Why Japanese don’t use LinkedIn

Available In: English

This post has been translated into JapaneseTurkish, and German.

Imagine that you are at a conference in Tokyo. As is the custom in Japan, for each person you meet, you formally exchange business cards by bowing and making it clear to them that you have thoroughly read their card before gently tucking it away. This is an important gesture. Not just because someone told you it was the custom here, but because you have no idea who this person could be. He could be the former CEO of Toyota for all you know, so you figure you’ll play it safe and find out later when you look him up on LinkedIn.

You get back to your hotel with your stack of business cards and start searching names… but “no results.”

2 hours later you get 5 friend requests on Facebook from people you met that day. “Why are they adding me?” you think. “Don’t they know not to mix personal with professional life?”

What you are finding out firsthand is that Japanese do not use LinkedIn. They use Facebook. Both Facebook and Twitter have become wildly popular in Japan, but for whatever reason, LinkedIn hasn’t.

One reason could be the way most Japanese view LinkedIn. In a culture where many still seek very long or even lifetime employment with the same company, LinkedIn is seen as just another job site. God forbid their bosses were to see that they’ve completed their LinkedIn profile. It would be career suicide.

Another reason could be the way LinkedIn is fundamentally designed. Users are given a blank profile (a resume, if you will) in which users can talk about their career accomplishments. This is a problem, because Japanese tend not to boast about themselves so openly. On an American profile, for example, you might see something along the lines of “grew revenue from $5M to $20M in the first year while tripling profits.” It is very rare that you would see any Japanese talk about themselves that way.

That is not to say that they don’t boast. They do, but they do it indirectly. They “humblebrag” is how some might put it. And while LinkedIn requires you to talk about what you’ve done right off the bat, Facebook allows you to imply that you’ve accomplished this, that you know that person, or that you’re affiliated with that project. It is the ultimate “humblebragging” tool.

There is one more factor that plays a role. People tend to do business with someone they like over someone that can provide them with the better deal. In Japan, this is overwhelmingly the case. Business is often done based on close relationships, and building those relationships requires bonding and getting to know the other person. Sharing personal lives with one another is a way of doing that. Facebook gives them a window into each other’s lives.

Many, including myself, have tried to create the “LinkedIn of Japan,” but have failed. We all thought, “don’t Japanese see a need for a professional social network?” The answer is yes, but what we didn’t realize was that that social network is Facebook.

 


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  • vardhankoshal

    A good read. Now I understand why everyone was asking for my card so politely when I visited Tokyo some time ago. The term “Humblebrag” is spot on. Following you now 🙂

    • jamesriney

      Thanks @vardhankoshal:disqus, glad you found it helpful.

  • Hitoshi Eiga

    Thank you for your interesting post. I’m logging in to Facebook every day during every two weeks for Linkedin.
    But I got a great proposal from someone via Linkedin which reminds me how important to make my profile looks nice on Linkedin.

  • Takaaki Furuse

    I think the reason JPN people do not use linkedin is no humbleness or it’s design. As you pointed out, they thinking Linkedin is job-search website like RikuNavi but written in English.

    Before Linkedin, we had FB and people started use it as a “business casual” or “smart casual” way of communication. (Unlike Mixi or Twitter, I feel it was not a place for posting stupid behavior like “Hey I’m DUI now! Cool!”.) After Linkedin Japan started its business, most of the people thought “We have Rikunavi for job search and my professional network is on FB. Why LInkedin? “

    • jamesriney

      I think there are a number of factors, not just one. You’re right that it did not “feel” like a place to post incriminating things. Especially because users were expected to use their real names and real portraits. When you use your real name, you tend to filter.

  • T. Fukushima

    In my business world (Some engineering/manufacturing), it seems rare to make business relationship in open area like SNS. Our business relationship start with actual face to face meeting or voice meeting and followed by personal mail, phone call or actual meeting.

  • Kazuyoshi Tlacaelel

    lol, in my opinion this guy got a lot of things wrong. Japanese people bind through facebook because it just happens that is the common social network that west and japanese people share the most. They are just saying this is our channel of communication. In japan LinkedIn is not so strong, because of 履歴書 (rirekisho == resume). The norm is that people should write their resume’s by hand becuase their caligraphy is also taken into account since it exposes many things about the personality and dicipline of a person. Every resume copy you make needs to be written by hand, in the right format. They even sell the templates in the 7&11 and similar stores.

    • Ken

      I think the you have the part about the need for hand written resume wrong and antiquated. That’s no longer the case these days. (I know it was strong argument back like 15 years ago….). “Open entries” for many companies, for new grads, are done via PC.

  • Nicks

    Hello Jim, I think you headed up an interesting topic, related to Japanese cultural norm and pattern. In general, country culture cannot be generalized, but your article illustrate the “typical/average” example available to observe in Japan society. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing your view.

    • jamesriney

      Thanks Nick, glad you found it interesting. Yes definitely, I am generalizing here. There are some Japanese that do use LinkedIn, particularly those that work at foreign companies.

  • This is such an important piece. I’ve spent many years in Japan and while the issues of life time employment and interface usability may be true, the undenying factor here is that business is your personal network. Building a social standing with ‘warm contacts’ through Facebook will secure you the contract and more importantly, the relationship every time. Great piece.

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  • Jason Ball

    I built my work life & personal Brand in Japan over 10years with the help of LinkedIn (proactive member since day one of joining 2/2004). Works just fine here, even to meet Japanese folks!

    People just misunderstand what business Networking is, being proactive about it and how online networks/the social web fit into that.

    Hint: that one Japanese guy (or 20) you know on LinkedIn? He knows a whole lot of Japanese folks, really. Nuff said.

    Honestly, 80% of Westerners on LinkedIn with x,000 connections and potential people to meet anyone on their… just don’t.

    It’s what YOU do that matters.

  • smorgantokyo

    An interesting piece with much to think about. I too have been living in Japan for 20 years now, but I am employed in academe rather than the business sector. In my experience many Japanese academics do indeed use LinkedIn instead of Facebook, the rationale being that they are less likely to “run into” their students. Curious to know if anyone else has heard similar remarks from academic colleagues.

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  • Jodie Lightfoot

    I wonder what LinkedIn can do (is doing) to change the perception of their platform in Japan…? It has so many of the great features and functionalities of Facebook (sharing updates, publishing ‘notes’, tagging users, liking posts, etc.) and the way people interact and use the platform is evolving to be the place of “warm contact” that sustains professional relationships – even setting aside the resume-portion that seems to deter the more humble and reticent Japanese.

    It’s the most professional social network available and is a wealth of opportunities for when you’re the new hire, the intrepid entrepreneur, the traveller, the networker, the disillusioned, the recently downgraded employee… and for everyone in between these stages! In an era where your network is your net worth, LinkedIn provides that tool to grow your strong and weak ties alike all around the world.

    One of the side-projects I was working on at the University of British Columbia, Canada before moving to Japan was to envision how we could provide every first-year student with a LinkedIn account, so they could build their professional network in-step with their education. This way they’d emerge from their university with a budding network that would strengthen over time, a vibrant history of skill-based projects and an understanding of how to leverage the platform and their networks.

    I’d be really keen to understand how the LinkedIn team is bridging the cultural gab with this emerging generation in Japan today.