Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are you ready for a relationship?

I was at an Internet Task Force meeting yesterday working with some others to come up with sensible recommendations for GoJ on the Internet Economy ahead of a major legislative and regulatory review in the summer of 2009. We've got a way to go yet, but the tone is constructive and a long way removed from the "friction" stuff we're all accustomed to seeing.

Interesting to hear a range of perspectives on what might constitute a positive online business environment - but little discussion about what might be best for Japanese users. Sure, letting the market decide is one approach ... but that's what the investment gurus on Wall Street said before it all fell down around their knees. Shades of Alan Greenspan being partially wrong!

If you read this post by Jeremiah Owyang, you'll notice some good observations about the state of play here in Tokyo. But the big takeaway is something else - while the entrepreneur and developer community may not be joined at the hip yet, the social media user community is clearly focused on what they expect. Think convergence around devices so that the transition between mobile and PC is seamless. Think communicating with peers rather than commerce. And think "always-on" as a minimum requirement.

While identity in the West is principally individual and can been seen as the sum of the brands we consume, in Japan identity is much more the sum of the relationships we have ( this metaphor thanks to Dave McCaughan, EVP McCann Worldgroup). Japanese expect a bigger bang-for-relationship-buck that most Western companies are familiar (and comfortable) with. That's why trust is such a big issue here, and why companies go out of their way to apologize when things get pear-shaped. Because it's personal.

So the key to success in the Japanese social media space is to enable relationships in a way that directly parallels the offline world, yet reinforces identity inside the relationship construct. That's why Mixi is so powerful - it's based on invitation-only communities where relationships are easily mapped yet vast volumes of information can be parsed in a single session.

Mixi resists search engines with a passion, and is very reluctant to share anonymized data. Why? Because it's the guardian of millions upon millions of relationships with gazillions of personal linkages that define contemporary Japan in a way that researchers and marketers can only begin dream about. Let alone replicate!

Thought of the Day: If you want to engage a Japanese person via social media, you'd better be prepared for lots of commitment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. ..
I think the Japanese model sounds far more appealling. The American idea of relationships seems to be taking everything as a joke and not taking anything, or anyone, seriously. You're supposed to 'not let things bother you' or 'not let stuff get you down'. In other words, don't feel because your feelings don't matter and nobody cares or wants to hear about it anyway. I'm sick of the American model! IT STINKS!