Social Media in Japan 2020
Social media has become a major part of digital marketing in Japan and should definitely be included within your brand’s overall marketing strategy for the country. In this updated guide to social media in Japan for 2020, we will go over the various SNS apps and platforms of note in the Japanese market as well as trends you should be aware of for the coming year.
As of 2020, nearly 100% of Japanese are online, smartphone penetration is around 80%, and over half of the population is using some form of social media in Japan.
With new content continuing to be uploaded at a blistering pace across all platforms, social media now requires a more strategic approach in order to stand out from the crowd. The need for an appropriate social media strategy becomes even more crucial when dealing with an unfamiliar market, such as Japan’s, where you will also likely find yourself disadvantaged due to both the language barrier and a totally different culture.
If you are considering entering the Japanese market, a better understanding of the social media landscape of Japan will help your brand determine where best to focus your time and efforts.
While it is true that as Japanese consumers continue to embrace various SNS apps and services, the state of social media in Japan is showing greater alignment with larger global trends, the Japanese social media landscape still exhibits a number of unique characteristics, which can drastically impact both your strategy and chances for success in the Japanese market.
Table of Contents
The “Big 4” Social Networking Services (SNS) in Japan
In Japan, Twitter is more popular than Facebook and this may be the only country where this is the case.
Twitter claims to have as many as 35 million monthly active users (MAU) in Japan. With a total population of 127.3 million people in the country, this works out to 27.5% of the population.
Twitter’s Japanese user base is so prominent that back in 2015 when the immensely popular idol-group, SMAP, made a live, televised announcement to dispel rumors of the group’s disbanding, which interestingly enough ended up coming to fruition despite the highly publicized on-air denial, Japanese Twitter crashed from the sheer volume of users commenting and searching for this topic and related news.
The March 11th, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami greatly contributed to Twitter’s growth in the country. During the disaster and its immediate aftermath, Japanese users found the service useful as a means to obtain up-to-the-minute news as well as to communicate when phone calls couldn’t go through.
According to a statement by Shailesh Rao—at the time Twitter’s Vice President of Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets—by 2016 Twitter had seen a more than five-fold growth in usage since 2011, when the service had fewer than 7 million users in Japan.
Another reason for the platform’s growth in Japan is that Twitter allows for a greater deal of anonymity and privacy compared to Facebook, which is typically preferred among Japanese for cultural reasons—Japanese take personal privacy very seriously.
But Twitter’s enduring popularity in Japan may also have something to do with the nature of Japanese writing: In Japanese, 140-characters (the previous character limit) can convey much more information than the same amount of characters written in English.
This fact allowed the platform to develop in a somewhat different way from some other parts of the world as Japanese people rarely dealt with the issue of not being able to say what they wanted, exactly how they wanted to, in a tweet.
For the Japanese market, Twitter is a channel that should not be overlooked for market research and social listening due to its high user base. Additionally, its relatively equal distribution of usage among men and women in all age groups is a notable characteristic of the platform in Japan making it suitable for most demographics.
Previous Trends: Increased Character Limit
In November 2017, Twitter increased its character limit from 140 characters to 280 characters.
For users in many languages, the previous 140-character limit sometimes led to the inability to complete a thought without careful editing. This change helped users who felt constrained by the previous limit and also made the platform a lot more suited to dialogue.
Admittedly for Japanese users this was not nearly as big of a change, but the extra characters per tweet certainly encouraged people to elaborate more than they did before, which for some users meant more engagement and time spent on the app.
Facebook claimed to have 25 million active users in Japan—19.6% of the population—at the end of 2015.
Although more recent data has shown that number to have slowly inched to over 26 million, growth of the platform in Japan has stagnated and, like the rest of the world, is not nearly as popular among younger audiences who have moved on to newer SNS platforms, like Instagram and TikTok.
Although Facebook in Japan is not used to the same extent seen outside of the country, more and more companies have come to see the benefits that the service, as well as social media in general, has for their businesses.
The size of the social network—2.3 billion users globally and over 1 billion daily average users (DAU)—makes the platform essential for companies with any aspirations of reaching global audiences and consumers.
