Facebook grew by leaps and bounds in 2011, and currently has over 6 million accounts active in Japan. Though this is only about a quarter of the SNS leader Mixi or social networks turned social gaming sites Mobage and Gree, what's interesting has been the high uptake from businesses and brands on the site.
The biggest reason for this is not simply because Facebook is open and easy to use, rather because brand pages have tapped into an unmet need of the market – the quick, efficient activation of brand community. Prior to Facebook truly "mainstreaming" into Japan in 2011, in order to do the same thing on Mixi, Gree, or Mobage, not only would brands have to find media budget in order to present and market their community, but they would also be limited in the manner in which they were able to approach and engage their audience.
Though it's still early days for the medium, the early offering of brand/fan pages on Facebook Japan provide some insight into how brands are doing this. In general, we've noticed that most pages haven't been up to sell, nor have they featured a lot of forays into high-end application or content development. In fact, the more popular and successful pages have simply had to be consistent, interesting and relevant. And though that sounds easy, this is something most Japanese brands failed to take advantage of during "web 2.0."
What's most interesting, however, is that we've noticed three unique formats in which companies are successfully taking to Facebook to help them expand their reach, or get in deeper with their audiences:
1. Facebook fan pages reaching "beyond" the borders of Japan:
The most popular Facebook page in Japan is the Facebook official fan page. The next most popular? A golf magazine called Par Golf with over 1.3 million likes. Now we have already established that Facebook in Japan has a definite business user slant that would naturally appeal to the sport, but the real trick behind this has been Par Golf taking ownership of the category across Asia - appealing beyond Japan with English speaking content and introducing Japanese and foreign golf courses/tips and other content in both languages.
In the same vein, Satisfaction Guaranteed, a local Japanese fashion brand, has amassed a huge following by following the same broad strategy. They have collected over 940,000 likes by not being simply a "Japanese" fashion brand, but by taking on the role of being a gateway for those interested in Japan and Japanese culture, as well.
2. Character fronted fan pages:
Japan loves characters - whether it be famous models and talent, or the proliferation of "yuru-kyara" to represent everything from police forces to regional specialties, characters are an important part of Japan's high-context marketing culture. This is no different than on Facebook, where a large number of brand communities rely on created characters or mascots to become their brand voice.
Ham Kakaricho (Section Boss Mr. Ham) - One of the more entertaining and early efforts of bringing characters online has been Ito Ham's "Ham Kakaricho." With a personality, the character for this site has attracted a community of over 17,000 people sharing ham recipes, artistic wiener preparation, cooking ideas, and his own comic strip.
Akiko-Chan - Akiko Chan is the voice for the Lawson convenience store fan page, which has garnered over 233,000 likes. She is the voice for the brand's social touch point complete with her own mannerisms. Primarily, however, "Akiko-chan" is the steward for the products, particularly the fresh food offerings available in store. The high level of activity on the page is not simply due to Akiko-chan alone; the page boasts excellent location-based integration with its stores, and also offers co-branded campaign application integration opportunities for partners directly on the Facebook page.
3. Lifting the brand veil:
Though there is no real "Japan only" secret here - the fact that companies have begun to embrace their fans by providing value-added, exclusive content is an important trend to watch. And like in the rest of the world, the most successful Facebook fans pages "baring it all" for their fans in Japan are simply the ones who are the most reactive, open, and interesting to their target constituencies:
NHK Online. Much like national broadcasters in other countries, Japan's NHK recently has been making bolder moves in social media and enhancing their profile within Japan. NHK Online's fan page offers exclusive looks into their programming, along with polls and discussions on the topics of the day.
As the user base for Facebook continues to grow in 2012, we predict an allocation of spend and effort that will further extend the robustness of Japanese brand pages with more applications and exclusive content production - something still a bit light when compared with global efforts of brands from other countries. That said, with real name social networking being so new there exists no established "playbook" for Japanese brands to interact with the medium. And as Japanese brands tend to shy away from taking big risks in new marketing environments, it is reasonable to assume that the mimicking of these three methods will remain the key way in which new Japanese brands engage with their fans on Facebook for the foreseeable future.
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Jeff is the Digital Strategy Director for Havas Worldwide Digital Tokyo. His professional experience spans integrated communication planning, social media, branding, web strategy/online business development, and e-marketing in Japan and North America. A bicultural Canadian who is fluent in English and Japanese, he is a frequent speaker and blogger on the challenges of cross cultural communications and advertising Japan, where he consults local and global clients alike on the finer nuances of the market.
March 19, 2014