The Impact of Covid-19 On Japanese Social Media (Short and Long Term)

Posted By Jim Kersey

During a time of increased social distancing and greater concern for public health and safety, it’s no surprise that many people turned to social media as the Covid-19 pandemic was first felt in Japan.

For some, forced to isolate or spend less time with friends, it was a lifeline that allowed them to connect with others during a stressful and trying period. And for others, it was a way to distract themselves from everything going on in the world.

Yet, perhaps the major driver here was the need to access information quickly on how the virus was spreading and measures taken by the Japanese government to prevent it.

In this post, we explore some of the effects this unique moment has had on social media usage in Japan and some important takeaways for brands building or adapting their organic and paid social strategies today.

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The Changing Role of Japanese Social Media

Woman at home during Covid-19 using social media in Japan

When used as a tool for spreading panic and misinformation, or when leveraged for personal gain, prejudice, exaggeration, or scapegoating, there’s no doubt that social media plays a dangerous role.

However, it’s also hard to deny the positive effects certain platforms can have had on Japanese society, in light of recent events.

Quickly disseminating important public information such as warnings and guidance, discussing vital facts about the virus, and giving people an important way to communicate with each other to supplement a lack of face-to-face contact have proven to be key benefits.

A Way to Connect in Times of Disaster

During the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and in additional moments of national crisis, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have served as a lifeline for directly affected individuals, providing a means of information sharing and a way for people inside and outside of Japan to connect, share, volunteer, donate and provide information-based support.

As the pandemic reached Japan, social media played a similar role. Various platforms allowed people to easily tap into issues and communities that were the most relevant to them, supporting efforts to self-organise and respond to what was happening in real-time.

People Look to Social Media for Immediate Answers

Historically, Japanese disaster communications have relied heavily on mass media, such as TV and Radio. However, the instantaneous nature of information sharing on social media has made it favourable in recent decades, as has its ability to give users access to local coverage through peer-to-peer networks.

Unfortunately, the downside of this is that fake news or factual errors from user-generated events coverage has also reached users faster, sometimes leading to unnecessary panic and concern in society.

A Place to Voice Criticism or Personal Opinions

As other nations around the world have done, Japan has used social media as a space for voicing criticism about the government’s handling of the events as well as personal opinions on several issues relating to the pandemic.

Substituting for more public gatherings, onlines spaces have given people the forum to discuss their thoughts and share them with others. This has fueled heated debates and arguments, as well as genuine solution-based explorations.

Notably, we’ve seen people congregate around several positive issues, offering support and encouragement for certain groups and communities both within Japan and across the world. For instance, advocacy of charities and the support for vulnerable groups has been prompted by many people’s interactions on social media.

Influencers at the Centre of Social Media Communities

The pandemic has pushed influencers and high profile individuals in the community to take on a greater leadership role. Government officials and popular YouTubers alike have faced increasing attention as people looked increasingly to those in their networks for guidance, advice, and cues on how to behave.

Fundamentals of Japanese Social Media

Japanese people crossing the road representing different demographics using social media

We’ve covered the Japanese social media landscape in great detail in past blogs, ranging from a full overview of all SNS platforms to specific tips and tricks for growing your brand presence and customer base here.

Before we turn to some of the more recent social media trends caused by Covid-19, here’s a reminder of some of the key numbers we still think play an important part in informing any Japanese social media strategy.

Check Out Our Guide for Japan’s Top Social Media Networks for 2021

Japan’s Social Media Overview

*Tap or Hover on the graph below to see details.

Sources: Insta Lab

LINE Japan

Monthly active users 86 Million
Proportion of Japanese population 68%
Female users 47.5%
Males users 52.5%
Users under 30 25.2%
Users under 30 25.2%

YouTube Japan

Monthly active users 65 Million
Proportion of Japanese population 51.6%
Female users 44.%
Males users 56%
Users under 30 44.7%
Users over 30 55.3%

Twitter Japan

Monthly active users 45 Million
Proportion of Japanese population 36%
Female users 55.9%
Males users 44.1%
Users under 30 57%
Users under 30 57%

Instagram Japan

 

Monthly active users 33 Million
Proportion of Japanese population 26%
Female users 60.4%
Males users 39.6%
Users under 30 46.1%
Users over 30 53.9%

Facebook Japan

Monthly active users 26 Million
Proportion of Japanese population 20%
Female users 47.1%
Males users 52.9%
Users under 30 16.5%
Users over 30 83.5%

TikTok Japan

 

Monthly active users 9.5 Million
Proportion of Japanese population 7.6%
Female users 44.8%
Males users 55.2%
Users under 30 39.2%
Users over 30 60.8%

How Did Covid-19 Change the Japanese Social Media Landscape?

Japanese man at home during Covid-19 using social media to connect with others

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic caused several interesting things to happen in the world of Japanese social media.

An Increase in Social Media Usage

According to a survey conducted in April 2020, around 34.5 per cent of respondents in Japan stated that they spent more time on social networking services (SNS) compared to pre-pandemic. This was in addition to 8.7% who said their usage had increased a lot. Only 1.3% stated that their time on social platforms had decreased.

Social Content Expected to Match New Lifestyle and Outlook

As people’s lifestyles changed dramatically, and to an extent their whole outlook on life, brands have had to adapt their approach to reflect the current reality of living through a pandemic. Different priorities, concerns, and interests emerged as people struggled with major changes to their lives and fears about the future.

