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The “Share” Button and the Spread of the Korean Wave

Time Magazine Article on the Korean Wave: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2013227,00.html

The Korean Wave, although already well known in Asia, is still working its way to America. The term refers to the recent international fascination with Korean pop culture, Korean television, Korean music, Korean fashion, Korean food, and all things Korean. Through online and traditional methods of promotions, Korean government and entertainment agencies have already captured the hearts of Asians. For the purpose of this blog entry, I shall focus mainly on the transmission of K-Pop, or Korean music, to America since it is the most salient example of the popularity of the Korean Wave that is close to home.

It’s conceivable how the Korean Wave hit Asia. Proximity, similarity in culture, and traditional means of advertisement (radio, TV, magazines, endorsements, etc.) swiftly made the Korean Wave part of the mainstream in many countries including Singapore, China and Japan. The big question is, how did the Korean Wave hit Europe and America? With no mainstream media broadcasting the phenomenon to the other side of the world, how did the masses learn of this Asian trend?

As with all issues in this world, there is no definitive answer for the rise in popularity of K-Pop in America. The role of social networking, however, is undeniably a factor in the spread of K-Pop outside of Asia. The Time article I cited mentions one website, allkpop.com, as one of the dominant sources of K-Pop news for international fans. The website boasts 4 million monthly readers, and 75 million page view per month. It is “the most trafficked English based K-pop news site in the world” and features breaking news from Pop Cultural Korea, any time of the day (allkpop.com). Another popular site for the amazing spread of K-Pop is the video-sharing site YouTube. A look at the YG Entertainment YouTube Channel page (YGE is one of the bigger record labels in Korea) shows it being the 59th most subscribed of all time, 350k+ subscribers, and 310+ million upload views. SM Entertainment (another record label) has a “#35 most subscribed (all time)” badge, has 475k+ subscribers, and 546+ million upload views. These entertainment companies’ channels have more hits than the YouTube Channel of American singer/actress Selena Gomez (278+ million upload views).

What do these stats have to do with Networks? Truthfully, it’s not about the stats… it’s about the button – the “Share” button you see on every YouTube and Allkpop page. This button allows any viewer / reader to share what s/he has seen online with the rest of his/her Facebook or Twitter friends. Think of each article or YouTube video as a node, and a Facebook or Twitter user’s click on that shared link as an edge. When one user shares an Allkpop article (spreading K-Pop through articles) or a YouTube video (spreading K-Pop through media), this node is made accessible to all of this person’s friends on Facebook or Twitter, who can then make edges by linking to the media. Even if just a few individuals started the wave, the snowball effect of exponential sharing could account for this Korean Wave popularity over such a short period of time. Bridging Asia and America became that much simpler with the existence of a single button.

The Share Button on a YouTube video - the source of it all

The Share Button on a YouTube video - the source of it all

The significance of the Korean Wave in today’s culture is that companies need no longer to focus on traditional media to brace the international challenge – they need to focus on making information easily sharable by social networking users. The Korean Wave has no clear proponent behind it – the entertainment and government agencies certainly endorse it, but they did not necessarily predict its explosive popularity with the lack of formal exposure to the overseas market. For example, even with the lack of overseas promotions Korean singer Taeyang’s album Solar still “hit No. 2 on iTunes’ R&B sales charts in the U.S. and No. 1 in Canada” according to Time. With the absence of TV ads, magazine spreads, brand endorsements, and live performances in the United States, the Korean Wave still found its way to the other side of the Earth. Cultural exchange and advertising are no longer up to the marketing departments – it’s now up to the social networking users.

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