Three-quarters of Japanese social network users access the sites only from their mobile phones.

This observation comes from a survey conducted last year with almost 4,000 social network users in Japan by Mobile Marketing Data Labo. They found that 75.4% of respondents only accessed social networking sites from their mobile phone (and not from their PC). The number only accessing it from their PC (and not their mobile phone) was very low at just 2%.

This is a reflection on the mobile nature of the internet in Japan where 3G penetration stands at 95% of the market and 85% of customers have a data plan added to their contract. This is a much more developed mobile market than we see in Europe or North America and their use of mobile online services is world-leading.

These an other insights into the Japanese mobile social networking market is found in the great presentation below from Alexei Poliakov.

There is much that we can all learn from looking at the use of mobile internet, and the way it has influenced social networks in Japan. Whilst in other markets the growth in social networks sees a growth the likes of Twitter and Facebook, in Japan, homegrown social networks dominate. This is, in part, a result of the English-centric focus of these sites, at least initially. But also mobile social networking leads to a different type of site and different uses by consumers. In Japan, mixi and Mobage-town and Gree are incredibly successful social networks. Mixi has a reported 17 million users in Japan, compared with 1.4 million Facebook users and about half a million Japanese people on Twitter.

These social networks are very different in two main ways:

  1. They put gaming either central to or highly within the user experience. Facebook and Twitter tend to be about content exchange or organisation whereas the Japanese social networks have a strong gaming element that attracts and connects users.
  2. Premium content is often paid-for. Mixi, in particular, provides premium content and features at a fee to users and this is easily done by adding it to their mobile bill. (This trend explained the rumours that Twitter would charge for access in Japan)

Whilst it is unlikely that other markets will necessarily develop in the same way, it is interesting to see how these sites work and operate in Japan. An increasing penetration of 3G access and data-plan adoption in Europe, and the US, will see more and more people using their mobile as a major access point to the internet in 2010. And with social networking sites from Facebook to Twitter becoming more mobile friendly (such as the launch of push notifications on the iPhone from the Facebook app this week in the UK) it is likely that use of social networks from mobile devices will increase this year.

So we should learn more about what is happening in the more developed mobile markets like Japan. Whether it is simple things – such as brands allowing customers to complete a whole journey (from social networking site to purchased item) on convenient mobile platforms. Or more complex things – such as the adoption of paid-for add-ons to the mobile social networking experience. There is a lot for us to observe and a lot we should experiment with.

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