Monday 01 September 2014

Friday Five: How Social Media Works in Japan

Japan is slowly coming around to a more open style of social media, where brands tell a story and invite contribution from the community. As ever, success involves carefully balancing the western approach with content that resonates locally. Here are five important points about the Japanese market.

1. International Platforms Are Growing Rapidly

It’s well documented that both Facebook and Twitter belatedly became relevant to Japan, following the earthquake of March 2011. As you can see from the chart below, both platforms have grown very quickly in the last year, accelerating in the last six months. In fact, Japan was Facebook’s second-biggest growth market last year after Brazil. However, both Facebook and Twitter still have relatively low penetration. For example, the current number of Facebook users is around 8-10 million (depending on whom you ask), which is only about 10% of Internet users.

japanese social

Image courtesy of Nielsen/ Net Ratings.

2. Social Media is Becoming More Transparent

Before the earthquake, the social media scene was dominated by mixi, a local platform based around niche communities, anonymous blogging platforms and various mobile gaming communities. Much of this is said to stem from the divide between public and private personas, with Japanese people hesitant to show their real name and picture online.

This is visibly changing and the younger generation is happier to show their identity when posting their opinions and activities online. The result is that brands are suddenly realizing they need to alter their online strategies to connect with this modern audience.

3. It Doesn’t Take Long to Reach a Specific Demographic

When you book Facebook ads, you can reach almost all the people in your target demographic pretty quickly. However, it also means that every Facebook campaign in the immediate future will involve selling consumers on the idea of Facebook (and sometimes Twitter), rather than simply on the brand itself. Additionally, the language used needs to be even more explanatory than in mature Facebook markets. There also needs to be a dose of local culture, which in Japan often means tying in to one of the important seasonal changes, like the cherry blossom season*.

4. The Local Brands Have a Big Advantage

In terms of the kind of campaign ideas that work in Japan, it’s very much a market in a state of flux at the moment. Facebook Japan has more or less avoided pushing gaming-led campaigns to clients as there are already huge mobile gaming platforms and a need to differentiate Facebook.

However, Facebook Japan has given the most popular local brands a huge boost. Almost all of the biggest Facebook pages have been featured on the ‘suggested pages’ feature when people sign up for Facebook in Japan.  This means that when new users join Facebook in Japan, they are given several brand pages that Facebook suggests they like, such as ANA Airlines (see below). Considering— as Mark Zuckerberg recently mentioned— that the number of Facebook users in Japan has doubled in the last six months, you can see why this tool has been so powerful.


5. Japan Is Only Now Exploring New Facebook Capabilities

Most local brands haven’t taken advantage of the switch to Facebook Timeline and the extra emphasis on storytelling. In fact, most have not done much to adapt their content for the new format. Furthermore, the kind of content brands post is very rarely engaging. Much in keeping with Japanese culture, the posts tend to be conservative and lack individuality. This shows in the Facebook brand pages, with the possible exception of Uniqlo, Muji and Bad Land (a motorbike shop).

Uniqlo has shown innovation by recently offering consumers location-based discounts via Facebook. Interestingly, Muji posts the back stories behind its products (as told by designers) on its Japanese Facebook page. The content is product-centric; however, you can get away with that when the products are photogenic and there is a strong existing fan base like there is for this local brand. Bad Land is also product-centric, but again, the products are photogenic and photographed in a very atmospheric way.

In addition, the content is posted in both English and Japanese, to appeal to an audience beyond Japan.

What’s social media like in your country? What’s the major social platform?

*RIM is an Edelman client.

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