SNS in Japan – Definition and Popular Social Media Platforms

Posted By Caylon Neely このブログは英語表記のみです。

When we talk about Social Networking Services (SNS) in Japan, we’re basically talking about social media. While this includes all the usual social media suspects like Facebook and Twitter, the scope also includes channels like LINE, the nation’s most popular communication app.

We explore a few must-know facts about the Japanese SNS landscape and take a look at how these incredibly popular sites function within the lives of nearly every human being living in Japan today.

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What Does SNS Mean?

SNS is an abbreviation of “Social Networking Service“ used to describe any platform people use to forge and maintain online relationships, both with other individuals and with brands and causes.
While ‘social media network’ or just ‘social media’ would do just fine for most Western native speakers, SNS is often the preferred term among native Japanese speakers. Why? We’re not exactly sure, but several other Asian countries like South Korea and India use the world interchangeable with social media.
In Japan, you’ll find people using this term both in the marketing world as well as everyday life to describe the following:

  • An online vehicle for creating relationships with other people
  • A service that used to entertain, inform and connect people online
  • A social networking service that typically generates revenue through online advertising

Key SNS Stats for Japan

Girl using SNS in Japan to kill time

Social media is increasingly fundamental to the way people live and behave in Japan. In addition to facilitating communication with peers, it serves many practical purposes such as supporting online transactions, providing news and entertainment, and giving businesses a platform to interact with new audiences.

The country has one of the highest social media penetration rates with users numbers expected to reach projected to increase to more than 83 per cent by 2022. And despite a rapidly aging and shrinking population, this is expected to increase to more than 89 million by 2025.

As in other developed nations, the widespread availability of smartphones and high-speed internet supports the increasing influence of SNS platforms. However, as you’ll see from the below graph, there are some unique user trends that are specific to Japan, with platforms like LINE dominating the SNS scene and Facebook holding only fifth place in the rank of highest monthly active users.

Monthly Active Users By Platform

 

Sources: Insta Lab

Reasons for Using Social Media in Japan

 

Communication with acquaintances 86.9%
Searching for information 63.6%
Killing time 36.7%
Gathering information in time of disaster 24.8%
Broadening new relations with other people 14.9%
Presenting my own information of works 12.6%
Searching for old friends 6%
Other 3%

Source: Statista

Top Japanese SNS Platforms and Current Trends

Family using YouTube SNS in Japan as alternative to traditional television

When digging deeper into each SNS platform in Japan, you can start to see a few more unique trends emerge relating to how users here interact on specific channels and the role they play in people’s lives. Below are a few of our platform-based predictions and insights, but for a more comprehensive breakdown, take a look at our full review: Japan’s‌ ‌Top‌ ‌Social‌ ‌Media‌ ‌Networks‌ for 2021.

LINE

LINE has a huge number of monthly active users, with 85% of the platform’s 4 million users recorded as being daily users in 2020. It performs a similar role to WhatsApp in many countries by being the go-to app for direct messages with friends, it’s functionality is much broader and it now offers businesses several advertising options.

Trends and predictions:

  • There will be an increase of coupons and discounts to reach customers with short-term sales and promotions through the app
  • Brands and businesses will start to actively use it as a tool for keeping in touch and communication with their large number of followers, providing them with an additional communication touchpoint.

YouTube

Despite television still being a primary source of entertainment in Japan, younger generations and many families now opt for streaming platforms over traditional broadcasting networks when looking for something to watch.
Among these is YouTube, the most popular video platform in Japan, which users are now connecting up with their smart TVs to enjoy an incredibly broad range of online content. In fact, as many as 15 million users now watch YouTube on their TVs.

Trends and predictions:

  • There will be more family-friendly YouTube channels imitating Japanese TV that draw households away from traditional broadcasters to the SNS platform.
  • Brands will rely on YouTube more to provide social proof to new users and reassure customers about their credibility and quality to support their overall brand presence and online shopping strategies.

