Welcome back to the “Twitter Weekly” column. This week I want to talk about the phenomenal success of Twitter in Japan. Of course I refer to the AP article that was widely circulated this week.
It seems that Twitter is huge in Japan, 16,3% of Japanese Internet users tweet, especially compared to Facebook which is only used by 3% of the Japanese Internet population. The AP story includes some ideas on why Twitter is so popular in Japan. Techcrunch has listed many more last year already. I’d like to add a few thought of mine.
Japanese Internet users are quite different than western ones from the US, UK or Europe.
While we tend to brag about ourselves and make our names known the Japanese are rather timid or humble. They prefer to stay anonymous. They don’t do it out of fear or only for privacy reasons. In Japanese culture not the individual counts but the group, be it the family, the company or the sports team. So the Japanese do not try had to stand out but rather connect with other people and act together to the benefit of all. While the Western cultural paradigm is the hero, a man who saves the world on his own, Japanese culture rather emphasizes a group of people, like the Samurai fighters or the Geishas. While the Japanese youth is more about pop musicians than Samurai they still share the the traditional understanding of social relations. Japan’s pop icons seemingly love Twitter.
Standing out on Facebook is not the way to go for the Japanese. Being part of a social context on Twitter without having to be overtly exhibitionist is much more acceptable.
Also Twitter has done some things right in Japan earlier than elsewhere in the world. They added a mobile Twitter app quite early. Also Twitter has an innovative business model in Japan: Users can charge their followers for reading their tweets. Twitter gets 30% o the revenue. This is ingenious. Instead of annoying people with ads users pay for what they want, direct access to celebrities or business pundits. I can imagine many girls paying for Britney’s tweets and also tech zealots paying for the inside scoop by early adopters.
Twitter is not Google.
Seeing ads in search results where we actively try to find something to buy is much more useful than seeing ads on Twitter where we expect current events or trends to show up. Twitter is experimenting with “promoted trends” aka ads in the popular topics section. That’s like buying a frontpage appearance on Digg. What’s not popular organically isn’t popular at all, it’s an annoying distraction. The Japanese model might be the solution for many current woes not just the lack of Twitter revenue. I can imagine readers paying for the latest breaking news on Twitter from the NYT or BBC. Also micropayments never went prime time because the platforms were always dark horses with a low adoption rate. A Twitter connected system might change that. So listen up publishers. Maybe Twitter is the future of paid content, not the closed iPad sphere.
Watching Twitter growth in Japan will offer even more unique insights in the future.