Japan’s Top Social Media Networks for 2021

Social commerce and short form video ruling Japanese SNS

Posted By Milosz Bugajski

2020 was a challenging year for many industries, including retail, but while brick and mortar shop sales declined, e-commerce was on the rise – this and many other trends affected the SNS landscape. In our sixth report on social media in Japan, we take an in-depth look at how the world of social networking has changed throughout 2020 and which consumer trends and behaviors will dominate in 2021 and beyond. We are creating this annual report based on the foundation of years of experience helping clients navigate the social media intricacies in Japan, following and evaluating SNS trends, and helping foreign enterprises enter and thrive in the Japanese market. We hope you will find our report useful for your brand strategy in Japan.

Japan’s Top Social Media Networks for 2021

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Japan’s Socio-Demographic Overview
  2. Japan’s Social Media Overview
  3. LINE Japan
  4. YouTube Japan
  5. Twitter Japan
  6. Instagram Japan
  7. Facebook Japan
  8. TikTok Japan
  9. Japan’s Niche SNS Platforms
  10. SNS social commerce in Japan
  11. Things to consider when managing SNS in Japan

Japan’s Socio-Demographic Overview

Japan's top social media networks SNS demographic data
With over 126 million citizens, Japan continues to be one of the most populous and richest countries in the world. Even with the world’s fastest aging society (33% of the population being above 65 years old) it remains a thriving market – especially for online services, e-commerce, and social media. The numbers speak for themselves: 9 in 10 people in Japan have access to the internet, on average each person owns 2 mobile devices, and the country boasts one of the highest ratios of social media active users on the planet (almost 2 in 3 people!). This alone should be a good reason to seriously consider leveraging social media networks when considering business expansion in Japan.

Japan’s Social Media Overview

MONTHLY ACTIVE USERS BY PLATFORM

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

Sources: Insta Lab

OUR APPROACH

Following our previous report’s approach, we open our analysis of top social media platforms in Japan for 2021 with LINE and YouTube (which, although not strictly social media platforms, enjoy massive popularity in Japan and display many social features). Then, we move to the ‘big 3’ of the SNS landscape: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook followed by the strong contender: TikTok. Lastly, we close with some niche platforms that didn’t really take off in Japan, like Pinterest and LinkedIn, and others that are just starting to emerge and gain popularity, like Clubhouse.

How did each social media change in the great shift of 2020, and what will be the consumer behavior after 2021? Let’s take a look at some tips for using social media marketing in Japan, platform by platform.

LINE Japan

Japan's top social media networks SNS LINE data
LINE is the messaging app of Japan, with almost 70% of the population using it. It has acquired over 4 million new users since the beginning of 2020 – out of which 85% are active daily! Although the majority of the platform’s activity is focused on the interactions between users rather than sharing or consuming social content, the sheer volume, and level of engagement can play a tremendous role in connecting businesses with users through direct messaging and advertising. In terms of reaching a widely diverse range of users and building brand awareness in the Japanese market, there is perhaps no better place than LINE, regardless of your target audience.

LINE DEMOGRAPHICS

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

Sources: Insta Lab

While enjoying universal popularity, there are some visible trends within the demographics of LINE users in Japan. Although both males and females are mostly distributed similarly among the age groups, there is a significant difference in the range of 20-29 years old: in this group, there are over 50% more men than women. On top of that, 75% of users are above 30 years old – which should be expected to further increase as the society is rapidly aging in Japan.

According to the official LINE Business Guide for 2021, users can be divided into 3 major groups:

  • Full-time employees (~50%)
  • Part-time workers and housewives (~30%)
  • Students (~11%)

Not surprisingly the engagement rate is steadily decreasing with the age of users: while over 90% of teen males (and 85% of teen women) use the platform every day, only 60% of users over 60 years old access LINE that often.

