National / Media | Japan Pulse

SoftBank finds a week is a long time in social media terms

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

It’s fair to say that commercial enterprises have sometimes struggled to co-exist with social media.

Attempts by brands to connect with a meme-savvy young audience can go downhill pretty quickly, while irritated customers certainly don’t hide their displeasure in pointing out bad service on official accounts.

However, businesses can also use social media to strike gold when celebrating a success or using their guile to spread anime references. Social media is definitely a double-edged sword.

SoftBank Group Corp. pulled off a rare feat earlier this month, managing to be loathed and loved in equal measure online within the space of a matter of days.

The communications company experienced one of its worst weeks on social media following a nationwide service disruption on Dec. 6 that inspired a torrent of anger and ridicule from users in Japan.

However, the anger was tempered by the release of SoftBank’s new e-cash service. Called PayPay, the application allows users to pay for goods over the counter without having to hand over a physical wad of cash, with a 20 percent discount being offered to users who promote the new service during the campaign. Netizens were quick to praise the release, posting myriad photos of purchases acquired with the new application.

It was interesting to see the speed at which feelings toward the company shifted online, offering a reminder of how nuances aren’t really reflected properly in hectic online spheres.

Turning back to the network disruption, many of those who could connect to the internet wondered why everything had gone haywire, leading to no shortage of tweets concerning the trouble. Some users found themselves disconnected from technology for the first time in years, with customers swarming toward SoftBank stores in search of an answer, which was often found posted on a sign.

SoftBank failed to update its customers via its official Twitter account during the disruption, prompting some to comment on an unrelated post earlier the same day about fried chicken. One of the more viral clips featured a man screaming at store employees over the snafu, although most people expressed sympathy for the workers.

Ripples from the service outage were shared prominently online. One YouTube upload captured officials announcing the situation via truck speakers. Concerts by pop acts such as Arashi and Glay were disrupted because many attendees couldn’t access the QR codes that were required to enter the venues.

People poked fun at a recent SoftBank ad that referenced not having Wi-Fi in certain places. Some detailed their struggles through an illustration, while others took photographs of Pepper robots that had been deactivated.

Things got so rough that some folks had to resort to using those ancient green phone boxes sporadically found on the street. Some didn’t know how to use them.

Discussion on the internet went even further, claiming the disruption was an attempt to eliminate Chinese communication devices from the market or evidence of foreign hacking. Farfetched or not, it was a reminder of how the internet now works.

Whether by accident or design, the disruption united netizens in anger and frustration at SoftBank’s response to the trouble. And then news of PayPay’s October release spread, which changed everything.

PayPay quickly became a trending word online, with online agency IT Media describing the response as “PayPay fever.”

People shared the fact they used the service to make purchases, while others displayed all the goods they picked up with the app’s help. This mania also inspired a stream of tweets describing chaotic scenes at places such as Bic Camera, where electronic items such as iPads and Apple Watches sold out quickly.

As it turned out, the campaign proved so popular that PayPay was forced to end it Thursday after customers had taken advantage of all the capital that had been set aside for it.  

All in all, PayPay has pretty much been a social media win for SoftBank and, less than a week after the service outage, it has actually helped people forget much of the unpleasantness that happened. It’s a timely reminder that online anger tends to fade quickly — especially when a commercial enterprise is practically giving away items for free.