As testament to this fact advertising on Facebook has picked up greatly in recent years with over 5 million advertisers looking to the platform to promote their products and services back in 2017 and more and more companies using the platform to market to Japanese customers as well.
Facebook advertisements offer brands a number of advantages such as precise demographic targeting that allows brands to get their message in front of a highly specific audience.
For the level of control Facebook gives for targeted ads, allowing brands to focus on a specific persona, it is well-worth considering for your next Japan-focused campaign.
Trends for 2020: Video
Facebook has seen engagement rates for posts drop year on year. One very plausible explanation is simply the fact that there is more content online than we can actually consume. Even when considering Facebook “stories” alone over 300 million are shared on the platform every single day!
However, despite this constant deluge of content being uploaded onto the platform, video has been shown to provide higher views and engagement (2x and 7x respectively) than any other type of posting. That is why in 2020 you should expect to see more and more brands shifting towards video ads and stories posts for Facebook.
Want more information on Instagram in Japan? Check out our Complete Guide to Japanese Instagram
In September 2017 Instagram reported that it had over 800 million users worldwide after gaining 100 million new users in a period of 4 months from April 2017.
Fast forward to today and Instagram now claims over 1 billion users around the world, who share upwards of 500 million Instagram stories and 95 million photos per day.
According to a post made on their company website, Instagram surpassed Twitter in terms of global monthly users in December 2014 and hasn’t looked back since.
In that same post, Japan was among a handful of countries singled out by the company as showing the highest levels of growth.
As of 2019 Instagram had over 33 million users in Japan. This is nearly double the amount it had just a couple years ago when the app claimed over 17.1 million users. Looking at the increase, it is clear that Instagram has exponentially increased its Japanese user base and is on track to become the most popular social media app in Japan. In 2016 the service claimed to have 12 million users in Japan. One year prior to that, in 2015, it had 8 million. A year before that, in 2014, the company had 4 million users. In less than 5 years the platform has shown growth of over 800% in the country.
Notable for Japan, women between the ages of 18-30 make up nearly 1/3 of Japan’s Instagram users, while females in total make up 2/3 of all Instagram users in the country. Although recent reports point to a more equal distribution among male and female users beginning to emerge, the heaviest users of the app still skew predominantly female. While Instagram may not have as many users as Line, which is more of a messaging app to be honest, businesses targeting female audiences would do well to take note of this particular social network.
With a number of ways to utilize the app for business, such as sponsored posts or pure branding, Instagram is poised to become the major player in the Japanese social media scene in 2020.
In fact, engagement remains higher on Instagram compared to any other platform and has proven especially popular with brands in the fashion and lifestyle categories.
Trends for 2020: Instagram Influencers, Hidden Likes, Video
Mirroring the rest of the world, in recent years Japan has seen an explosion of so-called “influencers,” individuals with high follower counts who promote a brand or product for compensation.
Also similar to anywhere else in the world, your brand should carefully consider whether or not a particular influencer (and their audience) is a good fit for your brand image, among other factors such as the reach and engagement that influencer commands.
Influencer marketing is now being utilized by a majority of companies in some capacity, with 84% of marketers saying they plan on implementing an influencer campaign in the next 12 months.
Another major trend for 2020 in Japan—that was rolled out on an experimental basis and still seems to be in effect for some users—is no longer being able to see the number of “Likes” on Instagram posts. In a move that was suggested to be for the mental health and well-being of users, this hiding of Likes was implemented on a trial basis in a number of markets around the world. The impact of this change has been that brands have one fewer metric to appraise potential influencers for collaboration. Similarly, Instagram influencers themselves have one less means of showcasing their “worth” to brands, as the number of Likes a post received was more or less the standard KPI when it comes to engagement.
A third Instagram trend for 2020, which mirrors one of the major themes of this year, is more and more video content on the platform. Whether it be in the form of Instagram stories or as separate posts, expect for Instagram to become a much more dynamic SNS app compared with before. Users will still be uploading static images, but videos will surely be featured far more commonly on the app.
TikTok is the newest addition to the Big 4 social media platforms in Japan. The app got its start in China from a company called ByteDance, and has grown in popularity around the world to become a member of the over one billion user’s club. In Japan TikTok currently has close to 10 million users, and has replaced Instagram as the fastest-growing SNS app in Japan.
