Social Media Marketing in Japan

Social media marketing is a great way to get your brand’s product or service in front of new audiences. In our previous article we talked about the overall state of social media in Japan as well as touched on trends for the upcoming year, 2018.

In this article we will discuss tips for how to properly utilize social media marketing in Japan for small or medium-sized businesses looking to enter the Japanese market.


Why You Should Consider Implementing Social Media Marketing in Japan

To begin with why should you include social media as part of your overall marketing strategy for the Japanese market?

  • Close to 100% of Japanese are online
  • Smartphone penetration is nearly 80% and growing
  • Over 50% of the population is on social media
  • People who follow you on social media are more likely to purchase from your brand


social media marketing in Japan: graph showing Percentage likely to purchase from a brand they follow



Social Media is for Branding

Rather than think of social media as a major force behind driving traffic, leading to sales and conversions, it is better to approach it as a means of branding.

While that is not to say social media cannot drive traffic to your website or lead to sales, we have found that other mediums, such as mailing lists, provide a much better means of making sales from qualified leads.

Furthermore, when your brand takes on too strong of a “salesy” approach to social media you may find yourself losing potential customers.


The Risk of Unfollowing

Too many promotional messages (i.e. hard sales) on social media leads to people unfollowing you. Unfortunately, many brands are guilty of over-promoting their products or services on their social media pages.

social media marketing in Japan


The graph above illustrates the fact that “too many promotional messages” is the number one reason SNS users would unfollow a brand on social media.

In fact, over promoting is even more of a turnoff to your followers than information that is irrelevant to them.

Clearly, over-promoting your product or service puts your brand in a position where you may risk losing hard-earned followers and should be avoided when possible.


Social Media and the Customer Journey

Finally, another reason you should think of social media in Japan as a branding endeavor is due to the non-linear nature of customer journeys.

social media in japan 2017


Take for example the following scenario:

A person sees your post on social media while browsing during their lunch break. This person then makes a mental note to look you up later. After returning to their home they do a Google search on their laptop comparing your brand to a number of competitors. Said individual continues doing their research over the course of a few weeks, before finally deciding to purchase from you.

In the case outlined above, your social media marketing most definitely influenced that customer’s decision to purchase. However, the final decision to purchase came after research and subsequent evaluation of the available options, not a sales-minded post on social media.

In many examples of multi-channel funnel reports, we have found that social media is more prominent early on in the customer journey. For that reason, social media is better suited for building awareness during the initial consideration phase.

If you try and push too hard with each post you make on social media not only do you risk losing followers, as mentioned earlier, but you also lose sight of the fact that individual posts, photos, tweets, and videos are all serving as impressions that may ultimately lead to someone purchasing from your brand.

People typically need to see something multiple times before they will consider your brand. Better known as the “Advertising Rule of 7,” there is some truth to be found in this old adage. In fact, a study by Sprout Social found that for 85% of people on social media, multiple impressions are needed before making a purchase.

When you think of social media as a single touch point, it is easier to see how it is just one of many role players in your overall digital marketing strategy. Ultimately, your brand identity needs to be carefully cultivated and should be a major consideration when it comes to your activity on social media.

When cultivating a brand identity, authenticity is important, and how your brand goes about demonstrating this authenticity brings us to our next topic: stealth marketing.


Stealth Marketing on Social Media

Stealth marketing carries a lot of risk. If it is found out that your brand is not being forthright when it comes to its social media marketing in Japan it could do a lot more to hurt your brand than it was ever going to do to help it.

In an interview conducted by Nikkei Business magazine, a majority of those interviewed said that they had a bad image of companies that engage in stealth marketing, and that attempts at stealth marketing were easily discernable.

Clearly younger people, both millennials and Gen Z, are a lot savvier and intelligent than marketers tend to give them credit for, especially when it comes to how brands are attempting to portray themselves.


Japanese Millennials: How Young People Are Using Social Media in Japan

japanese social media app


In a survey conducted by Nikkei Business magazine, around 40% of Japanese millennials said they use social media to research brands before purchasing, compared with less than 5% of people in their 50’s.

Among Japanese who responded that they use SNS platforms to conduct searches before purchasing, the most popular SNS was Twitter at 53% followed by Instagram at 43%. Facebook, which is generally not as popular among younger audiences, only accounted for 4% of people who use SNS to research brands.

In this same survey, it was also found that second only to recommendations from friends, young people were likely to trust brands which had a good reputation online. There are number of ways to build a reputation on social media and one of the most popular is through the use of social media influencers.


Influencer Marketing in Japan

social media trends in japan


With the growth of social media marketing in Japan, influencer marketing is becoming more commonplace as brands look to tap into the dedicated audiences that individual influencers have cultivated.

However, when considering influencer marketing for a promotion or campaign, it is important to make sure that you properly vet the influencer beforehand.

