The Pinterest Opportunity in Japan

Pinterest has emerged as the social media sweetheart of 2012. It grew over 400 percent from September to December in 2011, but in 2012 its growth rate has been almost perfectly vertical. The service now boasts well over 11 million users, time on site rivals other major sites, and while the number of users in Japan hasn’t been made public, the ability for the service to be both relatively anonymous as well as catering to a natural tendency for Japanese consumers be both visually expressive and mad about all kinds of photography presents it with a unique opportunity to make a connection with the Japanese consumer.

From a marketers perspective, the fact that the service has proven to be effective in directing traffic to corporate websites will also make it hard to ignore: according to Shareaholic, Pinterest redirected more traffic to website than Google+, LinkedIn, and Tumblr combined.

So what is online “pinning” anyway?

What are some other features of the site?

  • Following: Community members, just as they do by following on Twitter or through friending in Facebook, can follow users or the topic/themed pinboards they post. When you subscribe to a pinboard or user, each time they post something new it appears in your pinterest news stream.
  • Facebook and mobile applications: Pinterest is nicely integrated into Facebook and has its own smartphone apps to further extend the reach of the site.
  • Pricing integration: Prices of products, when included into a pin description, are displayed in the pins, making it eminently attractive for those with online storefronts.

What are opportunities for the service in Japan, and how can marketers capitalize on it?

Ignoring the fact that Pinterest has yet to develop a robust Japanese interface and mobile application (the fact that it’s primarily visual has mitigated this factor to date) and the fact that the service seems to be in perpetual beta/invite only mode, there are a number of things about it that present themselves as unique opportunities in Japan:

Bringing the ladies: Pinterest, as it has in other markets around the world, seems to boast a socially active female fan base that isn’t necessarily into the dominant content creation/blogging, socially active influencer niche found in Japan. The simplicity, anonymity and visual presentation of the service are likely more apt to take hold with housewives and more passive social media users such as those found on Mixi or feature phone users.

E-commerce bonanza?: This is both the biggest danger and opportunity. Japanese consumers have adopted e-commerce platforms almost universally – and giants such as Rakuten, fashion sites such as Nissen (that already have integration with You Tube) or media outlets such as cosmetics giant @cosme ignore the service potential at their peril. That said, not engaging in a way that’s socially acceptable, along with content degradation would not only have a negative impact on the brand doing it, but potentially on the value of Pinterest in Japan itself.

Use as a marketing research or co-collaboration tool: The social cataloging and arranging of interests allows marketers to both reach out and collaborate by recruiting visual ideas from fans. Having this kind of system built into a local SNS like Mixi or social gaming platforms like Gree or Mobage might be a way to extend the reach and potential of the platform in Japan, as well.

The larger question for Pinterest in Japan will be how it rolls out and defines the opportunity in the market – does it go fully “native,” targeting social networks and feature phones for rollout, or does it simply continue to use the largely non-Japan focused ecosystem it uses today. For those in industries where the fit makes sense, Pinterest right now is a low risk-high reward proposition that is hard to ignore. How Pinterest reacts to that opportunity is the real question.

Related reading