Whilst the success of The Social Network was winning Facebook headlines in the UK at the end of last year, in Japan it was Twitter that was getting all the attention.

With a massive 428% growth rate over the course of 2010 – according to data from comScore – the micro-blogging service attracted around 10 million new users in the market, helping elevate Japanese to the second-most-used language on the platform.

And Twitter’s poster-boy status was confirmed just four seconds into 2011 when Japanese users clocked up a super-sociable 6,939 tweets per second, smashing the previous record – also held by Japan.

Twitter’s success here might have something to do with the fact that 140 characters of Japanese script goes that much further. The relative anonymity the service offers could also be giving it a boost amongst Japan’s famously private web users.

I would guess the service’s popularity is also helped by the way it lends itself to fostering new connections. In a recent survey by Microsoft Advertising, 51% of Japanese said that none of their social network contacts were their actual close friends.

Of course, the little blue bird’s ascent hasn’t been hampered by a dose of good old-fashioned novelty. And brands looking to take a novel approach to their marketing could do worse than to take a look at some of the Twitter campaigns which launched here last year.

Uniqlo made the biggest headlines, with it’s Lucky Line campaign topping the worldwide Twitter trend list for two consecutive days back in May, as users tweeted to join a virtual queue which was then brought to life on a separate webpage. And no wonder so many were keen to get involved – every 26th user bagged themselves a Uniqlo voucher as a neat tie-in to the brand’s 26th anniversary.

Uniqlo kept its presence up through the year with a series of tweet visualisation apps. First Utweet, then Color Tweet and, most recently, Sport Tweet, with each offering users a cool way to bring their tweets online –alongside cool new Uniqlo products of course.

Sony went a step further with its Vaio Assist Torch Project by bringing selected tweets to life offline. Working with the Japanese digital design team Rhizomatics, Sony bedecked the chimney of a local public baths with a fluorescent light show, which was set up to display participating users’ tweets of well wishing and encouragement. An awesome idea with loads of potential, although judging by the number of views on the dedicated YouTube channel, it could have benefited from a higher profile.

Coca-Cola certainly didn’t shy away from talking about its Twitter campaign for coffee brand Blux, which it tied into period-drama-themed TV ads with a ‘to be continued on Twitter’ cliffhanger…

The story was then played out online through a series of tweets from the main characters. Tying perfectly back into the brand tagline – ‘Good things should be savoured bit by bit’ – the campaign certainly caused some noise online and still has over 3,000 users tuned into its account.

Coca-Cola also took to Twitter to crowdsource new lyrics for Hitomi, the face of its new, fibre-filled oolong tea drink Lovebody, asking fans to suggest lines that reveal their ‘true feelings’ and help women feel good about themselves. The campaign culminated with a single release and a live performance online via UStream, all of which can still be viewed online, although it’s a shame that the Twitter account itself, and its potential legacy of followers, has been suspended.

In another example of crowdsourcing, and my favourite campaign of them all, Family-Mart, a chain of convenience stores, turned to Twitter for suggestions of new flavours of onigiri, Japanese riceballs. After a month of polling, they released the top five flavours last November and will be following up with more in the months to follow. Some of the flavours may not be to western tastes – the winner was fish eggs and cheese – but the potential for customer involvement and product innovation is definitely a winner.

I just wish they had gone with some of the suggestions that they turned down. The ‘Russian Roulette’ riceball, with a one-in-three chance of being Wasabi-filled, would have been the perfect way to spice up a cold January Tokyo morning!

A slightly edited version of this post also appears on brand-e.biz – a site about the best the world has to offer in branded entertainment

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