Not only should you try and determine whether an influencer is a good fit for your brand, but it is also important for you to gain as much information about things such as the actual reach an influencer has, rather than simply relying on publicly available metrics and stats like follower count.

A number of services, so-called influencer networks or influencer marketing platforms, exist which claim to ensure a certain level of quality from influencer campaigns (i.e. ROI). However even these services, and the influencers they employ, can be hit or miss when it comes to delivering real results.

Finding the right influencer can be a time-consuming process fraught with uncertainties.

However, if the number of marketers who have stated they are planning to utilize an influencer campaign in the coming year is any indication, this is a trend that will continue for some time. In order to mitigate risks and get the most out of your influencer campaign or partnership, putting in the time to properly research individual influencers beforehand is still most likely to be your best bet going into 2018.


Paid Advertising on Social Media

instagram users in japan


Having just talked about paid promotions in the form of influencer partnerships, we now will talk about paid advertising. With constantly changing algorithms and new content being uploaded at an incredible rate, organic reach on many platforms is trending downwards. Indeed, Facebook posts now generally reach only 2 to 6 percent of your audience.

Instagram made a huge change to its service by introducing an algorithm in 2016. Previously posts showed up in chronological order on users’ feeds, however, nowadays more popular posts will find their way to the top. This means that established accounts tend to dominate the conversation. The fact is most brands cannot rely on organic reach to the extent they could as late as one or two years ago.

This switch to a more pay-to-reach model has made it easier for Instagram to encourage brands to pay for advertising much like Facebook, with paid content, such as photos or videos, now showing up directly in your feed. These posts are clearly marked as “Sponsored” to indicate that they are paid advertising, and usually have a call to action (CTA) button highlighted in blue. Besides these small differences, the sponsored content blends in seamlessly with other content.

For smaller businesses or brands just starting out, Instagram is still a great platform to reach potential customers. However, more strategy, based on an understanding of the algorithm and the platform itself, is necessary to achieve results.



Hashtags have been an important component of social media for a while. Hashtags provide a way for users to quickly search for, and find, specific content or subject matter, as long as it has been properly tagged. Although, used on many platforms, with best practices being fairly well-established, for no SNS is the hashtag more useful and prominent than Instagram.

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, where less is more, on Instagram, as long as the hashtags used remain relevant, followers are typically very forgiving regarding their usage and numbers.

Targeted hashtags have been a great way for small brands to reach customers on Instagram, even after the introduction of an algorithm to the platform.

However, with more frequently used hashtags becoming overcrowded, even the best Instagram hashtag strategy cannot keep your post at the top of a hashtag search as new content is constantly being added. This has led to more brands seeking more specific niche hashtags or to create their own hashtags.

Currently, Instagram is testing the ability for users to follow specific hashtags the same way they would an account. If this feature is eventually rolled out, it may provide another opportunity for brands to create a custom hashtag that could increase the chances of their content being seen.

instagram users in japan



Engagement on Social Media

Engagement (likes, comments, and shares) is still a highly sought after metric by which a brand’s social media efforts are judged. However, due to the amount of content being uploaded, engagement is falling across most SNS platforms. Even on platforms such as Instagram where engagement is typically multiple times higher than on Facebook or Twitter, these numbers have begun to trend downwards as the app has matured.

However, average engagement rates differ according to industry, and smaller brands still tend to enjoy higher levels of engagement than larger brands, as most are in niches with loyal followings. In fact, social media is still the best channel for niche brands who want to reach a larger, global audience due to the low barriers to entry.

At the end of the day, engagement is still one of the best indications on social media that people are interested in your brand, and the best strategy to increase engagement is to focus on quality posts utilizing original content. Not only will original content that is relevant to your audience be rewarded with higher levels of engagement, it will also help to reinforce your ultimate objective in using social media: branding.


Summary and Takeaways

Social media marketing in Japan is now a major component of any digital strategy with more platforms than ever available for brands to utilize. Nowadays, not only are more people online, but the majority are using some form of social media.

Young people in Japan look to social media to conduct research on brands before buying and as a result, social media, when properly executed, is an excellent tool for introducing people to your brand’s products or services.

Successful social media marketing starts with establishing your brand’s business objectives and then developing a strategy to achieve those objectives by utilizing the best platform(s) for the job. After deciding on a suitable platform, social media is best executed with a focus on branding, rather than on sales and conversions.

Contact us to schedule a meeting to discuss how we can help create a digital marketing strategy which incorporates social media marketing and that is specifically tailored to achieving your business goals in Japan.


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Note: When we say “social media marketing” we are referring to the act of using a collection of marketing channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, to achieve various business objectives. As traditionally trained marketers, we believe it is important to point out that social media is in fact one of many channels that can be used to transmit and execute a certain promotion mix. Similarly, “influencer marketing” is really a form of paid promotion. However, as both terms, “social media marketing” and “influencer marketing” are readily understood by non-specialists we believe they are useful phrases.