A recent Japanese TV drama features the Twitter phenomenon in Japan. Written by a famous screenwriter and starring popular Japanese actors, this show is about a group of youngsters who met each other through Twitter and grew their friendships and relationships in real life. This TV show shows that Twitter has gone mainstream in Japan, and makes me feel curious about how Twitter got its popularity there.
The total number of Japanese Twitter users is impressive: it passed 5 million in February and is expected to reach 10 million by the end of this year. (source) In contrast, most international social networking sites have had difficulties attracting users in Japan. For example, Linkedin and Facebook have less than 1 million users in Japan. (source) The number of registered members of the local social networking site, Mixi, is 10 times greater than Facebook. Twitter is the first foreign brand to break through and obtain success in Japan.
Launched in 2008 in Japan, Twitter didn’t establish a local office; instead, it partnered with a Japanese internet service company, Digital Garage. Using Twitter is very similar to sending text messages. Since the Japanese are heavy users of text messaging, they were able to easily adopt the Twitter service. In addition, Japanese people very often use mobile phones for web services, and Twitter Japan provided official mobile access. Furthermore, while the Japanese market was full of social networking services, there were no services in existence that were similar to Twitter.
Twitter has been implemented differently in Japan than in the U.S. Some applications and functions are only available in Japan, like video sharing and ads on each page. Twitter Japan also built a business model in January, earlier than Twitter in the U.S. Users are charged to access certain types of content, images and videos from businesses, and then Twitter shares the revenue with those companies. This model is different from the “promoted tweets” model in the U.S, Twitter’s version of keyword ads.
It is always interesting to see how culture affects technology adoption. An article from Techcrunch shows the reasons why the business model of Twitter Japan might work. Twitter obviously understands the importance of localization and how to win local customers’ hearts. Every other international web service could learn something from Twitter’s actions.