Japan’s Social Network Wars – Facebook Beats Twitter and Mixi

It’s official – Facebook wins. The American-based company struggled to make an impact in Japan at first, but now it seems as though Japan has warmed up to Facebook. Their only real competition was Mixi – the MySpace of Japan (which came out before Facebook) – and Twitter. They both had a good run, but it seems that the island has spoken, and Facebook won’t be surpassed by either of them.

The graph below shows the rising popularity of Facebook from 2011, finally eclipsing Twitter in February of this year, with 13.5 million users (double from the past year). At the same time, Mixi saw a gradually decline in users, as opposed to Twitter which pretty much stayed the same on average.

The popularity of Facebook in Japan can – in large part – be thanked to the film The Social Network, which not only grossed around $17 million – more than any other non-American country – but introduced many people to Facebook. At the time, most Japanese people had never heard of it, or didn’t really know anything about it.

But the graph below from July, along with the information that was reported along with it, largely contradicts the earlier report about Facebook beating Mixi. By May 2012, it was said that Facebook came away with 17.2 million users; the same report mentioned that Mixi had 20 million users. The red line below indicates that 29% of internet users in Japan access Facebook.

It’s hard to know what information is accurate, because there may be some skewing of the results. For example, Twitter is accessed by most people on their mobile phones, but this graph deals with websites accessed from computers.

Or, perhaps there is a discrepancy between registered users and active users. In other words, most of the people who sign up for social networking sites like Twitter end up never using them. They’re just curious to see what all the talk is about, but often get bored of it quickly and stop using it all together. This could be what’s happening to Mixi – lots of users still registered, but everyone’s slowly moving on to Facebook without deleting their Mixi profiles.

And then, just a few weeks ago, InsideFacebook announced that Facebook has finally beat Mixi, reporting totally different numbers than the ones we’ve seen so far:

“Japan is a really important market for us,” Sandberg said. “We have over 15 million users…  Only six months ago, we were at 10 million users.” This marks a huge growth over the past year, increasing 200 percent from the reported 5 million users in September 2011. Sandberg also said that the company intends to increase its focus on Japan, and Facebook has also been listing Japan-specific roles for their Tokyo offices.

Mixi announced 14.53 million MAUs in June 2012, a drop from a reported 15.2 million users in February. Facebook has had difficulty penetrating the Japanese market and this marks the first time the company has surpassed Mixi’s MAU.

The graph below is actually of Mixi users. Notice the downwards curve at the end:

An independent site, SocialBakers, has graphed their own statistics, showing a steady increase in Facebook users until August. As soon as early August rolls around, the number of users suddenly jump way up. They report:

Our social networking statistics show that Facebook penetration in Japan is 12.23% compared to the country’s population and 15.65% in relation to number of Internet users. The total number of FB users in Japan is reaching15513100 and grew by more than 7829880 in the last 6 months.

I’m still skeptical of all of the numbers that I’m hearing – I really have no idea how many users (or should I say active users) are really on Facebook and Mixi, and when/if Facebook really did beat Mixi yet. However, two trends are clear: 1) Mixi is losing users, and 2) Facebook is gaining users. And if Facebook hasn’t beat Mixi yet, it’s only a matter of time.

But just because I’m skeptical doesn’t mean I don’t believe it. Chances are that Facebook actually has beat them, and unless Mixi changes something dramatically, it’s probably going to fizzle out in the next few years. This is still indeed a possibility, as MySpace has just announced this week that it will try to reinvent itself again. Maybe Mixi needs to do the same, but only time will tell if MySpace can even salvage what’s left of its brand name.

For now, we can conclude that Facebook has won the social network works. It might just take a next-generation social network concept to dethrone them from their cushy seats in Japan.

Until then, Japan Likes Facebook.

Photo Credit: Pete Ryan
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