Twitter

Celebrities, actors, and influencers are incredibly popular on Twitter in Japan, with individuals in industries like gaming, music and art boasting the highest follower numbers. However, news sources also provide vital communications and messages through this app, becoming musically vital in times of crisis or emergency.

Trends and predictions:

  • More users will look to Twitter to get immediate updates from reliable new platforms, especially in relation to public health and safety announcements.
  • Twitter will remain to be a dominant platform to provide potential customers and brand fans with the latest product launch information from the brands they love.

Instagram

User consider various options for SNS in Japan

Instagram remains an important place for users to stay connected with their interests, brand and individuals that matter to them. Whether that’s through following hashtags and looking for inspiration or following fashion trends of influential Instagrammers. It is also one of the best places to target if your brand is trying to connect with young Japanese women interested in fashion, beauty, music, art, food, and entertainment.

Trends and predictions:

  • Instagram will become a central part of many people’s purchasing journey when looking for fashion and beauty products, with more brands and people using the in-platform shopping options
  • We’re likely to see Instagram’s popularity decline in a similar way to Facebook, as new video-friendly platforms like TikTok take the spotlight and oversaturation leads to low organic reach.

Facebook

Despite the platform not holding the same status as it does in other countries, and suffering a gradual decline in relevancy over the years as newer platforms become more appealing, Facebook still enjoys around 26 million users. It is also a good place for targeting older demographics and a suitable place for businesses looking to roll out B2B marketing campaigns due to many individuals using this platform for businesses purposes.

Trends and predictions:

  • We’ll see the current trend continue with Facebook’s popularity decline along with its relevance. However, while it will attract fewer younger users, it will still remain an important tool for older demographics who will remain loyal to the channel.
  • Facebook will also continue to be an important tool for brands to provide social proof to prospective customers researching brands before they commit to future purchases.

Launching a Facebook PPC Campaign? Read this First!

TikTok

Everyone’s watching TikTok with excitement, and just as the channel has become incredibly popular in other countries, it’s likely Japan will also see the channel’s presence grow. It currently enjoys huge growth and engagement with younger groups, with signs of more older users also using the platform.

Trends and predictions:

  • Brands will look to TikTok as one of the only social media platforms to grow their organic reach and more businesses will look to factor in this option as part of their SNS marketing strategies by learning the platform’s quirks and leveraging popular influencers.
  • There will gradually be an inflow of older users making TikTok an “all-reach, all-target platform” that makes it more viable for businesses to integrate into their marketing plans, therefore driving overall commercialization on the platform.

The Role of SNS in Japan

Two friends look for brand social proof on SNS in Japan

Below are some fundamental insights into how SNS works in Japan and the role it plays for both people and businesses. Some of these points will be universally applicable, while others are more unique to the Japanese market, where distinct consumer preferences and tendencies can often give way to slight variations from global norms.

A Place to Shop

As well as supporting brand awareness, SNS now plays an even more integrated role in the way people buy. This starts with popular brand channels inspiring shoppers with the latest trends on Instagram, and then facilitating the actual purchase directly through the app.

So, in addition to attracting customers, such as placing advertisements, sending out information, and promoting your branded content, social commerce also performs a series of tasks that were once only possible through an e-commerce website or marketplace.

Gives Your Brand Credibility

Japan has the second-lowest level of trust among the mass population with a Trust Index score of just 37, according to the Edelman’s Trust Barometer. This means that brands must try harder to win trust and convince people they are credible and worthy.

SNS plays a vital role in doing this in Japan, providing a place where customers can quickly share reviews, ratings, and opinions about products and services. In a nation where information spreads rapidly, this can either be your greatest tool or your worst enemy.

Greater Audience Targeting

Personalization and ‘hyper-personalization’ are important factors for SNS in Japan, especially for brand leveraging advertising strategies on platforms like Facebook where it’s almost impossible to gather any organic traction these days.

Setting up the right processes for tracking, experimenting, optimizing, and reporting on the way your content is delivered to your target market is important. People’s preferences, interests, and behaviors are incredibly varied even within individual platforms, and content, whether commercially focused or not, will live and die based on how accurately it aligns with people’s personal views and interests.

