One thing that I feel is often overlooked by the analysts that discuss social media, is that they think the attributes of the product dictate how it is used, how it can be monetised, etc. However, in reality, the product is only a small part of the appeal of a social media. What is much more important is who is using it, and what they are doing on it. The activity of the users is at least as important as the features of the product itself, and in fact, it is likely to be much more important.
To illustrate my point, I would like to introduce a recent report that looked into how Twitter is being used in Japan. Read it and understand how the different social norms and pressures that people experience in Japan uniquely shape how it is used. Understand that what makes Twitter popular in Japan is totally different from that in the US or other countries.
Also understand that social services, when they enter other countries, are not exporting the same product. When a US-born social media product comes into Japan, at that moment, it is transformed. It is transformed because a social media product is about who is using it and how, and this will change when you enter a new market. Hence a product is not actively localised. Instead it is transformed by the region.
So enough with the introduction; let’s dive into the report. The report in question is from Dentsu Communication Institute Inc. (株式会社 電通総研) and titled “Understanding the Youth, 2015” (若者まるわかり調査 2015).
The first chart that I want to share shows how popular each social network service is. We can see that LINE is very popular among teenagers with about 90% penetration, but Twitter is not very far behind. In particular, Twitter is more popular among teenage girls. Facebook is not very popular among teenagers, but gains in popularity in college/universities and gains as they go into their twenties whereas Twitter popularity decreases.
The popularity of Twitter over Facebook is in marked contrast to the US where 87% of the 18-29 age group use Facebook as opposed to 37% for Twitter. What is more interesting however is why. This is what we will get into in the next chart.
The next chart illustrates how many Twitter accounts Japanese youth have. As you can clearly see, they have close to 3 on average. The reason is because the Japanese tend to possess different personalities depending on the community they are participating in at a certain time, and Twitter allows you to have separate accounts for each.
This article gives us an example of a 11th grader girl who has four Twitter accounts, which I have summarised below.
- A real name, front-facing account : For classmates and normal friends. She tries hard to be cheerful and funny on this account because that is the personality that she is showing in class.
- An anonymous account that only best friends know about :
- An account to collect information on hobbies (anime) : Friends who share the same hobbies may know about this account.
- An account to rant on when frustrated : An account that nobody knows about.
This girl also has a LINE account but she uses her Twitter accounts when she isn’t really asking for anybody to reply and doesn’t want to pressure her friends into doing so.
Another 10th grader girl who uses multiple Twitter accounts in a similar way. For her “Twitter is the only place where I can say what I am really thinking.”
With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why Facebook cannot satisfy the needs of Japanese teenage girls. We can also understand why services like Snapchat aren’t really the solution, although a Whisper like solution might work for a subset of their needs. It’s also very interesting to see how there is a definite need to have different services with various characteristics, and that Twitter is flexible enough to serve multiple needs.
However, by far the most important takeaway is how different social media usage can be depending on country and culture, even when the underlying product is exactly the same. Localisation of services is not always something that the service providers have to explicitly provide. Sometimes localisation just happens.