Looking Back on My New Challenge: Writing Blogs in English

"Earthrise" taken from the moon by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

As I wrote in my About page, this is my first personal blog for NYU professor Laurel Hart‘s class on social media. Writing in English is tough for international students like me (I’m from Tokyo). And unlike ordinary writing assignments, blogs are supposed to be open to the public. However, the openness has taught me many lessons, broadening my horizons.

Fraser Seitel says in his book, The Practice of Public Relations:

・1.5 million blog posts are created every day–in other words, 17 posts per second.
・Nearly 1.5 new blog sites are launched every second.
・The No.1 blogging language is Japanese (37% of all blogs), followed by English
(33%).

Moreover, as Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff write in their book, Groundswell, blog reading is more popular in Japan than the U.S.–57% of Japanese adult Internet users read blogs at least monthly, compared to 31% of their American counterparts. According to the authors, “Blog reading is one of the most popular activities in the groundswell.”

Though I am from the most blog-loving country, I hadn’t created a blog before I came to NYU. Nevertheless, through blog assignments and feedback from Professor Hart, I was exposed to the blog world in all its democratic verbosity. Furthermore, comments and advice from my classmates and readers outside the class have been encouraging for me. Their words of wisdom–insightful and thought-provoking–have given me energy to write.

Blogs promote dialogue, not only between writers and the public but also among the public. The interaction creates relationships and forms the blogosphere, enabling us to speak in our own voices and to share issues and concerns. As Alicia Eler writes in her blog post, people can speak more freely on social networks. She says, “When we do not look at each other in the eye, we are more honest with each other.”

The Internet and social media are important tools in the public relations business. But, as Seitel warns, “It is important to remember, they are ‘tools’ nonetheless.” Even if technologies change, the basic conversational nature of those technologies will, as expressed in Groundswell, remain central. As Dominique Ellis points out in her blog, P2P–People to People relations–is the core of communication.

I’ll keep posting new entries to my blog, engaging with people, and exploring the social media world in the future.

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Bright Light and Dark Shadow: Current Topics about Social Media in Japan

Takeo city--a role model for the introduction of social media into Japanese government offices ((C)The Sankei Shimbun & Sankei Digital)

As I wrote previously, the number of social media users in Japan has been dramatically expanding since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. However, anywhere there is a bright light, there has to be a dark shadow. This blog post is about current topics about social media in my country, Japan, to show the brightness and darkness of the new communication tools.

Social Media Enhances the Visibility and Transparency of a Local Government

Takeo city—a small town in western Japan famous for its hot springs—is a role model for the proactive and successful introduction of social media into government offices. Under the mayor’s initiative, the city migrated its official website to Facebook (Japanese language only) last August. Since then, the number of monthly hits to the city‘s  home page has steeply risen from 50,000 to 3.3 million. The city has received positive reactions from citizens. After the city posted a picture of a swollen river taken with a mobile phone, a citizen commented that the timely post was helpful to understand the situation. In addition, the mayor required all 390 city workers to create their own Facebook accounts and to use them for their work starting from April this year. The mayor, Keisuke Watanabe, says in an interview (Japanese only) that the use of Facebook has made the interaction with citizens more visible, and cuts red tape.

Social Media and Criminal Investigation

Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting. As the Rutger University student’s case shows, social media’s role in police investigations is growing. Like the U.S., the new communication platform has become a mainstay in police work in Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun–the largest Japanese newspaper and among the world’s most dominant (it sells 14 million copies daily1)–reported (Japanese only) that, using a YouTube video posted by a suspect, the local police in Hyogo prefecture were investigating a crime. The video shows a driver–the suspect–chasing a school boy on a bicycle along a river and shouting to the boy in a threatening tone, “I’m hitting and pushing you into the river!” Reports to the police from viewers of the video helped reveal the identity of the suspect , according to the news.

