Making (internet) friends in Japan

In 2015 the head of incubator 500 Startups in Japan, James Riney, wrote a piece speculating why the Japanese don't use LinkedIn and how the tool isn't very useful for doing business in the region. Instead he noted Japanese businesspeople use Facebook and Twitter.

Riney surmised LinkedIn isn't popular because: a) when Japanese businesspeople first establish a personal relationship, they do it with a face-to-face meeting, and b) laying out your resume publicly is seen as ‘boasting’. 

Instead, he said Facebook's design allows ‘humble bragging’ and therefore is better suited to the Japanese psyche.

"Japanese people don't post on LinkedIn as their boss might see it.”

Certainly we agree these are valid points. We joined Linked In around 2006 and the lack of Japanese counterparts in the community is very noticeable. 

Not only are there are no Japanese on the platform but most there are internationalised in some way, making them a small percentage of potential users. We would expand on Riney's notes by saying:

• Japanese are indeed a private people, who don't like to have everything aired out in public.

This is a highly competitive society and exposing your personal details to anyone wanting to see them might in some inadvertent way open you up to attack or disadvantage later - for example, where you went to school, your stagnating career or even your lack of international experience.

• It's a noisy world out there and the same societal competitiveness also results in unwanted approaches from the unfiltered public.

Given life is short and most businesspeople are happy with the suppliers they already have, it's a psychic intrusion at worst and irritation at best when new company recruits - as they are forced to do for their first three to five years (to toughen them up) - start bombarding you with sales pitches.

• Probably the main reason, though, Japanese people don't post on LinkedIn is their boss might see it.

The mere fact of publishing one's bio online suggests you are looking for a new job. Once the boss gets wind of that fact they are hardly going to promote you into more responsibility.


This last point about seeking employment opportunities is in our opinion the biggest challenge for LinkedIn.

Elsewhere the platform is primarily a recruiting tool, as evidenced by the resume-format and the prevalence of recruiters, but in Japan there is not really a sufficient volume of resumes to support a recruiting practice so the ecosystem needed to make the platform work fails.

From experience, we've found running Positions Vacant ads on LinkedIn is an expensive waste of time if you want Japanese - the sole (but important) exception being if you want foreign-educated bilinguals, then the quality of candidates is pretty good, but the volume of candidates is still sparse.

LinkedIn need to re-think how resumes are presented and to educate Japanese job seekers how to use the site in a way which doesn't betray their intentions to their boss.

If they can do that, there really isn't an equivalent platform available from a local company and so they still have a chance to build a decent business here.

Another problem for Japanese business users (and many non-Japanese here), apart from how to anonymise their details, is to understand with LinkedIn there is a certain etiquette for initiating interaction which isn't immediately obvious to those users, being: the need to gently but competently connect, then to evolve the communication, THEN move on to something more concrete.

Again this is due to a lack of education, and LinkedIn needs to address the problem - something the company doesn't seem to care about. As a result, you get a these hard-selling fresh recruits trying to make their quotas who pester other more senior members by demanding meetings and deals without even establishing a personal connection.

Headhunters in particular are slow (or too greedy) to understand this fundamental point which is why we and many like us refuse headhunter connection requests out of hand.


Another part of the etiquette is to show respect to others by maintaining a complete profile and contributing to groups and discussions sufficiently to maintain name awareness and qualify as an expert in whatever area you want others to approach you for.

Because many Japanese create a LinkedIn profile but don't bother building them out, they come across as being unsubstantiated - potentially fake postings - and again, users like us will reject the connection because the requesting member profile looks like it was written by a Nigerian scam gang.

As an aside, there ARE many fake profiles on LinkedIn, something the company ignores on its site documentation and yet obviously knows happens since they have functions which specifically help you report impersonators.

You can easily spot them because the person has a nice professional-looking photo and has a bunch of impressive credentials but can't spell.

Or they have gone from being a Lawyer to becoming a bank manager (wanting to lend you $US10 million). Unfortunately in all-too-trusting Japan you often see Japanese members who are not able to discern scamsters, accept the connection and thereby unwittingly lend their name and respectability to these crooks.

What LinkedIn in Japan is good for, is finding bilingual staff. Since competition is fierce to connect to the smallish number of active members who are probably available to recruit, there are some techniques which yield better results than just diving in with job offers.

For example, we don't go looking for people who are looking for a job, because often these people are unemployed for a reason, and we'd prefer not having to be the next go-around.

Instead, we focus on bilinguals who have attended college overseas and after coming back to Japan have listened to their moms and taken a job with a prestigious Japanese firm.

About 12 to 18 months later, these people become especially receptive to the idea of changing jobs, as they start to discover just how ruthless Japanese bosses can be (hours, hierarchy, rules, low salary, gender discrimination, etc.) - completely different to what they learned was normal in their overseas university courses.


The second thing LinkedIn in Japan is good for is to present a thorough, credible and curated profile to the world around you.

Doing business internationally from Japan, we are always surprised how many business development discussions with companies abroad are quickly verified by them with a LinkedIn check.

It may be obvious, but LinkedIn is a sufficiently trusted proxy internationally that you must have a presence and a believable one at that.

How to make your profile credible? Well you have to put some work into it (look at Mr Riney's LinkedIn profile for ‘textbook’ construction), having a very complete profile, plenty of endorsements from reliable sources and recommendations, again from credible sources.

Once again, LinkedIn needs to educate the Japanese business community that this kind of self-promotion is worth doing and will open up export doors for their firms.
The third and last good thing about LinkedIn is the groups. Unfortunately, LinkedIn is polluting these communities with so much promoted content that the value of them is rapidly diminishing.

One standout group which is a good information source if you can put up with all the native ads is the ‘Business in Japan’ forum, which currently has about 54,518 members. It is probably the largest English-language LinkedIn group in Japan.

Terrie Lloyd is a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. This is an edited version of his weekly blog from Japan, Terrie's Take.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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