The early establishment of Twitter as a social media force in Japan and the meteoric rise of Facebook in the first two quarters of 2012 are two cases that should be studied in order to gain valuable insight into the Japanese market. Facebook went from having a tiny market share, barely breaking two percent, to recently overtaking the biggest local social media network Mixi with fifteen million Japanese users. For a while, this market seemed impenetrable. However, thanks to a strong marketing strategy, Facebook is on a clear upward trend and may conceivably overtake Twitter in the next year.
Culture is a big part of social media success in Japan
Japan is one of the most active countries online. While this should logically mean that social media networks like Facebook would have immediate success, the culture is such that it is easy to fail in the Japanese markets. This is because social networking is a very big deal in Japan and the Japanese social media giant Mixi seemed unstoppable only a couple of years ago. It is also important to know that sites like Mobage-Town and Gree, which combine social media networking with Japan’s love for video games, have a similarly large part of the social media network market share.
Taking a look at Twitter’s success in Japan
While domestic networks are important in Japan, Twitter became very popular early on. In fact, Japan is one of Twitter’s largest markets due to its popularity with more than eighteen million Japanese people. So, why did Twitter succeed almost immediately while Facebook stagnated? The fact is, Facebook had a time disadvantage.
When Facebook was just being founded, Mixi was already an important part of the Japanese social media market. Mixi was created as a Japanese version of Friendster, which was quickly driven out of the market by Facebook in the United States. However, in Japan Mixi thrived, along with the other social networks that are more game oriented. This was the first obstacle for Facebook, they were competing against social network companies that had years of advantage in a very particular market. Twitter entered the Japanese market back in 2008, rapidly adding Japanese language to its platform (the first non-English Twitter language, in fact), and offering a new option for social media users in Japan.
How Japan’s cultural considerations initially hindered Facebook’s advances
One of the main aspects of the main Japanese social networks is anonymity. Japan’s computer users value their online anonymity and there is a strong culture of creating online characters using pseudonyms and handles in order to stay anonymous online. Twitter also has this advantage, allowing computer users to hide their real life identity behind a user name. The main problem with Facebook is that it is geared towards interacting with friends, meaning that they need to know who you are in order to find you. Social media networks in Japan are, instead, centered around community pages that receive huge amounts of anonymous visitors. In these kinds of online locations, your own identity isn’t as important as with Facebook.
What can we learn from Facebook’s meteoric rise in Japan?
Ultimately, Facebook focused its efforts on adding features that would appeal to Japanese users. They strengthened their mobile platform, which had a huge effect on the social capabilities of this network. They also added small changes that were specific to the Japanese market. For example, blood type is important the Japanese (many Japanese people believe that you can glean a lot about a person’s personality from that person’s blood type), and Facebook in Japan added a way to share this information with your Facebook friends. While there is no question that Mixi still has more subscriptions and has a stronger mobile platform than Facebook, this social network is now competing actively against Mixi, surpassing it in PC users and in number of active users.
In short, social media success in Japan requires several elements that can work against newcomers or companies not knowledgeable about Japanese culture:
- Getting to know the well-established local social media giants and offering something that they are not particularly good at.
- Understanding the importance of localization. Not only with the language but with regional quirks involving website design and cultural considerations.
- Japanese social media users require a strong mobile platform. Any successful social media network in Japan will need to be portable and mobile most of all.
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About the Guest Author:
Nida Rasheed is a freelance writer and owner of an outsourcing company, Nida often finds herself wanting to write about the subjects that are closest to her heart. She lives in Islamabad, Pakistan and can be found on Twitter @nidarasheed.