ISP Steals Users’ Information

On April 4, connectFree k.k. (Japanese only), a Japanese Internet service provider (ISP) led by an American CEO, was reported (Japanese only) to have collected users’ information without their approval, and to have invaded privacy of communication stipulated in the Telecommunications Business Act. The ISP provides users with wireless access to the Internet at convenience stores. The company admits to secretly gathering users’ data, including their Facebook and Twitter user IDs. According to the company, it collected the information to identify suspects in case its network was used for crimes

According to a report on TED 2012, a new browser enables us to know who is tracking us online. The report says, “We are being watched. It’s now time for us to watch the watchers.” Social media’s role is growing in many areas. We must monitor the use of the new communication tools by both public and private sectors, so that they do not go beyond public safety limits or invade individual privacy.

Privacy invasion is not an acceptable price to pay for access to the Internet.

1. Seitel, F. (2011). The Practice of Public Relations. NJ: Prentice Hall

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The Dark Side of Social Media: Facebook Addiction

Zuckerberg and Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, on March 29, 2012, Tokyo ((C) The Mainichi Newspapers)

Zuckerberg and Japan's Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, on March 29, 2012, Tokyo ((C) The Mainichi Newspapers)

As I wrote in my ealier blog post, Facebook saved many people in Japan during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. While the phone networks were down, the Internet was relatively unaffected. We were able to use data services and text. Facebook helped us connect with our families and friends unsure of our whereabouts. Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said a big thank you to Facebook at a meeting with the CEO of the company, Mark Zuckerberg, in Tokyo last week.

Facebook has more than 800 million users across the globe. Three weeks ago, the company announced that the number of its monthly active users in Japan doubled to 10 million in six months. However, as my NYU classmate, Jacqueline Zygadlo, wrote in her blog post, “Over-excessive social media usage is a growing problem worthy of being categorized as an addiction.”

This blog post is about examples of adverse effects caused by Facebook.

Friends’ Happy Pictures Make You Feel Down

ABC News reports that people sometimes feel sad when they see happy pictures of their friends on Facebook, making them think their friends are much happier than themselves. According to the report, the more time people spend on the website, the more they think others have better lives.

Having Too Many Friends Is Unhealthy

Alicia Eler writes in her blog post, “Sometimes having more than 250 Facebook friends isn’t very healthy.” In addition, Jackie Cohen says that people really do not know one-fifth of their friends on the website. This means that as the number of friends increases, people have more friends they do not actually know. As ABC’s report shows, people with more friends they do not personally know tend to feel more strongly that they are less happy than their friends. On average, having 354 friends is the turning point at which people become increasingly unhappy with their lives, according to Denny Watkins.

Teachers Know You Are Using Facebook in Class

USA Today says in an article that students using Facebook during a lecture tend to do worse academically. In a study, 53% of professors said Facebook (and 46% said Twitter) erodes the value of their classes. Furthermore, 58% responded they found students using the website when they were not supposed to.

“Unfriending” Led to Shooting Deaths

According to AP, a father shot and killed a couple in Tennessee who unfriended his daughter. Fortunately, the couple’s baby was found uninjured in its mother’s arms.

These reports reveal that Internet addiction is one of the big issues facing modern society. As a study by the University of Chicago shows, communication tools are fueling Net intoxication, and in some cases it “may be harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.”

According to Peter Diamandis, by 2020 three billion more people will get connected to the Internet. Net technologies, including Facebook, have been and will be dramatically increasing the possibilities of collaborative innovation among people. On the other hand, as Alicia Eler points out, “Social networks are both a space of freedom and a place of imprisonment.” It is time to stand back from the social media boom and look at it calmly.

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Suntory Highball: Social Media Helps Boost Japan’s Whisky Industry

Suntory highball

Suntory highball (C)ITmedia

Do you know a highball? It’s a cocktail mixing whisky with seltzer in a glass with a lemon slice and ice. Though whisky was not my preferred drink, it has been my favorite since a highball campaign by a Japanese whisky company.

In 2008, Suntory, a leading Japanese beverage company, launched a highball campaign that included social media. This is regarded as one of the most successful cross-media campaigns in Japan, boosting my country’s flagging whisky industry.

As Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff say in the book, Groundswell, there are four key elements to raise public awareness and change their behavior–viral videos, social networks, blogs and communities. Using these elements, Suntory has created a highball boom and saved Japan’s whisky industry.

