Know Your Audience: Facebook, MySpace Fail in Japan

A great article from Techcrunch reminding all of us to listen to what our customers want:

Social networks have become integrative elements of modern American youth culture over the last years, shaping social patterns and changing the ways that people communicate. When taken abroad, these services have to deal with a large number of cross-cultural peculiarities by their very nature.

Societal and cultural gaps are particularly evident in the case of Japan. Market entry in this country with a “What works in the US must also work over there”-attitude is going awry for both Facebook and MySpace. It’s not a stereotype that communication tends to be nonverbal in Japan. The society generally puts more emphasis on the community rather than on the individual. Also, security plays a major role in many aspects of Japanese life.

These cultural distinctions largely explain why social networks from abroad have a hard time winning over Japan’s 90 million web users. Mixi, the country’s biggest social network, positioned itself as a tool for communicating at a distance through diaries and communities to meet like-minded members. It doesn’t primarily exist to make new friends (poking is restricted) or as a platform for public self-presentation.

A perfect example of a cultural misconception: Mark Zuckerberg recently said in Tokyo one of Facebook’s unique selling points is the usage of real names and photos in profiles. This may be true but it’s exactly what Japanese web users usually try to avoid. And they already have a high-trust, invitation-based social network anyway: Mixi.

Read the whole article; it’s good for you.