Facebook is slowly growing in Japan despite strong competition from the native language-based social network Mixi.jp, but apparently Twitter is doing a much better job at competing.
The 140-character-at-a-time microblogging service grew more than fourfold — that’s 428 percent, to be exact — over the past year and now has 13.2 million unique visitors, according to comScore Data Mine. That makes Twitter Japan’s second largest social network, just .3 million shy of local Mixi.jp, which has 13.5 million visitors. Facebook ranks third with 5.3 million unique users in Japan, having grown 78 percent over the past year.
Markets with the most complex local dialects, especially where there’s no use of the Roman alphabet — seem to resist attempts by U.S. companies to translate themselves into foreign languages. Facebook appears to be aware of the issue, most recently launching a service that enables Mixi .jp users to import their data to Facebook. Unfortunately it’s too early to determine whether or not this new product has proven effective.
However, Twitter’s strong penetration into Japan might have something to do with the fact that one of the alphabets used in that country happens to be what they call romaji. The 140-character limitation may make Twitter more of a fit for romaji and vice versa in Japan — or perhaps cell phones may be more germane to using a 26 character alphabet like romaji, as upposed to the much greater number of characters in Japan’s two other writing systems, kanji and kana. Accommodation of kanji and kana would certainly explain why Mixi.jp still holds the top spot in Japanese social networking.
I am eager to see whether and to what extent this trend may continues into other foreign markets with non-Roman alphabets. Another nifty point of comparison will come from studying Twitter and Facebook’s penetration into countries that have just a couple of characters that the U.S. doesn’t use, such as letters with accents over or under them. What can social networks do to better reach markets that don’t use a Roman alphabet?