Amid the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, more and more Filipinos are turning to online community groups to find their everyday essentials and more.
According to Viber, its usage in the Philippines surged in the past weeks: messages sent on the app have increased by 120 percent, calls received by users are up by 85%, and the average number of community engagement has also risen by 120%.
“The significant increase in community engagement tells us that Filipinos want to stay connected, and do it more purposefully. With everyone confined to their homes, Filipinos are striving for closer and more meaningful interactions,” said Veronica Feleo, Business Development Manager, Rakuten Viber, during a webinar series titled Social in the Age of Social Distancing organized by M2.0 Communications, Inc.
Feleo was joined by fellow panelists Lia Ejercito, Head of Digital and Social for M2.0, and Niña Cruz-Zialcita, Chief Inquisitor at Best of the Best Manila, one of the largest Facebook Groups in the Philippines.
“At the start of the year, when all of the experts were declaring that [direct] social was going to be a big thing this year, we expected more of a slow burn,” said Ejercito. “But the reality is, now, there's been such a drastic shift, and I think that is coming as a result of COVID-19 and the whole ECQ situation that we've experienced in the past few weeks.”
Amid the lockdown, information and food essentials have been top of mind for many Filipinos, with the Department of Health’s COVID-19 Advisory Community and the Food Contacts Community among the top-performing communities on Viber during this period.
User-generated content communities have become so popular that Viber even has a dedicated community that serves as a directory for existing communities on the app. These user-created groups serve as channels that cover a variety of topics and interests, ranging from hyper-local marketplaces to neighborhood coordination points.
“The expectation was that [direct] social would overtake mainstream social," said Ejercito, adding "[Direct] social platforms have also replaced a lot of face-to-face interactions.”
Best of the Best Manila—a thriving private Facebook Group in the country with over 22,000 members—started out as a group of friends with shared interests. The group functions as a recommendation channel for what are the best experiences in Manila, covering food, entertainment, travel and lifestyle. Cruz-Zialcita recalled, “We started out asking questions about the best bread or the best printer. It caught on from there.”
During the lockdown, however, Cruz-Zialcita noted that discussions have taken on a different track: “These days, the questions are grounded on what people need: Who are the best fruit suppliers? What are the best home exercises?”
Beyond sharing information and sourcing basic necessities, online groups have also become platforms for digital bayanihan. During the onset of the lockdown, Best of the Best Manila raised over P200,000 from its members, which were donated to support frontliners in their fight against COVID-19.
“I don't think that COVID is the reason for why these communities exist. It maybe just propelled all of these types of groups and made them grow so much more active," said Ejercito. “But if we go back to how direct social was discovered in the first place, it was all about referrals. It works, I think, because it's very personal, it's very direct, and it's very authentic."