If you would like to explore the potential of Japan’s #1 messaging platform, but don’t know how to advertise on LINE see our blog post dedicated entirely to that platform or get in touch with us for an ROI-focused strategy.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

Recently, LINE launched the “LINE de Reservation” service, which allows users to make a reservation to visit a shop via their official LINE account, and the “Coupon Display” function, which displays coupons in the LINE Family Book based on the receipt information added by the user. As 85% of LINE users use the platform every day, coupons and flyers can be a great way to reach potential customers with a short-term sale or promotion.

Undoubtedly that the best use of the LINE platform in Japan is to reach a large number of followers on a daily basis through direct messaging by creating personalized and engaging text messages that build a user experience similar to just chatting with a friend. For brands considering an advanced, omnichannel strategy, LINE will be an excellent complementary tool to keep in touch with a large number of followers, provide additional touchpoints, and deliver conversion incentives in form of coupons and flyers.

YouTube Japan

Japan's top social media networks SNS YouTube data

As much as YouTube focuses on creators and users providing and consuming video content, by creating unique communities (and therefore satisfying the human need for belonging), allowing users to interact in the comment sections, and engaging users in live streams it displays more than enough features to be regarded as one of the top social platforms in Japan. On top of that YouTube gained over 3 million new Japanese users in 2020.

YOUTUBE DEMOGRAPHICS

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

Sources: Insta Lab

Younger generations in Japan are gradually moving away from television, opting more and more for online video streaming platforms that they can enjoy whenever they want and on whatever device they want. YouTube has become one of the most popular video platforms in Japan, helped by the fact that it is completely free.

With the inflow of over 3 million new monthly active users, the demographics of YouTube in Japan in 2020 has also changed. While in our previous report we observed heavy dominance of men and women in their forties and fifties, now the main audience of the platform is shifted towards the group below 45 years old (with the age group of 25-34 being most highly represented).

TOP YOUTUBE TRENDS IN JAPAN

Japan's top social media platforms infographic about SNS YouTube Trends in Japan

With people spending more time at home in 2020, there have been some significant shifts in the way how YouTube content is being consumed in Japan. Over 2 times more users are watching YouTube on their TVs (15 million in 2020 – over 23% of all YouTube users in Japan) compared to 2019. In over half of cases users watch YouTube videos with family or friends. This creates a great demand for high-quality, entertaining, and engaging content – which is reflected in huge increases in new videos on the platform, especially around topics related to staying at home: cooking, home gardens, DIY, and home exercise.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

It is clear that social trends are making users consume more videos while staying at home. This creates a great opportunity for both advertising (consider a family that tends to watch a lot of home cooking videos – it creates a perfect audience for detailed targeting of cooking appliances) as well as creating content.

In 2021 we predict seeing much more family-friendly YouTube channels that imitate Japanese TV (a trend that could already be visible in the previous years). Also, considering the rise of popularity of social commerce (leveraging social media for e-commerce) and a lot of brands switching from brick and mortar to online sales channels – we will see much more users searching for reviews, unboxings, and ‘product experience’ videos. As YouTube is the second most relevant and important search engine in Japan – brands will be relying on it, even more, to create social proof and a sense of security while online shopping for the users.

Twitter Japan

As Twitter stopped publishing the official data about its monthly active users in Japan several years ago, we are basing our current total number of MAU on the previous year’s research. We believe that Twitter will continue to be a relevant platform in Japan in the foreseeable future – however with the rise of highly visual, and more entertaining, and engaging platforms it will slowly become less popular and heavily used.