While older users might recognize the similarity to the now defunct app, Vine, it could be said that the social media aspect has been ramped up when it comes to TikTok, which might be one reason for its viral success.
The main reason your brand might be interested in TikTok is if targeting a younger audience, as they make up the biggest user demographic for the app both around the world and in Japan as well. With TikTok users reported as spending 45 minutes on average on the app, more and more advertisers are looking at its potential as an advertising channel recently.
Messaging Apps and Business Networking Platforms
LINE currently boasts over 80 active million users in Japan, which is more or less 75% of the entire Japanese population. LINE is, far and away, the most popular messaging app in Japan by a very large margin. While not widely known in West, the app does have a significant user base in Asia.
As seen in the graph below, LINE also has a strong presence in Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia with a combined 97 million users in those 3 countries.
LINE got its start as a messaging app that allowed users to send texts or make voice calls using their mobile data plans. However, LINE’s offerings today go well beyond its humble beginnings, and has evolved into a media company offering, games, manga, and a host of other services—such as a cashless payment system called LINE Pay—that are all integrated within the app itself.
Similar to Facebook in Japan, LINE saw a surge of popularity following the March 2011 disaster, and has only increased in popularity with the proliferation of smartphones and other smart devices in Japan in recent years.
While LINE is the go-to messaging app for social media in Japan, it is not exactly the same as social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.
For one thing, most people’s time on the app is spent using the message feature. Secondly, advertising comes at a premium on the platform. As a result, not as many small to medium size brands look to LINE for their marketing and advertising, instead choosing to spend on other channels. However, given the number of active users and its importance within the Japanese SNS landscape, brands that can utilize the platforms advertising options to their full potential might consider the app for their marketing needs.
Snapchat never caught on in Japan as it did in the West. The reason mostly stems from the delayed adoption of SNS platforms we usually experience here in Japan as well as significant overlap with existing SNS apps.
In 2016 Instagram rolled out their “stories” feature which became a direct competitor to Snapchat. Since Instagram was just gaining in popularity, the “new” feature felt more like a feature present from the beginning to Japanese users, and very few felt a need or desire to use Snapchat.
With younger Japanese, especially females, flocking to Instagram in recent years and Snapchat failing to establish itself in the country prior to Instagram stories being released, Japanese users had no real reason to adopt Snapchat for its defining feature, videos which disappear after 24 hours, as Instagram stories did the same thing.
Additionally, since LINE already occupies the messaging/chat space, and in more demographics than the heavily youth-oriented Snapchat to boot, Snapchat as a messaging app never really had a strong value proposition in the Japanese market to begin with. These two factors have seemingly halted Snapchat’s adoption among Japanese users.
Hindering the app’s usefulness as part of any marketing efforts on the other hand, is due in large part to uncertainty in how to successfully leverage Snapchat for business in such a way that returns a positive ROI.
Snapchat is not as clear-cut as some of the other social media platforms and apps out there in this regards, and has a somewhat steep learning curve for new users unfamiliar with how the app works. While this is not specific to the Japanese market it is something worth keeping in mind.
As with previous years, snapchat doesn’t look like it will catch on and find an audience in Japan in 2020, but it’s continued use in the West—where many social media trends are born—means anything could happen in the future.
LinkedIn caters to a very specific (read: smaller) audience in Japan. Currently, LinkedIn has an estimated 350,000 monthly users in Japan.
Many Japanese who use LinkedIn tend to be higher up the corporate ladder and/or in international roles, where they regularly conduct business with people from other countries, as opposed to your average domestic, Japanese company employee.
This lack of use may have something to do with the tendency to stay at a single company for one’s entire career in Japan (although among younger Japanese this is said to be changing), as well as Facebook functioning as a more professional-type SNS in the Japanese market.
Globally, LinkedIn is a much bigger player with over 330 million users signing in to the site monthly, but its limited reach in Japan makes LinkedIn less of an impact player than other social networks and social media apps in the Japanese market.
State of SNS Streaming Video in Japan 2020
There is no question about it, video is becoming more relevant for digital advertising as a whole.
