Japan, Russia, China and South Korea are the only countries in the world where Facebook isn’t the most popular social networking site, founder Mark Zuckerberg said last year. And now Facebook is bent on making friends with at least one of them—Japan.
Despite the country’s record-high Internet literacy and obsession with techy gadgets, Facebook never caught on there. Japanese have remained loyal to homegrown social networking sites like Mixi and Gree. With a share of around 20 million users each, they dwarf Facebook’s latest figure of 2.93 million users in Japan.
The California-based company is eager to tap into the lucrative Japanese advertising market, and recently partnered with Recruit Co., a Japanese marketing firm, in a push to increase membership up to 30 per cent of online social networkers, according to Taro Kodama, head of Facebook’s Japan office. To build numbers, Recruit launched a new service on Facebook last fall allowing senior college students looking for a job to connect to alumni from their institutions.
But some industry watchers predict Facebook will struggle to get the Japanese to embrace the cornerstone of the company’s money-making strategy: profiles featuring personal information. Facebook encourages users to sign on using their real names instead of pseudonyms. That, contends Japanese technology journalist Munechika Nishida, runs counter to Japanese desires for privacy. Facebook also tends to recreate the outgoing party culture of American colleges, with a goal of building huge networks, notes Nishida. Sites like Mixi, by contrast, are aimed at connecting smaller groups with similar interests—”a culture that is more like students talking in the girls’ restroom at school,” she told the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.
For Silicon Valley firms, expanding into Asian countries where local technology and competitors are already well-established can be an uphill battle. But it’s not impossible. Apple, for instance, is finally breaking through in South Korea, where iPhone4 sales have taken off to the dismay of Samsung, the local industry champion.