When it comes to social media platforms, it can be tempting to just stick with the big names you already know, but no one wants to miss out on the next big thing. And look, we don’t want to spark your FOMO, but have you heard of KakaoTalk?

Whether you’re familiar with this hot social messaging app or not, there’s a good chance you should start paying attention to it. Not only is KakaoTalk safe, but it might be essential in your digital marketing plan.

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

What is KakaoTalk?

KakaoTalk (or KaTalk) is a popular messaging app in South Korea. It’s a free mobile service that offers text messaging, voice and video calls, group chats and more.

KakaoTalk yellow speech bubble Talk logo

Though similar to Line or WeChat, KakaoTalk’s actually been around for 12 years. But its popularity has exploded in recent years, with an increase of over 8 million users worldwide between 2015 and 2021.

chart of number of active users worldwide on KakaoTalk

Chart via Statista.

You know how it’s common to say “let me Google that” when you’re thinking of looking something up? KakaoTalk has achieved that level of ubiquity, with South Koreans often using “Ka-Talk” as a verb (i.e. “I’ll Ka-Talk you later”).

According to eMarketer, a whopping 97.5% of smartphone users in South Korea used the app as of December 2020. That’s over 3 times the amount of users on the second most popular app, Instagram.

mobile messaging apps used by mobile messaging users in South Korea, December 2020

Chart via eMarketer.

KakaoTalk has become an ingrained part of South Korean culture, but you can use it anywhere in the world. You just need the app and an internet connection. KakaoTalk is also surprisingly popular in the Netherlands and Italy, and it’s only a matter of time before it catches on elsewhere.

The platform can connect businesses with an enormous base of potential consumers worldwide. Your KakaoTalk marketing campaign might extend far beyond South Korea.

How can you use KakaoTalk for business?

So there’s a whole well of untapped potential, but how can you use KakaoTalk for your business? Whether it’s Kakao ads, Kakao shopping, or customer care, let’s look at all of the things you can do to leverage your brand on the platform.

KakaoTalk Channel homepage

Example of a KakaoTalk Channel homepage.

Create a KakaoTalk Business Channel

Free to create and easy to maintain, a KakaoTalk Business Channel is a great call for business owners looking to break into the platform.

With this tool, you can build a searchable hub for your brand. You can also keep your followers updated with photos, videos and status updates. Perhaps best of all, you use the built-in smart chat function to have real-time communication with your clients.

KakaoTalk’s official chatbot logo

KakaoTalk’s official chatbot logo.

Update your clients

There are plenty of ways to advertise your brand on KakaoTalk, and they’re all worth your time. You can send direct messages to folks on your KakaoTalk Business Channel. These can be used for everything from brand notifications to coupon drops or other special offers.

Kakao Sync for Business

Reach new customers

If you’re looking to expand your reach further, you can access the Kakao BizBoard. This standalone B2B service allows businesses to share content across various platforms.

With BizBoard, you can create highly targeted ad campaigns using Kakao Sync.

Design custom emoticons

Like any social media app worth its weight in likes, KakaoTalk has a strong emoticon presence. The main stars are the incredibly adorable Kakao Friends. They’re so popular, they even have their own branded retail stores throughout South Korea.

Kakao Friends retail store

Kakao Friends retail store via Universal Beijing.

Sure, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to come up with something as iconic as the beloved Ryan the lion. But you can still contribute custom emoticons to the KakaoTalk oeuvre. Simply sign up for the Kakao Emoticon Studio to design emoticons that rep your brand.

Kakao Emoticon Studio star influencer character

Examples of custom emoticons in the KakaoTalk store.

Directly sell food (if applicable)

Some brands might benefit from using KakaoTalk Order, the app’s take on popular services like UberEats or Doordash.

The food ordering service also has a robust boss center. It helps store owners manage their menus, create discount codes and stay in touch with their customer base.

How to start using KakaoTalk for business

KakaoTalk is both intuitive and easy to use. But there are some complications if you want to open a KakaoTalk Business Channel. Let’s walk through each step for setting up your KakaoTalk account.

KakaoTalk Messenger app store

Download the app

Since it’s predominantly Korean, KakaoTalk is likely tucked away in a deep corner of your app store, but you’ll find it there.