Video Content Prioritization

Mobile video ad revenue in Japan is expected to grow to $885m in 2021 (up from $199m in 2015) with a large focus on video marketing. TikTok has shown how hungry the Japanese population is for video-first content, and together with the popularity of Instagram stories and YouTube, SNS in Japan is becoming increasingly video-oriented.

Leverage Influencer Popularity

Example of Kiko Mizuhara’s Instagram SNS in Japan

If you don’t have many followers now, but are looking to get good exposure, why not borrow someone else’s followers? This strategy has always been important in Japanese advertising where countries are regularly used to endorse big brands.

However, the influencer landscape is incredibly diverse with a wide range of influencer segments that brands are now connecting with, from nano-influencers to mega-influencers like Kiko Mizuhara (shown above). These native Japanese speaking individuals will help foreign brands to:

  • Connect more personally with target users
  • Integrate your product/service deeper into the Japanese market: (i.e. localizing)
  • Incorporate that influencer’s “brand” into your offering
  • Spread brand awareness and content to more people

Built for On-the-go Brand Interactions

As people are increasingly making searches and transactions on-the-go, being 100% optimized for mobile is a no brainer. This requires brands to have fully matured social media channels with large reels of content for users to delve into before being directed to your website or through to in-platform sales carts and sales pages.

HB Pro Tip: A successful post on social media can bring loads of traffic to your website, and it’s important to be ready for that. If a user clicks your link and finds it difficult to read or navigate, they will likely pass and go back to browsing their social feeds instead of engaging with your conversion process. As a side note, having a mobile-ready website can also help your Google search results.

Make Sales with Paid Ads

As mentioned, it’s pretty much impossible to achieve your commercial targets on SNS in Japan without paying for it. While more niche platforms like the growingly popular TikTok will leave some room for brands to capitalize on organic outreach and marketing, long-established channels like Facebook are just far too saturated.

Most platforms are now heavily commercialized and feature high volumes of paid or sponsored ads of some kind. While this has been to the dismay of some, in Japan where people are actually less reluctant to receive advertising content, paid advertising has often integrated quite smoothly into many platforms.

The trick is to understand what your users actually want to see and make sure you deliver engaging and original paid ad content that relates to their interests.

Unique Japanese Content

Example of Norwegian Seafood Council campaign for SNS in Japan

Cute, weird, strange, or gross content can do wonders for a social media campaign when applied correctly. What’s even more surprising is how such animals and characters are used to promote everything from insurance to toys.

It’s also shocking how many foreign brands come to Japan and think they can get away with not adapting their social media content and ads to better cater to actual Japanese users. Everyone needs to remember that finding or producing creative material in Japan is uniquely different from doing so in other countries.

Above is a great example of how the Norwegian Seafood Council have nicely tailored their promotion and social media campaigns to be Japanese-friendly and appealing to their new market.

Cross Promotion

Marketing on individual SNS platforms in Japan is important, but it’s rarely going to cover all of your company’s promotional needs. However, synergizing your marketing efforts with social media can be extremely powerful.

Combining SNS marketing with your overall digital matrix, including your ecommerce strategy and even offline tactics, is the best way to improve brand awareness, traffic to your product and checkout pages, and the lifetime value of your customers. If nothing else, make sure that each and every one of your social and digital channels has easy links through to other platforms so that users can continue to engage with you on any platform they like.

Final Takeaways

Influencer using SNS in Japan gives views thumbs up to signal success

Social media, or SNS in Japan, is a key component of pretty much everyone’s life and purchasing journey here. From initial discovery to actual conversion through social shopping carts, it is now so integral to people’s lives that not investing in social media marketing is the fastest way to lose relevance.

Whether you’re selling products online or just building your brand presence, we recommend creating a great social experience across the platforms that are the most relevant to your audience. By optimizing your strategy and content for specific users, you can drive the kind of engagement you need to truly succeed in Japan where social media is an everyday occurrence for most of the population.

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