An overview of social media in Japan
Without question social media has firmly established itself as a significant part of our day to day lives. While the overall impact social media in Japan has had more or less mirrors that of the west, namely the widespread adoption and penetration of the biggest platforms, a few notable differences exist. In this article we will focus on the most popular social networks in Japan and give some insights into the differences between Japanese users and western users.
LINE is the most popular and successful messaging app in Japan. What makes LINE different in comparison to the originally web-based social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, is that it is an app which functions primarily as a communication tool similar to WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, or WeChat.
The first version of LINE was introduced in 2011. Since then, it has experienced enormous growth in the Japanese market. As of July 2018, the number of active users is estimated to be 76 million. This means that over 60% of the entire population actively uses LINE. The main user target are males and females in their 10s to 50s, which is truthfully a huge spread, but one that has proven to be valid given LINE’s status as the most popular app among men and women of all ages in Japan.
According to one survey, 85% of the women in their 10s to 30s use LINE on a daily basis. LINE also serves as the primary messaging app for many Japanese people when there is a natural disaster, with the Great East Japan Earthquake partially responsible for its tremendous adoption seeing as it was one of the few reliable means of communicating at the time.
Because the highest concentration of LINE users is based in Japan, non-Japanese foreigners coming to Japan are usually encouraged to install the app to be able to connect with Japanese people that they meet. In fact, people in Japan are more likely to send a message through LINE than they are to use the messaging app that is built into their smartphone, because messaging via LINE is free.
One noteworthy characteristic of the app is that LINE is used for both business and personal messages, with the ability to create different groups being a core feature along with the various stickers you can purchase and send in chats. In more recent years LINE has branched out in a number of ways, offering various services, such as mobile payment and ride hailing functionality, integrated into the main app.
Twitter is the 2nd most popular social network in Japan. Twitter started its service in Japan in 2008 and since then, has remained one of the strongest social networking platforms in the country. In 2011, when the Japanese subsidiary was established, the number of users was only 6 million. It grew by 7 times in the next 7 years making the increasing rate of new Twitter users in Japan the largest in the world.
Currently, Twitter has more than 45 million users in Japan, with male and female users accounting for nearly equal proportions of that total. Of particular note regarding Twitter usage in Japan are the statistics which show that approximately 70% of all teens and people in their 20s have a Twitter account, and one third of people in their 30s tweet.
Although the main audience for Twitter was once comprised of mostly young males and females, people in their 30s and 40s are also starting to join Twitter to be social, to catch up on the latest trends, and to stay informed of current events. Twitter in Japan, arguably more so than any other SNS, serves as a tool for users to connect with people who share the same interests.
Twitter is a diverse platform where people’s tweets range from what they have eaten for lunch to their opinions on different political issues. Twitter also serves as a lifeline in Japan, where natural disasters are not a rare occurrence. Many Japanese users rely on Twitter to get weather alerts, traffic updates, train delay information, and emergency earthquake alerts, with the 10th most followed account on Twitter in Japan being the “Emergency Earthquake Alert” account.
Prior to Twitter increasing the character count limit, the nature of the Japanese language made posting a tweet within 140 full-width characters relatively easier than in English. This was also one of the reasons for its success in Japan, as Japanese users did not feel the same kind of constraints which may have hindered users in other countries to adopt the platform. Twitter is also more culturally accessible for Japanese users compared to Facebook because it doesn’t require as much personal information to be shared and displayed.
Despite being the biggest social network globally, Facebook is only the 3rd most used social media network in Japan. The first Japanese Facebook interface was publicly presented in 2008. At that time, many Japanese were already using local social media platforms, such as Mixi, and Facebook was expected to fail in its promotion in Japan. However, contrary to everyone’s expectations, Facebook started to gradually catch on in Japan, and in 2012, the mass media started reporting Facebook being the next big popular social network to watch.
As of September 2017, Facebook has 28 million users in Japan. The user demographic is comprised primarily of both males and females aged between 20 to 40. These days, Facebook is mainly used for people to get caught up with family and friends, while a few years back people were posting on Facebook more frequently and using the platform like a diary to let other users know what happened during the day. The user growth is not as steady as it was years back, but to this day, people come back to Facebook from time to time to announce different major life events.
Instagram is one of the fastest growing platforms in Japan. The first Japanese Instagram account was only created in 2014, yet in just 2 years, as of October 2017, Instagram has gained more than 20 million users. The growth was instantly apparent, and it seemed like everyone in Japan was now taking pictures with their smartphones and posting on Instagram. This nearly overnight infatuation with the app helped lead to the Japanese word インスタ映え “insta-bae” (or “instagenic,” as in anything that looks perfect for Instagram) being coined and ultimately selected as the buzzword of 2017.
The heaviest users of Instagram in Japan are females in their 20s and the app is one of the first places many Japanese youth go to find the latest fashion trends and topics concerning their favorite celebrities. Instagram also has a great deal of influence among users from the 20-year-old to 40-year-old age group that make up its largest user demographic.