You might notice that there are some negative reviews for the app, which tend to center on one major takeaway. It’s hard to change the phone number or email address associated with your account, so make sure you get it right the first time.

Sign up for a personal account

KakaoTalk will likely start with your phone number. Again — make sure you use a number that you’ll have for a while, because it can be tough to change later on. This is a personal account, so you can use your own phone number, add a verified email address and use a profile picture if you so choose. Enable two-step verification to maximize security.

Create a KakaoTalk Channel

To start using KakaoTalk’s business features, you’ll want to create a KakaoTalk Channel (also known as a Kakao Channel). If you’re not fluent in Korean, you’ll want to let your browser’s translation feature do the heavy lifting.

It’s also a good idea to have Google Translate open in another window. You can also use the smartphone app, which has a live AR translate function.

Once you’re prepared, follow these steps:

  • Navigate to the Kakao Business admin page. You will be asked to sign in with your personal account and input your name. I set 155 as my name, because that’s the name of my podcast for which I’m creating a channel.
  • The next page may or may not auto-translate, but the yellow button at the bottom says “Create a new channel.” Kakao Business create a new channel
  • Enter the channel name, search ID and brief description for your channel, and upload a profile picture (recommended: 640 x 640px). You can also select relevant categories for your brand from the dropdown menus below.
  • When they’re first opened, channels are set to private. Navigate to the channel visibility toggle on your dashboard and click it on to set your channel as public. Here you can also turn on “allow search” and “1:1 chat” to really get your name out there.

create a channel with profile settings

That’s it. You’ve successfully made a KakaoTalk Channel for your brand, and have access to messaging, analytics, promotional coupons and the ability to be found in the user directory.

file icon

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

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all you need is Kakao account

Upgrade to a KakaoTalk Business Channel (optional)

But wait, there’s more. If you upgrade to a KakaoTalk Business Channel, you’ll be able to reap the benefits further with a verified badge, better placement in search results and access to the fancy BizBoard we mentioned earlier.

There are some catches, though — you need a Korean business number, a business registration card and an employment certificate for the channel administrator to get to this next level. And if you’re working outside of Korea, that could require some special visas and visits to the lawyer.

If you’ve got the number, then here’s how to proceed:

  • Click the “Upgrade to business channel” button on the dashboard (it may not translate but it’s circled in red).

Kakao Business upgrade to business channel

  • Click “Apply” in the top right corner.

apply button Kakao Business

  • Fill in all of the fields with your missing information.

fill in fields to apply for business channels

Applications take three to five business days to be approved, and you’ll be notified through your registered KakaoTalk email when they’re complete. If you’ve incorrectly filled out any fields, your application may be rejected. If you’re approved, you can start using the BizBoard and enjoying the other benefits of a business account.

Frequently asked questions about KakaoTalk

With a potential language barrier and the fact that it’s relatively new to audiences outside of South Korea, you might have more questions about KakaoTalk. We’ve got you covered with our KakaoTalk FAQ.

Is KakaoTalk safe?

If you use it appropriately, KakaoTalk is indeed safe. The app offers standard security features like 2-step verification to ensure that it’s not easily accessible to hackers.

However, it is also important to note that South Korean laws do allow the app to share chat history with employees, and there have been a number of libel cases that have included chat records from the app.

For further protection, you can turn on end-to-end encryption if you toggle the “Secret Chat” mode. You can also use a VPN to add more anonymity to the app.

How much does KakaoTalk cost for businesses?

Whether you’re using a KakaoTalk Channel or a KakaoTalk Business Channel, both services are completely free.

The latter service boasts far more features, but it also requires users to obtain a South Korean business license and other documentation.

Some features may also require a South Korean phone number. Those aren’t impossible to get, but could prove costly.

Do KakaoTalk accounts expire?

For security purposes, KakaoTalk generally suspends accounts if they’re inactive for a year or longer. You might still be able to get it up and running again if that happens, but it’s not foolproof. Many people have complained that they’ve lost their entire chat history, so it’s probably not worth the risk.

Where can I get support for my KakaoTalk account?

If you’ve got any questions about your KakaoTalk account, they’ve got a handy FAQ page of their own — and it’s already available in English. You can also reach out to their customer service desk.

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