Social Media in Japan 2018
Social media has become a major part of digital marketing in Japan, and should definitely be included within your brand’s overall marketing strategy.
As of 2017, nearly 100% of Japanese are online, smartphone penetration is nearing 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. This becomes even more crucial when dealing with an unfamiliar market.
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.
As Japanese consumers continue to embrace various SNS apps and services, the state of social media in Japan is showing greater alignment with global trends as a whole.
However, the Japanese market still exhibits certain unique characteristics. In anticipation of 2018 this article will cover the most important things you need to know about social media in Japan.
Table of Contents
The “Big 3” 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 has made claims of having 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 announcement to the contrary).
Following the story, Twitter crashed from the sheer volume of users commenting and searching for 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.
In 2016, according to a statement by Shailesh Rao—at the time Twitter’s Vice President of Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets—Twitter had seen more than a five-fold growth in usage since 2011, when the service had fewer than 7 million users in Japan.
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 can convey much more information than the same amount of characters written in English.
This 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 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.
Trends for 2018: 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. Moving forward, this change should help users who felt constrained by the previous limit.
For Japanese users this may not be as big of a change but the extra characters per tweet will certainly encourage people to elaborate more than they did before.
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 increased to over 26 million as of 2017, growth of the platform in Japan has stagnated and, like the rest of the world, is not nearly as popular among younger audiences.
Although Facebook 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—2.0 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 in 2017.
Facebook advertisements offers 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 2018: 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.
However, video has been shown to provide higher views and engagement (2x and 7x respectively) than any other type of posting, which is why in 2018 you should expect to see more and more brands shifting towards video posts for Facebook.
Instagram reported that it has over 800 million users worldwide as of September 2017, having gained 100 million new users in a period of 4 months since their last report in April 2017.
According to a post made on their company website, Instagram surpassed Twitter in terms of 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.
Instagram currently has over 17.1 million users in Japan according to Nielsen. 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 4 years the platform has shown growth of over 400% 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.
While Instagram may not have as many users as Line, Twitter, or even Facebook in Japan, businesses targeting female audiences would do well to take note of this growing social network.
With a number of ways to utilize the app for business, such as sponsored posts or pure branding, Instagram is definitely poised to become even more of a major player in the Japanese social media scene in 2018.
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 2018: Instagram Influencers
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.
Similar to anywhere else, 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 that given 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.
Messaging Apps and Business Networking Platforms
LINE currently boasts over 71 million users in Japan. It is, far and away, the most popular social media app in Japan by a very large margin.
As seen in the graph below, it 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, however, its offerings today go well beyond its humble beginnings, and has evolved into a social media company offering, games, manga, and even a ride-hailing feature reminiscent of Uber through use of the app.
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.
Line is the go-to messaging app for social media in Japan, which is why advertising comes at a premium on the platform. As a result, not many small to medium size brands look to LINE for marketing and advertising, instead choosing to spend on other channels.
Snapchat has not caught on in Japan as it has in the West.
In 2016 Instagram rolled out their “stories” feature which became a direct competitor to 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 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 to uncertainty in how to successfully leverage Snapchat for business.
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.
Snapchat is immensely popular among younger audiences outside of Japan though, and for this reason we are continuing to watch the situation in order to see if the app may finally catch on and find an audience in Japan in 2018.
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 roles where they regularly conduct business with people from other countries, as opposed to your average Japanese company employee.
This 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 Streaming Video in Japan 2018
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 2018, especially as mobile internet and smartphone usage continue to increase.
Streaming video site YouTube is a slightly different kind of animal when compared to 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) 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.
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 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 scrolling across the screen, 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.
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 and Facebook. Instagram is one of the fastest growing, and most popular, social media apps in the world and this holds true for Japan as well.
Despite its smaller user-base in Japan, 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.
Moving forward, in 2018 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 Instagram Stories or Facebook video posts.
While streaming video services and apps seem poised to have even more to offer brands looking to promote on said platforms.
Depending on brand or company-specific marketing objectives (as well as budget), certain networks and platforms may provide better ROI than others.
Our team continues to keep an eye on how Japanese consumers are using and interacting with new SNS apps and 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.