Online communities thriving amid quarantine, experts say
MANILA, Philippines — More Filipinos are turning to online community groups to access everyday essentials, leaders of virtual communities have noted in a recent webinar organized by public relations agency M2.0 Communications, Inc.
For instance, messages sent on Viber have increased by 120 percent, calls received by users are up by 85%, and the average number of community engagement rose by 120 percent when the community quarantine was enforced in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“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 of Rakuten Viber, during a webinar series titled Social in the Age of Social Distancing. Notes of the webinar series were shared by M2.0 Communications, Inc. to the media on Monday.
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, a Facebook group with over 22,000 members.
“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,” she added.
According to Ejercito, 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. She said 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, noting that “social platforms have also replaced a lot of face-to-face interactions.”
Best of the Best Manila functions as a recommendation channel for the best experiences in Manila, covering food, entertainment, travel, and lifestyle.
“We started out asking questions about the best bread or the best printer. It caught on from there,” Zialcita shared.
But during the quarantine, she 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?” Zialcita added.
During the quarantine, Best of the Best Manila has also raised over P200,000 from its members, which were donated to support frontliners in the fight against COVID-19.
“I don’t think that COVID-19 is the reason why these communities exist. It may be just have propelled all of these types of groups and made them grow so much more active. But if we go back to how to 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,” said Ejercito.
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