Snapchat was popular for a short time in Japan in 2016, before Instagram essentially stole the spotlight, and was primarily used for the various face filters available. As is the case with many social media apps, the awareness was high among the younger population, including students, but the number of users started declining after Instagram introduced their own version of face filters and the “Instagram Stories” feature. Furthermore, as a messaging app, Snapchat never really had a chance against LINE, which has made Snapchat more or less irrelevant in the Japanese market today.
YouTube launched the Japanese-language version of its service in 2007. Over the past 12 years, YouTube has reached a point where 82% of the Japanese internet population between people aged 18 to 64 has seen at least one video on YouTube. Stories of elementary school students taking lessons in videography to make their own YouTube videos and interviews with women who did not start making YouTube videos until they were in their 70s have even been featured in Japanese news to illustrate just how big it has become.
Not only is YouTube dominating the video platform space as the most popular streaming video sharing site in Japan, it has also overtaken, and far surpassed, domestic offerings such as niconicodouga (ニコニコ動画) in terms of total users. The number of monthly YouTube users in Japan is 62 million, which means almost 60% of the population watches at least one video every month.
As the younger generations are turning away from television and embracing streaming video services that allow them to watch content they enjoy at any time of the day on a variety of devices, YouTube is one of the main sites they turn to. In fact, according to one survey conducted in Japan, “becoming a YouTuber” ranked among the top career paths that elementary school children would most like to follow. With more than 90 Japanese YouTubers amassing more than one million followers, the platform seems to be growing at full speed in the country.
Although LinkedIn is a highly popular social media network among professionals globally, with over 400 million active users all over the world, LinkedIn hasn’t been able to achieve the same success in Japan and it is estimated to remain that way in all likelihood.
LinkedIn was launched in May of 2003, but it was not fully translated into Japanese until October 2011. Despite the site being popular in the United States, Europe, and even a few Asian countries such as India and China, the number of LinkedIn users in Japan is only about 2 million, which is around 1.5% of the entire Japanese population. Most Japanese users tend to be those working for foreign companies in Japan or who have experience living and working abroad, an admittedly small percentage of the overall Japanese population.
Interestingly, one of the main reasons Japanese are reluctant to use LinkedIn lies in the fact that even in business occasions, Japanese people tend to use Facebook for networking. Japanese do not separate Facebook for their private lives and LinkedIn for their professional life as many in the west tend to do.
The second reason lies in the employment model in Japan. LinkedIn is usually seen as a platform for job-hunting or headhunting. Although recent years has seen a slight change in attitudes of businesses and employees alike regarding job hopping, people in Japan do not typically change their jobs as frequently as westerners, which also lessens the utility of a platform such as LinkedIn within the Japanese market.
Finally, exchanging business cards or “meish”i (名刺) is still incredibly common in Japan, especially among the type of professionals who might otherwise be expected to use it. In fact, Eight, a Japanese social media app that allows you to digitally manage your business cards, is worth mentioning here as it was able to reach 1 million users in just three years. With sites such as Eight, which better combine Western social media sites with Japanese culture, it is no wonder that LinkedIn faces difficulties in penetrating the wider Japanese market.
TikTok is a relatively new SNS and app that was established by a Chinese company in 2016 and arrived in Japan in the same year. This video-sharing app enables the user to post a short video, often accompanied by popular songs, and then share it with the world.
TikTok’s strength lies in its large music library, plethora of filters, and a wide selection of tools available to users when creating and editing their videos. TikTok’s tags, such as the challenges tag, are often used to make videos go viral, with other users quickly joining in and posting their own versions.
At one point around a third of TikTok’s downloads were coming from Japan, and a majority of those Japanese users were young adults. However, according to one survey conducted, while 70% of Japanese teenagers answered that they know what TikTok is, the number of respondents who are users and who actively use the app remains only 10%. In other words, while the awareness is high, the adoption rate is still low.
Unique Aspects of Social Media in Japan
When looking at social media in Japan there are a few notable differences in how Japanese people use the various SNS platforms compared to western users.
The first difference is that people in Japan are highly sensitive when it comes to privacy and are reluctant to put personal information for everyone to see. This extends to Japanese youth as well, who, despite their willingness to share photos of their everyday lives, are not enthusiastic about sharing their personal information on the Internet.
Another unique characteristic is that many Japanese are less inclined to post a picture with their faces extensively being shown. In fact, it is not uncommon for Japanese to use their pets, inanimate objects, or even their favorite anime character as their profile picture rather than an image of themselves.
The last characteristic is something related more so to the Japanese mentality, which is to ask for permission before sharing content. Because Japanese people tend to be concerned with what other individuals may think of their actions, it is common for people to ask for permission to share any content or information taken from another person’s social media account.
While Japanese users tend to be more self-conscious about how they look or sound on social media compared to western users they do still enjoy using and socializing on the various platforms the same way as their western counterparts.
For foreign brands hoping to reach Japanese social media users, keeping in mind the unique aspects of social media in Japan is one of the first major considerations to successfully utilizing this increasingly important marketing channel.
If you are interested in learning more about how to leverage social media in Japan for your brand contact us to set up a conference call or face-to-face meeting at our Tokyo office.