Video is also becoming a bigger part of social media in Japan. Almost all platforms have incorporated some sort of feature to share and watch videos, most likely due to the fact that videos have a higher rate of engagement than both text and images.
Expect platforms which focus on videos to see even greater growth and relevance in 2020, especially as mobile internet and smartphone usage continue to increase, and the visual internet begins to dominate.
Streaming video site, YouTube, is a slightly different kind of animal when compared to other SNS such as Facebook or Twitter.
Some sources claim YouTube is Japan’s most widely used social media platform, however, the manner in which people use the site is different than some other SNS (i.e. you don’t have to sign-in or follow other users or accounts to enjoy ALL the user-generated content and videos available on the site) which makes advertising on YouTube more akin to traditional television in some ways.
Nonetheless, this should not take away from the fact that YouTube is an extremely viable channel to reach Japanese consumers, with nearly 75% of the population aged 16-64 using the platform in some capacity—primarily on smartphone—each month.
In recent years, the number of Japanese YouTube influencers has ballooned in size, with the number of channels exceeding the tens of thousands and 100,000-subscriber count.
But the growth has not been just in the number of influencers on the platform, numerous Japanese companies, even major holdouts like television networks, movie studios, and idol talent agencies, seem to have finally recognized, if not embraced, YouTube as a legitimate means of promotion. This serves as a perfect example of how change is slow, even in today’s global world, when it comes to the Japanese market.
NicoNicoDouga is Japan’s indigenous video sharing platform. Compared to YouTube, in which any person can watch videos without an account, NicoNicoDouga requires users to register in order to use the service.
Notable for the ability to write comments which appear on the video itself, and scrolls while it plays, NicoNicoDouga has cultivated a unique culture with its users.
A favorite among members of the anime and gaming communities especially, the strength of this platform in Japan is seen as a major hurdle for Amazon-owned, TwitchTV’s attempt to penetrate the Japanese social streaming video market.
Owned by CyberAgent, Inc., AbemaTV, a self-styled internet television station, is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, despite showing programs people actually might want to watch, the app is totally free.
Second, is the format it uses for its “broadcasts” or streams; instead of weekly episodes it usually plays an episode, or 2 back-to-back, every day until the series has finished.
Third, the variety of non-traditional channels that resembles cable TV.
For example, AbemaTV has a channel that just airs mahjong, one that just shows commercials, while another plays reality TV shows such as Jersey Shore and Ex On The Beach.
A real-time commenting system in the sidebar, as opposed to comments constantly scrolling across the screen like NicoNico Douga, for users to interact with one another makes every viewing a “social” activity. AbemaTV, also lets you see how many people are watching a given program, and those numbers are not insignificant by any means.
In an interesting twist, unique to the Japanese market, AbemaTV has also ventured into the subscription video market, battling it out with services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
Social Media in Japan: Summary and Takeaways
Social media in Japan provides a number of channels for brand building. Like the rest of the world, however, an understanding of the different social media platforms and how they are used by your target audience is imperative.
In terms of total users LINE is clearly the most popular app for social media in Japan, followed by Twitter. Instagram is still one of the fastest growing, and most popular, social media apps in the world and this holds true for Japan as well. However, among younger users, this title may in fact belong to TikTok.
Instagram has shown a great deal of potential for brands in various industries and is especially of interest for small brands, focusing on niche interests, while Facebook remains a viable option for nearly all products and services.
Moving forward, in 2020 we expect to see a greater emphasis on video content being produced for many of the social media platforms, whether this be in the form of stories posts or for use in paid social and digital advertising.
As a result of the move towards a more visual internet, streaming video services and apps seem poised to have even more to offer brands looking to promote on their platforms.
Be that as it may, depending on brand or company-specific marketing objectives (as well as budget), certain networks and platforms may still provide better ROI than others, which is why a careful analysis of available options is always recommended.
Our team continues to keep an eye on how Japanese consumers are using and interacting with new social media platforms, SNS apps, and other digital services, which enables us to make the most informed recommendations to meet your business needs.
Contact us to find out how we can help you find the right solution for your next social media-driven campaign in Japan.