TWITTER DEMOGRAPHICS

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

Sources: Insta Lab

Two big changes that we saw in the demographics of Twitter in Japan in 2020:

  • Increased number of female users(in 2019 platform was slightly more popular among men)
  • Huge increase in the number of users in their twenties

Twitter seems to be a great platform for reaching female users between 20 and 40 years old (university students, young professionals, new mothers, and housewives)

TOP TWITTER TREND IN JAPAN

Japan's top social media platforms infographic about SNS Twitter industries

Political and social figures are present among the top Twitter profiles in Japan, however, compared to the western countries, celebrities, actors, and influencers enjoy much more popularity (36% of the top profiles). This is followed by the entertainment industry, gaming, music, and art. The last spots (but still relevant and widely popular) belong to news sources and accounts related to the food & drink industry, for example, Japanese convenience stores (Lawson, Seven Eleven, FamilyMart) and Starbucks.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

Twitter will continue to be the dominant SNS platform in Japan throughout 2021 and beyond. It could slowly be overshadowed by the rise of other social networking sites – mainly TikTok. One thing that will keep Twitter popular in the coming years is the ease of sharing news and current information – which became especially important and valued during the pandemic. Users grew to rely on quick updates about new lockdown regulations, transportation policies, numbers of new virus cases, etc. Particularly in 2020, users were spending more time on social networking sites due to the effects of living in isolation, with 58% of users increasing their use of Twitter, mainly in the search for up-to-date information.

DOMINATING SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING ON JAPANESE TWITTER IN 2021

As we predict the rise of social commerce in Japan in 2021 and beyond, we recommend focusing on the pre-purchase research that users tend to be doing on that platform. Twitter continues to be the most popular social network for discovering new products (29%) in Japan, followed by Instagram. Many users leverage it as a place to obtain information about a product before visiting the actual shop to try the product and make the final purchase decision. 

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Instagram Japan

Japan's top social media platforms infographic about SNS Twitter industries

With over 5 times more hashtag searches than the global average Instagram in Japan enjoy one of the most highly active users in the world. Being one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, combined with the huge popularity of hashtags makes it the best place for users to discover and engage with their interests.

INSTAGRAM  DEMOGRAPHICS

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

Sources: Insta Lab

According to research, in 2020 72% of users claim to spend more time on social networking sites, 65% of which said they tend to use Instagram more. In addition, 41% of respondents said that the reason they buy products online is that they found out about them on Instagram. Instagram is the perfect place to target young Japanese women interested in fashion, beauty, music, art, food, and entertainment. Year on year we see a specially big jump in the number of female users in their twenties.

TOP INSTAGRAM TRENDS IN JAPAN

Infographics about Japan's top social media platforms SNS Instagram industries

As the top three products that were previously bought in shops but are now bought online are cosmetics & beauty, food, and daily necessities (which Instagram is perfect for), 82% of consumers in Japan say that they will continue to purchase more products online after 2020, suggesting that this change may not be temporary.

Infographics about Japan's top social media platforms SNS Instagram hashtags

The key to your success on Instagram Japan is to keep it in mind that Instagram users in Japan are five times more active in searching hashtags and three times more active in viewing product details from shopping tags than in other countries.

Also, in response to the global pandemic in 2020, Instagram has enhanced its functionality for restaurants by allowing them to accept takeaway orders, and making the process more user-friendly. The number of #テイクアウト (#takeout) feed posts were 25 times higher in May compared to February 2020. It is expected for Instagram to be even more prominent in helping users decide on the place to eat/takeout food from, evaluate and compare the options and directly connect restaurants with customers in 2021.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

2021 might be the year of the final battle between Instagram and TikTok for dominating the short-form video landscape. With Reels becoming the central focus of the Instagram algorithm (allowing the best organic reach) and YouTube Shorts not picking up, the competition with a new contender (TikTok) will become increasingly fierce. In our opinion, Instagram will start to decline, in a similar way Facebook did, due to oversaturation, low organic reach, and focus on advertising.

Another thing to expect in 2021 is the rise of popularity of live streams, Instagram shops, and product tags – which are more engaging than usual content.

HOW TO MARKET YOUR BRAND ON JAPANESE INSTAGRAM IN 2021

Many believe it is already too late to grow organically on Instagram, with the platform being too saturated and organic reach being too low. On top of that, Instagram has also been consistent in limiting the ‘growth hacking’ behaviors by introducing various policies, for example, any requests of ‘like for like’ or ‘follow for follow’ are considered to be a violation of the Community Guidelines.

