Social Culture Shock? Social Media Business Usage in US, Japan, Germany

A study comparing social media business usage in the U.S., Japan, and Germany by Ashley Wymer

Recently, students of the Department of Business Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden completed a master thesis analyzing how businesses in three large countries on different continents are using social media. Researchers conducted 21 interviews with social media practitioners and thought leaders in the three countries. The study looks at consumer and customer communications, interactions, and measuring methods of companies in the U.S., Japan and Germany. Results reveal some interesting similarities and key differences arising in marketing strategies catering to the preferences of local consumers.

A game-changer

Respondents from the three markets agree first and foremost that social media has changed the market. The main change according to the markets was that the communication had shifted from one-way to two-way communication. All groups also agreed that companies can create deeper relations with their consumers thanks to social media. “Companies were not social before social media,” says Ryoma of Japan.

Not surprisingly, each country has a unique online culture with specific needs and interests. U.S. consumers love to give their two cents to the companies they interact with, with American businesses putting a strong emphasis on asking their customers questions and listening to their responses. The Japanese tend to have a hard, promotional edge when it comes to social media, and many successful companies are using it to boost sales. In Germany, a significant focus is placed on generating customer loyalty.

Two-way communication and cost-effective marketing

Interestingly enough, both the U.S. and German respondents stated that the biggest advantage of using social media in business was the ability to communicate with their customers. In Japan, the high cost of air-time to advertise on traditional media outlets such as radio and TV were cited as motivation for plugging into social media. The cost-efficient nature of social media marketing by contrast is appealing to Japanese companies.

The study looks at the incentives that work best for gaining new business, revealing the vastly different marketing tactics of businesses in the countries surveyed. The Japanese find coupons and discounts to be a common thread of success, while Germans reach their demographic most effectively by providing relevant and interesting content to their followers. As for the U.S., the most successful businesses on social media are asking their consumers questions, and listening to and acknowledging their answers. “The biggest advantage is that you can be right in there with the consumer,” said a respondent from the U.S., “and can take the opportunity to really get to communicate with them and interact with them.”

Peeves and perks

In regard to common consumer annoyances, the Japanese value honesty above all else, and claim that lies in advertising are their biggest turn-offs, while Americans and Germans tune out overly-pushy social media messages.

All three groups agree that social media allows them to reach narrow targets that would otherwise be lost through traditional advertising. Indeed one of the best perks of effective social media activity is reaching clients on a personal level. This is no small undertaking. As the data suggests, it’s a complex world with unique customer needs that shouldn’t be addressed half-heartedly. “A lot of companies think that social media is a magic pill, and that you just need to start a Facebook page,” said Social Media Delivered’s Mary B. Adams. If businesses want to see results, they must invest the proper time and effort into developing a strong social media presence.


There are still questions around how to evaluate social media and whether investments are generating enough benefits for companies. The Germans noted the importance of linking data to company goals, and developing a strategy before diving into social media. Both Japan and U.S. agree that qualitative data takes precedence over quantitative data. The problem is that qualitative data (tone, sentiment) proves difficult to measure. Quantitative data (numbers of fans and responses) is more widely acceptable type of measurement as it is easy to track, but the data can be challenging to interpret.

Respondents agree that currently there is no hard, fast answer to measuring social media’s ROI. Authors of this study also noted that the inability to accurately measure ROI is one of the main reasons companies are resistant, and that improved ways of measuring ROI should naturally lead to more companies embracing social media.

Download “Different market, different practice? How companies use Social Media in the USA, Japan and Germany” here.

Does your company do business with any of the countries in this study? In what way(s) does your experience coincide with or offer a different perspective to these results?

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