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Why Japanese Don’t Use LinkedIn?

Imagine that you are attending a conference in Tokyo. As is the custom in Japan, you formally exchange business cards with each person you meet. This exchange involves a bow and making it clear that you have thoroughly read their card before gently tucking it away. This gesture is important 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.”

Two hours later, you get five 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 LinkedIn professionals do not use LinkedIn. They use Facebook. Both Facebook and Twitter have become wildly popular in Japan, but for whatever reason, LinkedIn hasn’t.


Cultural Norms and Lifetime Employment

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. The Japanese LinkedIn corporate culture traditionally values loyalty and long-term commitment. Many professionals enter a company straight out of university and expect to stay until retirement. In such an environment, having a polished LinkedIn profile can be misinterpreted as a sign of disloyalty or a desire to leave the company, which could be detrimental to one’s career. God forbid their bosses were to see that they’ve completed their LinkedIn profile. It would be career suicide.


Reluctance to Self-Promote

Another reason could be the way LinkedIn is fundamentally designed. Users are given a blank profile (a resume, if you will) in which they can talk about their career accomplishments. This is a problem, because Japanese LinkedIn 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.

Japanese culture places a high value on humility and modesty. Self-promotion is often frowned upon, and boasting about one’s achievements can be seen as arrogant. Instead, accomplishments are typically communicated in a more understated manner. While LinkedIn requires users to openly list their achievements and skills, this direct approach is at odds with the more reserved Japanese communication style. That is not to say that Japanese LinkedIn professionals 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.


Relationship-Based Business Culture

There is one more factor that plays a significant 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.

In Japan, personal relationships and trust are crucial in business dealings. Professionals often prefer to get to know each other personally before engaging in business. Facebook, with its blend of personal and professional sharing, offers a platform that supports this relationship-building process. It allows professionals to share aspects of their personal lives, fostering a sense of familiarity and trust that is essential in Japanese LinkedIn business culture.


Domestic Preferences

Additionally, there are already several Japanese LinkedIn platforms that cater to professional networking and job searching in ways that align better with local customs and expectations. Websites like Wantedly and BizReach are popular among Japanese professionals. These platforms are designed with the Japanese market in mind, emphasizing subtle networking and job opportunities without the overt self-promotion seen on LinkedIn.

Including myself, have tried to create the “LinkedIn of Japan,” but have failed. We all thought. “Don’t Japanese LinkedIn 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.