Three strategies to improve Korea’s image in the social network sites era
I don't know much about Korea. The little I know is due to my curiosity, which has led me to look for any kind of information I could find in the most remote places of the web. In most cases, I had no choice but to read in a language other than my mother tongue, since most of the information regarding this Asian nation, which is located 14,886 km away from my country, is found in Korean or English, and sometimes in Spanish, although that is very rare. Perhaps, because it is found between two worldwide recognized nations, China and Japan, the information available on the web about South Korea is often limited, especially when it comes to the content attainable to the international academic community or information related to the news nowadays.
Similarly, in terms of printed texts, this content is even more limited. Taking as an example my country, Venezuela, as far as I know, there are no texts specifically addressed to Latin Americans about South Korea or its language. Furthermore, in the only Korean language course, taught in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city, teachers are forced to adapt North American textbooks to our reality. That is one of the closest touchpoint available with Korea itself in my nation, others approach opportunities occur through events organized by the Korean embassy in Venezuela and events related to the Hallyu, where information regarding Korean history and current affairs is usually vague. What happens to those who want to know more about South Korea? How can they access it? The answer is found in social networks and, especially, in strategies that can make such data much more accessible.
Those people who are interested in knowing beyond K-Pop or K-Dramas must refer to the internet, where, as I mentioned, the information is mostly in English or Korean and the content found is usually opinions with a little official or accurate data. This kind of publications portrayed in blogs, websites or on social media is vulnerable to be distorted or simply misunderstood by people who have a different culture and vision when compared to South Korean culture.
Although South Korea has endeavored to position itself as a world middle power and influential regional player, organizing or taking part in important international events which aimed to deal with diplomatic issues that require active international participation. It is still true that much, if not all, of the content that reaches culturally and geographically distant countries, such as Venezuela, is the Hallyu and the conflict with North Korea.
In addition to this, a factor that persists in Latin American nations, is the perception citizens tend to have in relation to East Asian countries, such as Korea, that has been overshadowed by China, which is very present in America, thus, any type of element from Asian origin is perceived as "Chinese." Due to this perception issue, Korea goes unnoticed even in the technological field, one of South Korea’s strengths worldwide, since few people recognize LG, Samsung or Hyundai as products of South Korean origin.
Based on this problem related to the identification of what is or is not Korean and, the importance of expanding and improving the content available to foreigners, in terms of Korean culture and society, I propose the following three strategies to apply using as a mean of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and, especially, social networks.
A stronger country brand
As I mentioned earlier, in my country as well as other Latin American nations, there are many situations when some products or contents that emerged from South Korea are not identified as Korean. This can happen in the technological, gastronomic and even in the entertainment field; thus, largely removing the focus on Korea’s image in the region. For this reason, I consider it is pertinent to renew and strengthen the “Imagine Your Korea” brand, so that the content to be exported, specifically designed to cross Asian borders, has a characteristic that makes it easy to be identified by foreigners, who can learn firsthand what the country offers to the world and its citizens.
Following this idea, I believe this brand must be designed to be more than a strategy to promote tourism in the region, since this is something that has already been done with campaigns such as "Have you ever…., in Korea?". Furthermore, taking into account that currently South Korea is a globally recognized country, I consider it necessary to mold Korea’s image beyond tourism, making a good and intelligent use of the soft power that this nation can exercise, so that those who cannot visit Korea, but whose opinion and vision of the country is still important in some way, get to really know Korea even if they are still abroad and learn how to identify when something is in fact, Korean.
Associations, showcasing and SNS
Considering that today social networks play a great role in how the world moves and in the information its citizens have or do not have access to. South Korea needs to do a positive usage of social networks through alliances with influencers and micro-influencers, using them to broadcast showcasing of experiences and profiting as much as possible from the influence these people have over social networks users around the globe.
SNS is understood as "a network space for the expression or representation of pre-existing and prominent aspects of user identities so that others can see, interpret and interact with them” (Boyd, 2008b). Which is why according to this case, I consider that the effective use of these tools can boost and elevate the image and understanding of South Korea worldwide as well as strengthen commitment towards this nation.
Through the previously mentioned alliances, South Korea could profit off the fidelity social networks users show towards influencers and micro-influencers, who would be able to broadcast an ideal showcasing about South Korea’s iconic places, food, history, and many more topics through pictures, illustrations, vlogs, etc. In this way, the users will transpose this fidelity to the South Korean content that these influencers would show and support. Following this strategy, users can learn about South Korea from figures they trust and admire.
In this matter, at the SNS’ level is also important to promote the dissemination of informative content about South Korea in line with the dynamism that identifies the current social networks, that is, this must go beyond the simple blog with text accompanied with a photograph. Current information technologies offer a wide range of possibilities to disseminate content in infographic format (this style has been very well received in Latin America) or animated video format. Likewise, nowadays it is not enough to have a webpage full of flat information, as most users do not access these kinds of pages without previously being attracted through a link found in social networks. Thus it is necessary to fully consider and understand the impact social media has and the importance that must be given to it as a mean to spread and boost South Korea’s content and image, through which it will reach its designated target.
Phone APP to disseminate and clarify information about South Korea
The third strategy takes action over the later factor: the diversified use of ICT, by this I mean the creation of a mobile application designed for users "know Korea" in their mother tongue.
This application would have a team in charge of answering the questions of those who are interested in learning more about South Korea or those who require answers regarding a certain topic about the country. The answer they seek will be one click away. The information shared through this app would be delivered in the same language of the person who asked, if it is possible, this person would be contacted by someone who shares the person’s nationality, and this someone should have a vast knowledge about Korean history, culture, society, and news. On the other hand, if it is not possible, the information could be provided by Koreans who largely know and relate to the nations, cultures, beliefs, and behaviors of the consultants. With this method, the information would be provided and received in the most convenient way, through intercultural understanding. After all, these consultants will probably share and post the answers and pieces of information they received through this app, leading to them spreading Korean culture and facts in their language.
I am sure that the existence of this application represents a great opportunity for:
- South Korea, since doubts or erroneous information about the nation, can be clarified and known more clearly and accurately at a global scale.
- Foreigners, who can obtain proper information about South Korea in their language.
- Professional specialists in Korean studies around the world, whose field is increasingly large and necessary due to the expansion of South Korea’s image in recent years. The more people wish to know and learn about South Korea, the more necessary it will be to have certified specialists who can share this information.
Nowadays South Korea is well known worldwide, however, its image is prone to be distorted abroad due to cultural differences and ignorance regarding the country, so it is time to properly handle what the world knows about this Asian country, because it seems that the information foreigners have access to is mostly related to the conflict between this nation and North Korea; and of course about Korean pop culture. South Korea is much more than that. It is a nation that went from being a war-torn country to stand as a territory marked by great economic development, which has a rich and colorful history, and a country that has an important role in the world. It is time to go beyond these barriers and let the world know the real South Korea.
Reference: Boyd, D. (2008b) Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics. University of California: Berkeley.
(Country of Activity : Venezuela)