YouTube Videos

As Li and Bernhoff state in Groundswell, “Viral videos are best for punching through the noise.” Suntory has uploaded a series of highball commercials on TV featuring popular Japanese models and actresses on YouTube since 2008 (here is an example). In the meantime, the company has launched its official YouTube site showing how to make a delicious highball (Japanese language only). This cross-media strategy has successfully expanded viewership,  raising public awareness.

Highball Map

Suntory has launched its own website–Highball map (Japanese only)–to enable highball fans to introduce their favorite izakayas, Japanese-style restaurants and pubs, where people can enjoy the whisky-soda mix, and to share their experiences. On the webpage, users can respond to questionnaires from Suntory, helping the company monitor customers’ voices.

Social media

In addition to Facebook and Twitter (Japanese only), the whisky company created a blog (Japanese only) to connect and directly talk with customers. Blog posts featuring such topics as manufacturing processes and distiller tours allow whisky fans not only to understand the complicated processes but also to see inside distillers without actually being there. The website helps foster brand loyalty among the audience, using the groundswell to spread positive messages.

The cross-media campaign has brought great success as follows:

・Within one year after the launch of the campaign, the number of izakayas serving
Suntory highball increased tenfold (from 6,200 to 58,000).
・In the meantime, sales of Suntory whisky increased by 24%.
・Similarly, the entire whiskey market in Japan expanded by 9%. The campaign
triggered a significant rebound in the industry that had been shrinking for 25 years.

(The data is from IT media (Japanese only).)

The combination of online (viral videos, Highball map and social media) and offline (customers’ experiences in izakayas) interaction has successfully created the image that the highball is cool. As Brian Solis says, “Brands are no longer created, they’re co-created.” Two-way communication, based on cross-media strategies using customers’ experiences, shows positive impact on impressions and decisions among the public.

So, how about enjoying a cool highball tonight? (I surely will!)

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Lady “Kaga”: The Power of Association

As my NYU classmate in the PR program, Nadia Mostafa, mentioned in her blog post, creating a context that ties a small local organization with existing centers of media attention is one of the most effective and successful strategies for PR campaigns.

A similar PR practice can be seen in my country, Japan. One of the visible examples is the “Lady Kaga” (not “Gaga”) campaign. Kaga is a small town in western Japan famous for onsen (hot springs). To reenergize the tourism business hammered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the town launched a promotional campaign capitalizing on the similarity of the town’s name (Kaga) to the name of the American celebrity (Gaga) last fall. Ryokan (Japanese traditional inns) distribute posters, update their Facebook pages, and post promotional videos on YouTube that feature Kaga ryokan staff members, including geisha dancing to the music of Lady Gaga.

Since the launch of the campaign, Kaga has been covered in many news outlets. As of February 24, 2012, the videos have been viewed about 400,000 times. The small local town is full of tourists. To sustain the campaign, the Lady Kaga women wrote a letter to Lady Gaga inviting her to the beautiful hot springs. “Have a rest from your very busy daily life,” they wrote to the Japanophile pop star.

Lady Gaga has been very popular in Japan, especially since March 11. She raised money for Japanese relief efforts as well as donated millions of dollars personally.  In addition, she came to Japan last June for benefit concerts for the victims while many stars cancelled their visits. Japan is safe. The top singer helped spread the message around the world.

Since the earthquakes and tsunamis, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has decreased. Positive publicity is crucial to lure visitors back.

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March 11, 2011: We Found the Power of Social Media (Part 2)

(A continued discussion of the use of social media in Japan around March 11, 2011)

Google

Google saved the lives of people in my country, Japan, in a way that other websites could not. Google created Google Person Finder site for Japan so that the people could leave information about their whereabouts and inquire about missing persons. Within three days after the quake and tsunami, about 160,000 records were posted on the site, helping people connect their missing families and friends. In addition, Google Maps helped us understand the damage of the crisis by using high-resolution satellite images. Moreover, Google Traffic Map, based on traffic data provided by Honda and Pioneer, was of great help for drivers in Japan. Blue lines on the map showed routes traversed by cars equipped with Honda and Pioneer car navigation systems during 0:00 – 24:00 the day before, indicating these roads were likely to be open. On the other hand, gray lines showed no movement, meaning these ways were probably blocked. Especially, the map greatly helped volunteers find the best ways to the devastated areas, and deliver relief goods to victims.

YouTube