I had the opportunity to speak to about 200 Japanese executives at ad:tech Tokyo recently about the state of social media measurement in the United States. The talk was followed by an interview with Toru Saito of Looops Communications, a real honor as Saito-san is one of the foremost experts in social media in Japan.
We compared notes on topics such as how adoption, engagement and measurement differ from Japan to the US, and the impact of cultural differences on social media adoption. The conversation got me thinking about how social media will develop globally, and how much about our online experience we take for granted.
For example, we constantly complain (at least I do) that machine-based sentiment analysis is notoriously poor; most solutions can promise at best a 65% – 70% accuracy rate, while the more sophisticated text analytics solutions can get to perhaps 80% or slightly higher.
But Japan has multiple alphabets: Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana. And while we have 26 letters in our alphabet (not to mention punctuation and emoticons), Kanji extends to the thousands (with significant debate as to the exact number, if in fact there is one). To add to the complexity, Kanji are made up of multiple parts that each have meaning, so the technical challenges of sentiment analysis are intense. I heard estimates of accuracy in the range of 15% – 30% for sentiment analysis in Japanese, although there is a fair amount of development going on to improve those numbers. Given the importance of listening to any social strategy, this is a significant challenge.
Beyond listening and measurement, I found that everyone I met was curious about how social media can best be adapted to Japanese business and culture. They claim to be about two years behind us in terms of adoption, and wanted to know what convinced US executives to take the first steps to prove its business value. From the consumer point of view, I heard from many people that while many are generally not comfortable voicing opinions publicly, they are (again, generally) more likely to do so in smaller, more secure groups.
Japan’s superiority in mobile is a tremendous asset, and it’s not simply a matter of technology. The country is small, and populations dense, so living spaces tend to be small as well. People spend a lot of time outside and on the move, so mobile is the default communication platform.
But while it’s important to understand cultural differences and factor them into strategy, it’s dangerous to overemphasize them, as it has the potential to create false barriers. I returned from Japan more convinced than ever that there is no “silver bullet” for any of this; that social media will continue to wind its way through business and culture in an almost infinite number of ways, and that our task is to stay fresh and open to its lessons and opportunities.