How Twitter Turned Japanese Micro-blogging Into A Sensational Success

twitter_logo Twitter, one of the world's most popular and fastest growing social networking tools, has swept through Japan. Every day, millions "mumble", tweet, and chirp, sharing stories in a truly and distinctly Japanese manner. In fact, the term "mumble" — the Japanese translation of tweet — turned out to be an unexpected cherry on the top of the Twitter cake. Since Twitters launch within the Japanese social media market place in 2008, the ability to "mumble" has given Twitter users a tremendous sense of individuality. This individuality continues to generate significant appeal, especially among younger generations who are less willing to accept and conformity to the norms of classical Japanese culture. Additionally, a mobile version of Twitter started last October, further fueling the Twitter boom. Now, following the initial success of Twitter in Japan, many investors, analysts, and twitter addicts continue to question what the future holds for this social media phenom. Will Twitter mumble its way to market dominance? Will the company see its technology derailed by societal or political factors? Or, will Twitter have its user base cannibalized by competitors including Facebook and MySpace, organizations that failed during their initial attempts to enter the Japanese market.

55641997To answer the question of longevity, one needs to simply review how integrated Twitter has become within Japanese culture. Every day, seminars teaching the tricks of the tweet pop up. Ending Japanese sentences with "nah-woo" — an adaptation of "now" in English — has become hip, a tag that shows off the Tweeters versatility in pseudo-English Twitter-speak. In Tokyo, one of the most popular bars has installed screens that show tweets along with the World Cup games. This service is set to be expanded. Everyone, it seems, at all levels of the economic and political spectrum, from pop idols to prime ministers, has taken up tweeting with passion! Currently, the proportion of Japanese Internet users who tweet is estimated to be around 16.3%, easily surpassing the percentage of American tweeters at 9.8%. Furthermore, this April, Twitter squeaked past Nixi, one of Japan's top social networking services, with over 10 million users. Contrast these numbers with the fact that only 3% of Japanese Internet users subscribe to Facebook. Clearly, it is not hard to recognize how successfully Twitter has entrenched itself within the Japanese market.

tokyo-japanAccording to recent research, Twitter estimates that Japanese Tweeters send over 8 million mumbles a day, or about 12% of the global total. In fact, recent data seems to suggest that Japanese Twitter users continue to tweet more frequently than Americans. Why? One primary reason may be attributed to Japanese Language. Compared to English, it is possible to say much more in Japanese within Twitter's 140 character limit. For example, the word "information" requires just two characters in Japanese. This allows academics and politicians to relay complex views, a factor that may drive Twitters growth within Japan above the 20 million mark within the next 3 months. Another critical factor, is that many Japanese are truly embracing their Twitter identities. While anonymity tended to be popular on many social networking sites, Twitter users within Japan continue to display a nakedness unseen globally. For many, Twitter anecdotes and mumbles are described as  heartwarming, personal, and intimate. One popular example is the case of a woman who posted on Twitter the photo of a park her father sent in an e-mail attachment before he died. Twitter users across Japan were quickly swept into a furry of commentary, with people comparing parks and sharing emotions. For many in Japan, Twitter is turning out to be an online cocktail party with limitless boundaries, enabling users to network and connect with people globally.

night time street sceneFrom an investment point of view, Twitter continues to show that it is possible to profitably use social marketing applications as a business tool. Daily, companies rely on Twitter to reach consumers and generate feedback. This functionality holds tremendous promise within Japan, a nation where broadband connections are widespread, and mobile phones outnumber the population. Currently, retailer Tokyu Hands uses Twitter to answer queries from customers. Similarly, popular clothing chain Uniqlo uses Twitter by setting up a virtual line where people mumble to each other and get freebies. In fact, Motohiko Tokuriki, chief executive of consultant Agile Media Network, believes Twitter is on its way to be chosen the hit new word of the year, a coveted honor that draws tremendous publicity. If this occurs, and Twitter continues to grow, Twitter may eventually offer Japan's web entrepreneurs the global opportunities that have so far eluded them.

japan-2As the popularity of Twitter continues to grow, a recurring question surrounds the ability of Twitter to monetize its services. Will the Japanese online market be used as a testing ground to support regular for-profit operation? In 2009, Digital Garage, Twitter’s partner in Japan, announced plans to roll out a monetized version of Twitter. The premise is simple: charge Twitter users to view their followers tweets – either on a monthly basis or per single tweet. Sounds drastic? What may seem like a bold and improbable move actually makes a lot of sense, particularly concerning the Japanese marketplace. Firstly, Japan is the only market in the world where Twitter offers an official mobile client. Within Japan, the mobile web is significantly larger than the fixed Internet. Secondly,  Japanese mobile web users are already used to paying for content. For many in Japan, the ability to conveniently pay monthly through a bill makes it easy for content providers to charge additional fees for services. Additionally, charging for premium access on the fixed web isn’t unusual within Japan. Japanese social networks like Mixi and Cookpad have been doing this for years, requiring users to pay monthly fees for premium features. Currently, between 5 and 15% of all members opt for these premium fee structures within Japan. With Twitter estimated to have approximately 2 million registered users in Japan – critical mass seems to exist for a payment model.

japan-1Similarly, as previously noted, by writing in Japanese and Chinese characters, Japanese Twitter users can squeeze considerably more text into single tweets than those posting in English. This fact theoretically boosts the value of individual tweets from a content perspective. Additionally, Japanese web users are generally must more interested in what celebrities (singers, actors, TV stars etc.) “are doing” or “what’s happening” in their private lives. Simple content such as a picture of a lunch meal can draw thousands of comments over Twitter depending on the celebrity. Finally, Twitter's growth within the Japanese market, over the last few months, continues to grow. This growth is not being observed or matched within other international markets. Overall, a quick review of Twitter's activity within Japan continues to yield positive results. If Twitter can find a way a monetize its services within Japan, the Japanese market could turn into a gold mine for Twitter organization, as well as its investors. Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be "mumbling" about Twitter's success in Japan for a very long time!