All of those policy changes and algorithm updates have one goal in common: making Instagram users play by the rules and focus on creating high-quality, engaging content. Reels (short-form videos of up to 30 seconds) seem to be currently most favored by Instagram – and allow to gain above-average organic reach. This is why in 2021 our recommendation would be to focus on this type of content, as well as fully leveraging the shopping functionality of Instagram. Currently, many Japanese users already expect products to be tagged in the Instagram shops, so they can easily purchase on the platform – links to the shop in your bio are already an inconvenience.

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Facebook Japan

Japan's top social media platforms infographic about SNS Facebook

Facebook is the third biggest ‘traditional’ social media platform in Japan (excluding Line and YouTube), attracting over 20% of the population. It is also the platform with the oldest demographics. Over the recent years, we can clearly see Facebook in Japan slowly becoming less and less relevant – with visual platforms like TikTok taking over the popularity. Nonetheless, the platform can boast 26 million users – and thanks to the older demographic range it is a perfect medium for targeting professionals, families, users that have higher disposable incomes, as well as B2B marketing strategies.

FACEBOOK  JAPAN DEMOGRAPHICS

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

Sources: Insta Lab

We see a continuous outflow of young users from Facebook in Japan – the platform is in clear recession, with the biggest numbers of users in their forties and quite even distribution between females and males. To put those demographic changes into numbers, between 2019 and 2020:

  • The number of users above 30 years old has increased from 79% to 83.5%
  • The number of users in their teens and twenties has decreased from 21% down to 16.5%

TOP FACEBOOK TRENDS IN JAPAN

Japan's top social media platforms infographic about SNS Facebook industries

Facebook in Japan is dominated by e-commerce, retail, and service provider profiles – many of them offering low price services/products that do not require a long consideration process. This is the first trend we are seeing on Facebook in Japan: a lot of brands using it for either building social proof with customer positive comments or just paid advertising. Another trend is B2B brands promoting their content and generating leads/traffic/engagement through the platform – with the goal of converting the leads via email marketing.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

Our prediction for 2021 is that Facebook will become less relevant in Japan with fewer young users, as well as the engagements and organic reach steadily going down. Also, considering the recent iOS14 updates it might become a less powerful (but still tremendously important) advertising tool. Most probably as the age of the users on the platform increases there will be more B2B and household/family-oriented brands promoting there – mainly with paid ads. Our prediction is that Facebook will continue to be an important social proof tool – as most of the users go by their real names on the platform Facebook reviews and ratings are much more impactful and can greatly support the pre-purchase decision process.

PROMOTING YOUR BRAND ON FACEBOOK IN JAPAN IN 2021

When creating content for organic growth on Facebook in Japan, the best strategy in 2021 will be to focus on the various fan communities and business groups that are extremely popular among Japanese Facebook users. Gathering users interested in a particular topic, business area, industry, or aspect of culture allows for a perfect targeting strategy (of course, while being mindful of the group’s rules).

Also, video content proves to be over 40% more engaging than stale images on Facebook in Japan. Combined with the above tip, our recommendation would be to focus on creating engaging video content (ideally tailored for Facebook, and not duplicated from other platforms) and leveraging the power of Facebook communities to reach interested users.

Not sure where to start? Let us walk you through Facebook marketing step by step

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TikTok Japan

Japan's top social media platforms infographic about SNS TikTok

TikTok is the official contender for the next dominating social media platform in Japan – with huge growth ratios and engagement among users it offers unprecedented opportunities for free organic reach.

TikTok DEMOGRAPHICS

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

Sources: App Ape Lab

With almost even distribution of males and females among the age groups there are some interesting demographic patterns to point out in Japan.

  • The biggest number of females on the platform are in their 40s (11.2%)
  • At the same time, the dominating age group for males is the 40s (13.1%) followed by 30s (12.1%) and 20s (11.4%)

This clearly shows that not only younger users are being drawn to the platform, as it is being widely adopted by males and females in their thirties and forties.

PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

We foresee global trends spreading to TikTok Japan, with the inflow of older users it will become an all-reach, all-target platform – as it can be observed globally. What will naturally follow is the increasing ‘commercialization’ of the platform with more brands promoting, running paid ads, and trying to capitalize on the great organic reach (for example by holding hashtag challenges). The key to winning on TikTok in Japan will remain to be fun and entertaining and not pushy with a marketing and brand-heavy approach.

PROMOTING YOUR BRAND ON TikTok IN JAPAN IN 2021

To capitalize on the great organic reach of TikTok you will need to focus on trends – to recognize them early brands will need to be really native to the platform in 2021. Anything too ‘salesy’ or ‘pushy’ won’t be received well as TikTok is all about lighthearted fun content. Don’t forget that this platform is primarily built on the community, and ‘having fun together’ aspects that satisfy users’ needs for belonging – therefore naturally fitting into the landscape of hashtag or friend challenges is the way to go.

For the paid strategy, see our crash course for converting using TikTok ads in Japan or get in touch with us to ensure the best return on your investment into digital marketing in Japan.

Japan’s Niche SNS Platforms

Following the pattern from previous years, some niche SNS platforms continue to struggle to scale in Japan. This trend is unlikely to change for platforms like Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat in the foreseeable future.

PINTEREST

Pinterest continues to enjoy a niche of about 6 million users – mainly designers and artistic souls looking for inspiration. If you are grand in this area we would recommend following the ‘winning Pin strategy’ recommended by Pinterest:

  • Create new, original Pins at least once a week
  • Make your Pins actionable by adding a URL
  • Organize Pins into well-named beautiful boards

LINKEDIN

The main application of LinkedIn in Japan remains either approaching potential clients and networking with users from western countries interested in entering the Japanese market or recruiting foreign staff. We wouldn’t recommend organic or paid strategy on this platform for companies operating and focused only on Japan.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse, the new invitation-only audio-chat social networking app is quickly taking over the world by perfectly fitting into the need for spontaneous social interaction and gossiping while staying at home. It is already booming in Japan as it ranks first among free apps on the Apple App Store – thousands of users are also sharing their accounts and inviting friends to join on their other social media accounts: mainly Instagram stories. You can also see celebrities, media providers (like the Asahi newspaper podcast), and influencers jumping on the platform.

Will Clubhouse become the next big social media platform in Japan? Like any other SNS, it will need to gain the ‘critical mass’ of users – as the platform will be only as valuable as many user’s friends and celebrities are active there. Currently, the Clubhouse app is on the rise to get there, and based on some of the characteristics of Japanese users, it might continue to quickly grow by satisfying the need for spontaneous interaction without having to meet or directly engage with other people (even after the pandemic).

SNS Social Commerce in Japan

Creating Social Commerce Content

As we mentioned in the sections about Instagram and Facebook, in recent years, social media has become not only a valuable means for attracting customers but also a platform for commerce. With social commerce, brands can provide a full shopping experience, such as browsing, comparing, selecting, and paying for products. In other words, it reduces all of the friction of having to leave the social platform to shop for items that your users are interested in.

According to the “Market Survey on eCommerce” released by METI, the size of the B2C e-commerce market in Japan increased by 7.65% year-on-year to 19.3 trillion yen in 2019, and the C2C e-commerce market, which is attracting attention as a new business model, increased by 9.5% year-on-year to 1.7 trillion yen. As the e-commerce market grows, C2C transactions are also developing. Compared to China and the U.S., there are some concerns that the perception of “SNS as an e-commerce site” is still relatively new in Japan, but these figures show a visible trend of users quickly adopting social media for C2C transitions.

Among social networking sites, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are the leading platforms with social commerce functions, and TikTok has also launched a service (for limited users) that allows them to navigate directly to e-commerce sites.