Many companies have completely changed their approach to content, such as placing more emphasis on things like social responsibility, safety and even aspects of product durability (with an understanding that consumers look for reliability in times of uncertainty).

Whether genuine or not, we’ve seen thousands of brands across Japan and worldwide take a more responsible and compassionate tone of voice in social media communications.

Lower Ad Spend

While this trend has tapered off significantly now, an interesting result of the Covid-19 on social media was the reduction in ad spend for certain product categories and industries.

This was partly due to many camanies pausing their ad deliveries during the start of the pandemic due worries about their economic stability going forward. Increased time spent on social media also made engagement and conversions easier to achieve.

Long-Term Impacts of Covid-19 on Social Media

Example of older demographics now using Japanese social media during Covid-19

While some of the effects of Covid-19 on social media have been isolated to 2020, there have been other changes that have had a more lasting impact.

Social to Remain a Key Part of the Online Purchasing Journey

Social media platforms have been a way for consumers to discover new brands and products for a long time, but many people have strengthened their relationships with certain social media brand accounts as well as gained confidence in shopping directly through features like Instagram shopping, since the pandemic started.

There’s no doubt that the path to purchase through social media is now shorter than ever and businesses selling online who haven’t optimized this aspect of the customer journey should quickly do so.

Interested in Japanese Ecommerce? Read Our Guide!

Older Demographics are Now Within Reach

As well as your obvious suspects increasing their time on social media during the pandemic, we’ve also seen more seniors take to platoms like Facebook. This is a compelling trend for brands who’ve historically found it hard to target certain older demographics through social media.

Just remember that your content approach and messaging will always need to be adapted to your target demographic. Older and younger users in Japan have different preferences when it comes to the type of content they consume, so don’t market to them in the same way.

For more on understanding the Japanese consumer mindset, take a look at our blog: Marketing in Japan? 10 Important things You Need to Know About Japanese Consumers

Video Content

Mobile video ad revenue in Japan was already expected to grow to $885m in 2021 (up from $199m in 2015), but with more live content, virtual events and video courses published on social media since the pandemic started, it’s likely that this trend will continue.

The growing popularity of TikTok and Twitch in Japan, in addition to the dominance of YouTube, already shows us that the appetite for video content is strong. The challenge is now for brands to publish video-based content that is consistent with the interests of their audiences within an affordable budget.

Brands Will Remain Cautious About Messaging

People still feel vulnerable today, in Japan and across the globe. And even if things have returned to a sense of pre-covid-19 normalcy for some groups and individuals, brands understand that it’s necessary to respect the fact that hardship is still real for many people.
While marketers want to get the right message across to show customers they’re having a positive impact, being commercially exploitative is a bad look. Overall sensitivity and humility therefore remains crucial as brands try to connect with their customers through social media.

How Can Business Adapt their Social Media Strategy for the Times?

International marketing team running tests during Covid-19 on social media engagement

Company owners and marketing leaders operating in Japan can do a few things to make sure they’re aligned with the kind of changes happening in the world of social media today.

1. Run Formal Experiments

Assuming too much can hurt you. This has always been the case in Japan where the behaviour of consumers can differ greatly to those in Western markets. To remove the guesswork, it’s wise to run formal experiments on various areas of your strategy.

If you’re not doing so already, make sure your performance tracking and reporting system is robust and clear to understand. Brand messages, targeting options, budgets, delivery times, and more should all be looked at to ensure everything is optimized to help you achieve the results you need.

2. Invest in Your Digital Capabilities

Having both the right tools and people to handle your social media campaigns in Japan can be hard to achieve sometimes, due to the relative lack of talent here when compared with the high volume of digital marketing professionals in countries like the US and UK.

This is partly because traditional media approaches still dominate Japan in many areas and fewer individuals are trained and experienced in activities such as PPC search marketing, SEO and social media. Relying on talent from your home market doesn’t work either, as they’ll probably lack an important understanding of your local context as well as Japanese language skills (Google translate can only get you so far!)

Despite this, it’s important that you feel confident your team in Japan can help you get the most out of your campaigns so we’d recommend spending some time (and money where necessary) on building a strong internal training program, improving your hiring process, and finding the right local marketing professionals to work with.

Many brands entering Japan make the same translation fails, learn what these are in our blog: Japanese Marketing Translation – Best Practices, Pitfalls, and Tips for How to Avoid Embarrassment

3. Harness the Power of Influencers

Social media managers must invest in influencer training and relationship building. The market in Japan is competitive and as digital content creators and online personalities recognise their value more and more, brands need to have a robust structure in place for enticing the right people to collaborate with, as well as maintain healthy long-term relationships

4. Reduce Friction between Social and Ecommerce

The journey from your social channel to your ecommerce pages (if you’re selling products online in Japan) should be smooth for customers. If you haven’t already, look for ways to reduce barriers during the checkout process and streamline the way customers discover your products through social media.

5. Always Adapt Creative Content to Match the Moment

Saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing at the wrong time, can seem insensitive and unprofessional.

As public sentiment evolves as the pandemic continues, make sure you are on top of what’s happening and always prepared to adapt your creative content to match the moment. This is just as much about protecting yourself from threats as it is finding new opportunities.

Want to Learn More About Japanese Social Media?

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Final Comments

Overview of Tokyo city and social media landscape during Covid-19

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues the world of social media and digital marketing will keep evolving. Topic trends, user behaviour, new platform popularity, and more are all things you need to pay attention to. It’s more important than ever to ensure your social media strategy and team are switched on, agile and invested in searching for the best way to navigate this changing landscape.

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