One of the increasingly powerful and popular ways to advertise or to create a brand is through the use of social media. This is also one of the most efficient ways to do so and interested parties in Korean translated literature should be exploring these avenues. Currently, unfortunately, those of us interested in Korean literature, seem a step behind in the social media arena.
What I’m discussing is the possibility of using all of the tools of social media to increase the popularity of Korean translated literature. And I mean social media in the broadest sense possible – First I mean the things we normally think of as social media – Twitter, Facebook, and that kind of thing – as well as a couple of other avenues that are not so obvious.
The Wikipedia claims that according to social media theorists there are six different types of social media: collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia), blogs and microblogs (e.g., Twitter), content communities (e.g., YouTube), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), virtual game worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft), and virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life).
For the purposes of this post I will toss those last two out, I don’t see virtual game worlds and virtual social worlds as being important to Korean literature, while the others self-evidently are.
In addition, I’d like to extend the parameters a bit. I would argue that for literature Amazon is also a social media. Related to that I’d say that ebooks are a social media. Second I’d argue that many traditional “media” sources that are repurposing themselves online as social media outlets have also become social media, in their posts, forums, and comments. Finally, I’d also strongly echo the claim that Wikipedia, perhaps the best example of successful crowdsourcing on the Internet, is a social media with respect to literature. Sometimes people don’t think of the Wikipedia that way, but it is.
One to look no farther than the success of KPOP to see how a social media based program can succeed. Sun Jung notes (Race and Ethnicity in Fandom: Praxis – K-pop, Indonesian fandom, and social media):
Around the world, pop consumers are increasingly accessing popular products through social media. Online fan groups of Korean popular music (K-pop) in Asia have dynamically and transculturally circulated their product through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. In October 2010, Super Junior, a K-pop idol boy band, was ranked as the number one worldwide trending topic on Twitter—ranking even higher than a sensational news story about trapped Chilean miners. Regional fans in Indonesia in particular have been identified as the source of a spike in tweets on this topic. Such a phenomenon illustrates how social media–empowered online fandom enhances cultural flow and affects transcultural pop circulation dynamics.
At first you have to get this process going, but once it begins it should be propagated by fans and only require a slight bit of feeding and tweaking to keep going. And this is the wave of the future. And it will, as the previous sentences suggest, require some seeding.
Let’s look at these areas one by one, focusing on my experience (because I’m egomaniacal like that!) wherever possible.
Blogs can be a powerful way to get the word out. In the last 90 days my site has received over 10,500 individual views on 23,836 pageviews. This, of course, is utterly puny compared to what K-pop sites routinely get, but these numbers are way up from where it began. In a similar time period in 2009-10 the site had 1,804 individuals who took 3,384 pageviews. The geographical nature of my viewership has changed as well, from 45% originating in South Korea to under 20% in South Korea today. In essence, the blog has internationalized.
When blogs work right, they actually turn into something more like online magazine and press-release machines. Returning to KPOP you have sites like AllKpop which attract 4 million individuals per month and get some 75 million individual hits.
I’m not suggesting that I think it is likely that numbers of this sort will be associated with Korean literature, because I think literature is necessarily a smaller market, but it is evidence of what can happen if a blog hangs around and something becomes popular.
So, what do we find out there in the blogosphere? Not much, a sprinkling of blogs other than mine. The main problem here seems to be continuity. For instance, two of the finest translation blogs in recent history are Subject Object Verb and the now defunct Impossible Transfer. The first is a kind of survivor/reconstruction of the second, and it is already producing posts at a declining rate. The fact is that this kind of blog either needs to be institutional, or to have institutional support or in most cases it will dwindle away in the face of real-life concerns of the blogger. And, in fact, most blogs follow a “efflorescence to senescence” path, which must certainly be taken into account in planning.
Twitter and Facebook
These are the obvious cases. They can be used as marketing tools for blogs, or as standalone channels of information. I do a bit of both. It was interesting to watch, for instance, twitter blow up (in a sense relative to literature) when Shin Kyung-sook won the Man Asia Literary Prize. Twitter is a brilliant amplifier of these kinds of things, although it requires a lot of consistency because it is ephemeral by nature – tweets flash by on a computer screen at an alarming rate. KTLIT has just over 600 followers on twitter and feedburner and I follow 270 pages. And when I’m watching my tweet-feed, things rocket by. In twitter it is important to have quality followers, those who look for your tweets and repeat them, not just a large number. Still, by developing good twitter relationships and judicious use of hashtags, a lot can be accomplished.
This is currently a really weak area for Korean literature. I tweet, but I don’t see much of that from anyone else. Subject Object Verb, another translation blog, doesn’t tweet that I am aware of. The Daesan Foundation doesn’t have a twitter account. LTI Korea has a twitter account, but it is for its Translation Academy and only tweets in Korean. In addition, while some Korean publishers do have active twitter accounts (e.g. Minumsa – who appallingly cannot be found by google search in English) these accounts are solely in Korean, and thus not generally comprehensible outside of Korea
This is an area that could really be improved, again, by interested organizations just doing the kind of brand extension that most of the west has accepted as inevitable, if not yet normal.
Facebook is similar. There are two possibilities on Facebook, either posting status updates (similar to Twitter) or having static pages intended to provide information and link elsewhere. Sadly Korean literature doesn’t do so well Daesan Foundation is absent, LTI Korea has a minimal presence based on its Translation academy and there is almost no one else there. In neither case do the facebookers post updates.
Suprisingly, or maybe not, the best site on Facebook is the Fans of Korean Literature Miłośnicy literatury koreańskiej site, which is produced by Polish fans of Korean literature, and is pretty active, though generally in Polish!
These are two major pillars of social media that are being, essentially, ignored. The good news is that everyone knows how these outlets work, and I hope it is only a matter of time before the involved institutions here get on board. Facebook, particularly, could be begun with the creation of a few static pages and then a move into complete interaction. Hallyu, for instance, has a page with over 120,000 likes and KPOPLive has over 409,762 likes and is working to create online and read links between KPOP and US Korean-Am rappers like Dumbfoundead.
This is a real opportunity, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, it is a relatively inexpensive one, particularly if you harness fan enthusiasm. One small example before I end the first half of this post: The essay contests that LTI Korea hold, the essay contests that overseas Korean institutions hold – these would all be brilliant blog posts and/or facebook posts, and then twittering their existence could only help push the brand.