Cyworld US website is still live, but the office may quit from USA and back to South Korea. The company will focus on Korean operation more in the future. I still remember when Cyworld US launched in 2006, how CNNor other media described the power of Cyworld in South Korea and considered it as a strong competitor of MySpace. Now Cyworld pulls its plug from US market. What happened?
Cyworld did a lot of effort for overseas markets. Instead of launching multiple language versions for the site, Cyworld built a local team in different countries. (China, Japan, Taiwan, USA, and Vietnam) They considered a localized site to meet users’ needs. For example, Mini-room is a popular service features cute avatars and virtual items. Young adults enjoy decorating their rooms and express their own style. When the service was moved to US, the design is totally different and you can tell the shift from the following images. Moreover, Cyworld US also removed the original frame for users’ personal profile. It became a whole page instead of a pop-up window. But these changes are not enough for American users.
The problem is, Cyworld is a famous brand in South Korea. Most users in USA are American-koreans or Koreans oversea students. The strong preferences for Korean culture limited the growth of Cyworld US. People consider the site as a Korean fan site. Moreover, original users may feel betrayed because of these localized services. They use Cyworld US because of its unique concepts. Now parts of the concepts were gone. Therefore, Cyworld US locates in an ambiguous place which leads Cyworld’s limited growth.
Of course the market is competitive in USA. Cyworld launched in 1999 in South Korea when there was no blog services and strong web 2.0 trend. It is a pioneer in Korean market. When it entered USA, many sites have existed and gathered members quickly. Therefore, a foreign brand had barriers already in the early beginning. The same situation happened in Taiwan too. Most users have been addicted to a blog service,Wretch. Cyworld is hard to attract users because of its strong “Made in Korea” image. In Taiwan market, the idea of “social networking site” is still weak. The marketing team communicates to customers with the terms “multiple blog service” or “biggest social networking site in Korea.” The messages are obscure and failed to create a brand image in Taiwan.
What can Cyworld do for the global service? I think Cyworld still have great concepts about their service. They emphasize on true and reliable online personal relationship. It connects online and offline social life closely. There are some cool functions, for example, the latest service, Mini Life, high-quality and well design for virtual items and background music service. Maybe the service could be applied to other social networking site. Help global users get use to its unique functions first, then the brand?
How to conquer culture barriers in overseas market? A localized service or a standardized one? Those social networking sites are still trying hard.