One of the big features of Japan's digital landscape has been the relatively slow emergence of social media as a mainstream consumer activity. Though it continued to grow throughout 2012 with over 32 million people joining/participating in an SNS (source: Impress R&D, June 2012), this participation level is still dwarfed by "traditional" digital activity such as searching, email, and news consumption on portal sites, which still remain the most popular digital activities for the Japanese. Despite the fact it still sports a web look and experience from the mid-noughties, Yahoo Japan reaches 82.4 percent of all of those online in Japan, by far still the most popular website and "thing to do" online in Japan.
Thatʼs not to say, however, that social hasnʼt grown out of being niche - there is a vibrant social media landscape here. Twitter Japan was the first localized language service launched globally, and Facebook Japan has made inroads in becoming the most popular SNS in the country, along with an array of sites focused on social interaction using the interest graph. Still, the volume of traffic social generates and the overall size of the community while growing hasnʼt knocked traditional activities off of their chart.
Last fall, Havas Worldwide launched a global study that investigated the role of communities and citizenship in our digital age early in 2013. As a part of this global study, we also took a hard look at the role of social and digital habits of the Japanese in this context. From this we have been able to establish a clear view on how we see the social and digital media evolving in the country. Weʼre able to do this by looking at what we call "prosumers."
So whatʼs a prosumer? And why are they important?
Prosumers themselves have always been around - they are simply the 15-25 percent of the consumers that help to "break" markets. By looking at what they think, do, say, feel, and buy, and then contrasting them to the market "mainstream" we can get a glimpse into where the market will head next, and plot trajectories to "whatʼs next." This is done by understanding the big behavioral gaps between prosumers and mainstream consumers - this helps us to understand where the market will be heading in the next six to 18 months.
Four key traits of the Japanese prosumer
1. Japanese prosumers create, and use social media at the heart of their online activity.
Japanese prosumers in particular are easy to mark and find, as they are far more active, involved, and feel more influential online compared to those in the mainstream:
(All data from Communities and Citizenship: Japan research group n=253)
These activities show a marked contrast in how the mainstream and prosumer think and use social media in particular. Traditionally, Japan is very much a top-down society, so it stands to reason that those who were part of the "traditional media elite" (i.e., editors, talent, etc.) had (and still have) great influence. Over the past few years, social media has also grown a "digitally savvy" class underneath these traditional influencers who have gravitated toward the medium for communication and expression.
2. Japanese prosumers are frequent "broadcasters"
On average, almost 90 percent of the prosumer class visit social networking sites at least once a week (and more than half of those do so daily), while a majority of prosumers broadcast from their social accounts (blogs, SNS status, etc.) at least once a week or more. Looking at the activity levels, it would be fair to assume a majority of the content being passed around on the Japanese web is likely from a prosumer.
3. Japanese prosumers are much more likely to use digital touch-points and other people to learn more about products and brands.
4. Japanese prosumers are also some of brands' most active and important fans (or detractors)
Put simply, they are 45.7 percent more likely to "Like" or "Follow" your brand on social media, and they do this to feel greater "connectedness" with the brands they like and define them. These actions can also have good or negative knock-on effects for your brand - 79.5 percent of Japanese prosumers are more likely to tell friends or their social networks about good and bad experiences with their brands (compared to 34.9 percent of mainstream consumers).
And based on these trends, here are a few things we can see happening to the social digital landscape in 2013 (and beyond):
1. Social media will become a more mainstream online activity for Japanese: One of the key pieces of insight we can derive is that we will begin to see a movement away from "traditional" digital activities for Japanese (i.e., email, visiting news portals, etc.) into using social media or social services to either replace these services (i.e., communication) or sourcing (i.e., jumping to Twitter instead of Yahoo for news). With the advent of LINE (nominally a social service for calling and text), we may already be witnessing the advent of these changes.
2. Frequency drives heavier participation and usage; Facebook and Twitter poised to capitalize: The biggest difference between Japanese prosumers and their use of digital/social services is simply the frequency that they use them. As consumers become more familiar with the services, we will likely begin to see increased frequency and further growth from these services. Looking at the trajectories between daily usage of prosumers and mainstream of these services, both Facebook and Twitter (with 140 percent and 114 percent respectively more daily usage by prosumers) seem best poised to capitalize on this growth.
3. Sayonara Galapagos Japan: All signs point to the social digital behaviors converging into somewhat of a global standard. Though there will be some differences (i.e., a more active interest graph in Japan, confluence, and experience with mobile), the standards in Japan seem to be merging with other markets. This standardization will make global marketing plans a little more internationally scalable - the need for a completely unique approach to the Japanese consumer is beginning to wane. Ideas will need to be localized, but the toolsets appear to be the same.
4. "Influencers" will continue to wield disproportionate amount of power: One of the overriding insights we can cull from the study is that the tech savvy Japanese prosumers wield a disproportionate amount of influence in the medium today. They are more active on social media compared to their mainstream counterparts, are far more likely to create/broadcast and to use digital tools (compared to traditional media). As a brand or marketer, identifying and nurturing these fans is key, as they will also help show you the way to "whatʼs next" in the market!
Ultimately, the most interesting factor here may not even take place among the consumers we surveyed, but in the brands and businesses in which they work. Japanʼs brands were known for leading innovation for many years in electronics, hardware, and mobile technology, but in many cases have fallen behind in the new digital age. With a move to global standards and a move away from focusing purely on the domestic market, this standardization may result in Japan being able to export their ideas once again more effectively. An extreme example but fun nonetheless, LINE, the chat/talk service, could be the leading edge, a shining example of the Japanese "digital service" prosumer movement!
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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