It's a well-established fact that anonymity in Japanese social networks has had a big impact on how people use them, and more recently how the lack of personal accountability that accompanies anonymous social networking has stifled their mainstream adoption. Mixi shot up in growth relatively quickly and squeezed out a niche as the No. 1 social network in Japan, but recently has found it hard to grow beyond their current user base of around 23 million registered users. Part of this reason is that in place of the "social" aspect of one's online persona, social communities on Mixi instead formed around interests and as these communities got bigger, sites began to crop up on catering to those interests with robust technology and tools that couldn't have been duplicated on the social graph. And in same cases, the "interest graph", has replaced the "social graph" entirely as the preferred medium for interaction amongst these communities.
Today as these niche social networks remain important in understanding the Japanese social media landscape. Japan still doesn't have a truly dominant player when it comes to social media, the fragmentation and splintering of social and interest based communities is key to understanding the market. Here are four of the largest players:
What is it? The world's largest recipe sharing site. Overview: Japan is arguably the world's biggest foodie market, and Cookpad is the largest recipe sharing site in the world - boasting 15.8 million members (Cookpad data) sharing over 1.16 million user (and professionally) generated recipes. Users can submit and keep track of their own recipes in their profile space (referred to as their "kitchen"), try and evaluate others recipes, and with what seems an online national obsession, also keep track of and share what they are eating on a day to day basis! As a marketer targeting women, Cookpad gives you access to more than half of all of Japan's online females.
Overview: In January 2012, Pixiv broke the 4 million user mark for the first time, and at the same time earned a distinction for being very sticky for fans of the genre - Pixiv users are obsessive about their hobbies. So much so that the page view counts of Pixiv rivals that of much larger social media and blogging communities like Mixi and Ameba. A very tertiary scan of the site reveals that the site caters heavily and is influenced by the Japan's anime and manga pop culture - making it a veritable anime/manga/Japanized version of Deviant Art.
What is it? Probably (this is unverified, but a really well educated guess) the world's largest community relating to skincare, cosmetics and beauty.
What is it? Probably the first and most famous of the "interest graph" sites, Kakaku.com is essentially Japan's most complete list of products featuring places to buy, prices and a seemingly endless stream of peer reviews.
So what does this all mean? The most interesting aspect of the "interest graph" in Japan is that it provides a handy primer on what one could expect to get away with when conducting social media campaigns in Japan. A couple of learning and approaches for marketers to keep in mind:
1. Japanese users are spectators in areas that are controlled by larger, more powerful media interests: Japanese users will only create content they are comfortable and are "able" to create. The best example of this is YouTube. It's the #3 site in Japan by visits and views, but what hasn't come out of that is a large community of Japanese uploading their own creations to the site. A lot of this is structural - in Japan, TV companies and talent management companies are solely responsible for this type of creation; user generated content in this respect is almost non-existent. There have been more than a few "create your own" campaigns in Japan that have fallen flat for not reading this prevailing mood.
Contrast that with the cultural practice of publicly displaying your illustrations - this is something Japanese do from a very young age at school, and it's all backed up by a very strong DIY manga/anime culture. Understanding and reading the mood of this is exactly what has given rise to the popularity of a site like Pixiv.
2. Anonymity in interest graph helps Japanese users find a context to socialize: In Japan people tend to grow up being encouraged to choose something that can help to define them - in schools you choose a club, and when you enter work you become a full time representative of the company you have chosen to work for. Aggregating among people who share interests and expertise with you is a natural way for Japanese to become comfortable and social with one another, and it helps to build stronger bonds to brands.
3. It's no longer for niches: It's not a secret that many of these niche sites cater to women. In fact, if you are targeting women online in Japan, it is said you can reach almost all of them if you play your cards right and target Mixi, Cookpad and @Cosme ;)
As a brand, finding ways to build community on interests is an easy, but essential means of gaining traction in social media. In Japan, there are some great ready made ways to gain traction quickly by going beyond the social and into the interest graph.
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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.
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