Advantages of social commerce

  • Easy to build and manage

With social commerce, you can open an online store using your SNS account as a platform, eliminating the need to build a website, which is necessary for conventional e-commerce sites. In general, after opening an SNS account, you can start a social commerce business by adding the store function provided by each SNS or the cart function of an ASP-type cart system.

  • Retain users

In social commerce, where a series of purchasing experiences such as browsing, selecting, and purchasing products are completed on SNS, it is necessary to build a closer relationship between sellers and users. Sellers need to let users know not only about the products but also about the brand and the concept of the store so that users who were mainly interested in buying can easily become more attached to the brand itself. Also, by holding events and campaigns to increase user loyalty, it is possible to turn users into fans and attract repeat customers.

Things to consider when managing social commerce

Social commerce has many advantages, such as ease of construction and operation, and user retention, but there are also some points to keep in mind.

  • More work is required to update information

Since SNS is a place to send out information, social commerce requires you to send out information about your brand and products on a regular and frequent basis. In particular, when using Instagram, more work is required per post because creative materials such as high-quality photos and videos are required. In addition, the number of posts, followers, and other numbers are clearly displayed on SNS, and these numbers can be one of the criteria for users to compare and purchase products. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that success depends on whether or not you can continue to post regularly and with a certain level of quality.

  • It takes a certain amount of time to improve sales

In social commerce, after opening an SNS account, you will need to go through the process of gaining fans and their engagement. Specific measures include posting and placing advertisements, but it is not easy to increase the number of fans significantly and their loyalty in a short period of time. Therefore, it would be difficult to earn money immediately after opening an SNS account. If you are running your own e-commerce site, you need to implement measures to increase awareness of your company’s social commerce efforts by utilizing other sales channels. For example, offer special benefits to users who make purchases on SNS, or conduct exclusive campaigns on other SNS accounts, etc. Proactively implement measures to make users aware of the new social commerce sales method rather than the traditional e-commerce site.

With the development of SNS, the nature of social networking sites in the e-commerce industry continues to change, from simply a place to gather information to a shopping site. First of all, it will be important to open your own SNS account and carefully consider your concept, target user base, and how to increase touchpoints with users.


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Things to consider when managing SNS in Japan

According to the Edelman’s Trust Barometer Japan is at the second-lowest level of trust among the mass population with a Trust Index score of just 37. What does this mean for brands trying to leverage social media in this market? The SNS in Japan, with their potential of quickly sharing reviews, ratings, and opinions about products and services can quickly become either your greatest friend or your worst enemy.

When you think about the typical purchase process in Japan, many users start by searching for ‘social proof’ about the brand, quality, user experience, price-value ratio, etc. By assuring great reviews across all your social channels you will build solid trust and greatly improve the conversion process. This is something that can not be achieved for example by reviews or ratings on your website – as those are not viewed as reliable due to brands being able to manipulate them and only present the best reviews.

Our recommendation would be to create a great social commerce experience that makes it easy for users not only to purchase the product but also creates an incentive for them (for example with a coupon) to leave a review on social media.

As social commerce is the trend we predict to dominate SNS in Japan in 2021 it will also become increasingly important to consider other aspects of Japanese culture: users expect goods and services sold online to be cheaper than in physical stores. Discounts, sales, and promotions should therefore not be exceptional, but rather an expected norm.

If you don’t dial in the proper discounted pricing and great, cross-platform social proof, your online marketing activities in Japan might be actually benefiting your competitors. Imagine a female consumer in Japan interested in leather bags – she can see your social media ad or organic post and become interested in purchasing the product. Before doing so, however, she will inevitably compare the prices and reviews on different platforms – and easily compare it with competitor’s bags. If any of the competing brands will excel in terms of reviews or low pricing – your marketing efforts will lead to the purchase of the competitor’s product. This is why building omnichannel social proof and pricing strategy is so essential for e-commerce and social media in Japan.

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