Social Media Marketing - The Japanese Way

  |  August 2, 2010   |  Comments

A look at the major social media players in Japan and the country's role in social media marketing.

In 2010, there's no doubt that social media is a very important part of a company's Internet marketing program. This may sound bold, but I think that social media marketing really started in Japan. It's no surprise since the Japanese are very sociable people. We value communication and social interaction, and love to belong to groups with people who share similar interests. And, of course, we practice these in a very harmonious way.

I'm sure that many of you have heard about Mixi, one of the most popular SNS (define) sites in Japan. It launched in 2000, years before MySpace and Facebook. GREE is another big one in Japan. But I believe Japan's social networking culture really started when 2channel opened its door in 1999 as a massive BBS (define), offering forums ranging from hacking to cooking. Here, people discuss and exchange information on different topics of interest, which are neatly organized into easy-to-follow threads. Businesses are starting to adopt Facebook and Twitter for their social media marketing efforts, but many businesses in Japan have been monitoring and responding to these threads related to their business or products for more than 10 years. Many popular elements of Japanese online culture and slang originated here. 2channel holds the distinction of being the world's biggest BBS site with over 12 million users.

Social Media Groups

The above three sites are not the only major social media players in Japan. Let's review the key players in different social media groups:

  1. General social networking service sites: Most members of sites like Mixi and GREE access from both their PC and mobile devices. These sites usually require you to log in to view and use the site content and the services, which means that your page or community/group page on these sites won't show up in the search results. It's great for targeted marketing by age, location, gender, interests, etc. They provide display ads, text ads, and PPC (define) advertising opportunities.

  2. Video and photo sharing sites: The Japanese have been dedicated users of YouTube for years. Not just by the number of users, but by the amount of time (spending a much longer time on the site than users from other countries). According to comScore data, the Japanese spend 187 minutes on average on YouTube. Nico Nico Douga is another popular video sharing site, with 17 million users, including over 770,000 premium account users. Nico Nico Video offers a variety of interesting advertising services tied to products from Amazon and Yahoo Shopping.

  3. Social bookmarking sites: There are several popular social bookmarking sites in Japan. While Western social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and StumbleUpon seem to struggle with gaining market share in Japan, Japanese services such as Hatena and Livedoor are constantly growing their user base. By adopting the needs of Japanese users, they've evolved into much more than bookmarking sites, with varied services such as photo/video sharing, a blog, Q&A, and communities. Hatena bookmarks can also be shared via Twitter.

  4. Blog network sites: There are more blog posts in the Japanese language than any other language in the world. Some even post to blogs from mobile devices. There are several very popular blog network and service sites such as Ameba and the Livedoor blog. You keep hearing that Mixi is the number one SNS site in Japan. But Ameba is the top ranking SNS site by the number of visitors, with 21.2 million visitors per month compared to Mixi's 7 to 8 million visitors. The blog owners on these sites can further socialize through services like video sharing, communities, and gaming. Businesses can set up their own business blog account, and place display and text ads.

  5. Mini-blogging sites: Twitter has shown rapid growth in the Japanese market in the past 12 months. During the Tweetup in Tokyo on July 23, Evan Williams, CEO and co-founder of Twitter, stated that Twitter has taken off in Japan, setting a world record for most tweets per second in the aftermath of its World Cup victory against Denmark with 3,283 tweets per second. According to Nielsen's report, Twitter Japan has a higher reach (16.3 percent) than Twitter U.S. (9.8 percent). There are many applications and supporting services such as Twib and Twinavi available in Japan, connecting mini-blogging services with other social media services.

  6. Micro SNS sites: While they may not be widely popular in Japan (at least not yet), the various services that let you create your own SNS site (even for free) have a steady user base. Since it has more of a social networking function than a forum or BBS, it works better as a communication and customer service tool for businesses.

Keep in mind that most of these services are available for both PC and mobile. Unlike many other markets, mobile marketing isn't local search marketing in Japan. Mobile is a key part of our online lives. Your social media marketing won't be complete without targeting both PC and mobile.

If you're interested in learning more about online and search marketing in Japan, come join us at the ClickZ International Marketing Forum on August 20 in San Francisco.

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Motoko Hunt

Since Motoko established AJPR in 1998, she has been providing the online marketing services targeting Japan and Asia to companies from around the world, helping them to enter the regional market using the Internet. Her search marketing consulting services with her extensive knowledge of Asia and Japanese market have been highly valued and made big impact on some of the world's popular multi-national brands' search marketing campaigns.

A number of her articles have been published on industry websites and printed media including Multilingual Computing and International Journal of Localization. She also writes about the Japanese online market on her blog and She's a frequent speaker at search marketing conferences globally, and gives seminars and trainings about search marketing targeting Japan and Asia.

Prior to entering the online marketing industry in the mid 90's, she worked as a senior marketing manager at a traditional marketing and trading firm, marketing U.S. products to Japanese government and heavy industries.

She believes in giving back to the community and volunteers her time for industry organizations. She served as a member of Board of Directors of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), and is a Chairman of SEMPO Asia-Pacific Committee. In March 2009, she received the first SEMPO President Award for her support and dedication to the search industry and SEMPO organization.

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