Why does Japan not Tweet? Compliance and Public Relations

Photograph: Ippei Tsuruga
Photograph: Ippei Tsuruga

In development communities, it is often said, ‘we don’t know what Japan does’. People in the world think Japan is invisible. There are a lot fewer practitioners, researchers and leaders who have public accounts on Twitter, Facebook or other social media in Japan, compared to Europe and the rest of the world. I personally believe this is why Japan is invisible. But the question is, ‘why is that?’

Why do they not use SNS more actively in their public relations? Before getting into this question, let me review an interesting post from Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which is one of the most successful organisations in using SNS to disseminate activities and research works with 140,000 followers on Facebook.

James Georgalakis, Director of Communications, explains how IDS has made this outstanding achievement.

We have never restricted ourselves to corporate news and IDS led research activities and regularly promote the news and content of others, drawing in particular upon the research centres, consortiums and hundreds of global partnerships to which we belong.

So the IDS top tips for success on social media are as follows:
1. Systematically and promptly broadcast across all your channels using devices such as BufferApp
2. Share partner content as well as your own
3. Identify those with shared interests and follow them
4. Reply to messages from your followers and fans promptly
5. Target specific communities within your fan base
6. Implement a social media policy that protects you and your staff from social media meltdowns

As I manage this website, I can fully agree with these tips and values. The question here is, ‘What can Japanese organisations implement, and what cannot?’ Looking back into my experience, I would say they have a conflict of interest between compliance and public relations.

From my view, Japanese organisations have the following constraints.

  1. Use of New Services: Large organisations tend to have a lot of internal discussions before making a new decision. Compliance and responsibility are always an issue. Who will take responsibility if something bad or unexpected happens using new service? It leads to a long discussion and complicating administrative process to get approval. I can imagine how big decision such organisations make just to create the first Twitter account.
  2. Risk of interaction: Japanese firms tend to be more afraid of ‘bad’ user on SNS. Bad users are people who make unfavourable and unproductive comments or discourage other users. If corporate staff try to interact users on SNS, how can they behave, and whose responsibility for that? They do not like to take such risks even though they might have more advantage of using SNS.

Due to these risks, Japanese organisations may not be able to take an advantage of using SNS. They tend to restrict themselves to corporate news and limit to share other’s posts, because they are afraid to show agreement with someone’s opinions, because again, it will then become a matter of whose responsibility, if something bad happens.

Solution is there. Japan’s development communities can learn from Tips No. 6 of James Georgalakis. Implement a social media policy that protects staff from social media meltdowns. I really hope Japan will learn from his post to become more publicly visible.

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