
By Yoon Ja-young
Cyworld, the country’s most widely known social networking service, is accelerating toward the global market. It has changed strategy to attract foreign users based on introspection on past failures, and it is likely to succeed this time, with users logging in from over 140 countries.
The homegrown service has been faltering amid threats by global services like Facebook. According to Rankey.com, Cyworld had 24.26 million visitors in December, around 40 percent more than that of Facebook. However, Cyworld has been a setting sun while Facebook is rising. Visitors to Cyworld deceased by 1 million from January to December last year, while Facebook saw a 63 percent increase.
While pondering ways to keep local users, Cyworld has been taking an aggressive strategy of advancing into the global market. The efforts during the past few years, however, have had little success.
A spokeswoman for SK Communications, which operates the service, said it adopted a wrong strategy. “Back then, we thought ‘localization of Internet services’ was the answer. So we set up a Japanese corporation to advance into the market, analyzed the culture there for over six months, and changed the user interface and content to suit Japanese users,” she said.
However, the excessive localization blocked users in Japan and those in China from becoming friends. “Networking is the keyword of social networking services...We thus changed the strategy and focused on networking, providing users with the most fun through these services, the interaction with people.”
It adopted one platform: a multiple language strategy. The single platform supports Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, German and Spanish so that people can make global friends. It also simplified the user interface.
The outcome of the effort is Global Cyworld, the beta service of which was launched in November.
Looking for niche market
While it has adopted a single platform and simplified the user interface like Facebook, Cyworld is trying to attract users in the niche market by differentiating the service.
The spokeswoman for Cyworld cited “cuteness” and “closer ties” as its strengths. “Our service is regarded as cute and more emotionally satisfying. Users find the “minihome” unique, an interesting experience to have their own room in cyberspace.” Minihome is an abbreviated homepage service, where one can post photos, leave messages as well as keep a diary, on top of decorating it.
“The networking here has stronger ties. Cyworld friends are more attached to one another than Twitter followers,” she said. Unlike other global social networking services, the networking is limited to intimate friends.
It took females in their 10s and 20s as its main target, and they seem to be right in this. Many of the Global Cyworld subscribers are females aged between 15 and 24, according to the service.
Hallyu, or the wave in popularity of Korean culture abroad, is another keyword for Cyworld. It runs Star Minihome where fans can communicate with hallyu stars. Cy Star, where one can become friends of the stars, is another attraction for hallyu fans. “Currently we are optimizing the service. We are focusing on increasing contents,” the spokeswoman said.
It launched the Global Cyworld application for smartphones this month, to satisfy those who want to immediately check the site. The local Cyworld app has recorded 24 million downloads so far.
“The service is receiving a favorable reaction. We plan to start aggressive marketing soon.”