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Filipinos: the Last Frontier of Social Media Giants #SMDay #ManilaSMDay

June 30, 2012

As a way to celebrate Social Media Day 2012, I have decided to release  this article which I wrote for a Philippine national newspaper last August 2011. Unfortunately, this was never published maybe because it’s not good enough. Or maybe, it’s because of something else…. #AlamNa

I have not changed anything about this article and to this day, my opinion would still be the same. This is the first draft. So pardon any typos and whatnots.

Happy Social Media Day, everyone!

I SAW THE SIGN+

King del Rosario
August 5, 2011

Filipinos originated from a Palaeolithic race. Our prehistoric ancestors would come wherever is bountiful, and, as soon as all the visible resources were extinguished, they all would leave in a jiffy for better vegetation somewhere out there. We may now have fiberoptic cables, GPRS, EDGE, and 4G (which some techies would like to point out as technically still just 3.5G or 3.9G, depending on which telecoms you are subscribed to) but our habits as a race is still predominantly the same. Now although right now all digital roads leads to Facebook, and, maybe for some, the elitist Twitterverse, the recent unveiling of Google+ makes people wonder if Facebook is about to come to a predictable end.

Social media marketing is generally comprised of tips and tricks on how to make people “like” or “follow” or, just recently, “click +1,” hopefully to the desirable end result of attaining a significant increment in actual monetary sales. I believe the “marketing” in “social media marketing” should not be a complete misnomer and real marketing should be correctly practiced by the companies whose main businesses are digital in nature (read as ze Product.) This is because marketing really boils down to the 4Ps and other Ps that come beforehand (e.g. Precedence) or those that comes afterwards (e.g. Al Ries’ Positioning.)

Any sane marketing professional knows not to ignore what has happened before. It is true that the only constant thing is change; however, Filipinos are generally a predictable bunch. Precedence is just checking out what has happened before and learning from the mistakes of those who have fallen from on-line grace. After all, George Santayana once said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

A lot can be said about Friendster and how it unexpectedly lost its chance to be continually at the top of its game. However, one would notice that the current owner now is MOL Global, which is of Malaysian origin. Several people have said their piece that this purchase by MOL Global was ridiculous but I beg to differ. This is because during the last few months of Friendster’s diminishing popularity, Malaysia, just like the Philippines, was clearly its Last Online Frontier. Now, whether or not Friendster can still reinvent itself effectively to increase its idle userbase is still subject to further observations. But it’s noteworthy though that as of July, Friendster’s Global Head of Brand Experience and Vice-President for the Philippines, Ben Dunn, took time to visit our country to personally announce the website’s shift to online games.

I found this news to be quite heartwarming since I had a chance to have a teleconference with Mr. Dunn and a colleague of his around 2008 (or was it another director from Friendster?) when I was still handling “innovations” for a particular bank. At that time, I was actively proposing for Friendster to team up with us for a project specifically tailored for the Philippines. Anyway, Friendster never really found the proposal interesting enough, so after I finally said adieu to what could’ve been a monumental project, the first big threat to Friendster with respect to the Philippines market came and – pun intended – began to Multiply.

Now, what made Multiply smarter than the average Internet sensation is the fact that they learned to value Filipino Internet users while they were still at the peak of their life cycle. Unfortunately for Multiply though, 2010 was such a pivotal year for the on-line industry and the Philippines that their focus on the country at that time was simply not good enough to stop the extraordinary course of events. Although the booming popularity of Multiply later fizzled, one good thing is that they haven’t died all too completely.

Czarrah Jarapa, Internet Marketing Supervisor of Collins International Trading Corporation, believes that “The main reason for Multiply’s survival is because Southeast Asians, specifically Filipino entrepreneurs, continue to utilize Multiply Marketplace. But before it was launched last 2010, the concept of selling within Multiply which peaked around 2008 was technically a violation of their Terms of Use.” This slow response to the unique demands by Filipino users is what made Multiply susceptible for defeat.

During the time Multiply peaked at the Philippines, Barack Obama made history not only because of the obvious, but because of his very effective Facebook and Twitter campaigns. Predictably enough, during the 2010 Presidential Elections in the Philippines, the incessant promotion of the local candidates and their staffs about their respective official accounts – oftentimes through the magnifying eyes of traditional media – made Facebook and Twitter the new place to be. This is why I believe the 2010 Presidential Elections became the catalyst why Filipinos ditched Multiply and all other websites for Facebook. And should all things remain equal, the impending 2013 Senatorial Elections would change the Digital Landscape all over again.

Twitter rose at the sidelines during the 2010 Presidential Elections. However, unlike Facebook, Twitter will not be greatly affected by Google+ or any newer websites in the near future (unless their management and ownership issues would foul things up for them soon enough). Another marketing principle I mentioned beforehand was Positioning, which Twitter may or may not have purposely utilized to cement its online influence. With its clutter-free and almost “no graphics” approach, Twitter positioned itself as the leader in microblogging. That’s why even though Facebook and Twitter are now experiencing the so-called “Asian Invasion,” this will make the latter more stable with regards to usage and traffic even with Google+ in sight.

Several Social Media Marketing Experts have clashed about how they perceive Google’s recent experiment would end up. In my own opinion, I believe another Social Networking Website (not necessarily Google+ or Twitter) will defeat Facebook by 2014. But because it is the most up and coming right now, with the proper execution (such as ensuring it still won’t be Invite-Only before 2012, the informal commencement of electioneering) the chances of Google+ reigning supreme are quite high, but the race for domination is still open for everyone even for the likes of Plurk or Tumblr.

Coy Caballes, Social Media Manager for Globe Telecom says, “We were a huge factor in keeping sites like Friendster, Plurk, Multiply, and even Yahoo! alive. No wonder they have local offices here. If a huge chunk of Pinoys stopped using one of these sites, I believe it will greatly change their models if that doesn’t break them.”

Another reason I believe Facebook will be “the next Ringo, Friendster, MySpace, or Multiply” is due to how utterly full of spam and irritating photo tagging the site has these days. It’s like Friendster déjà vu all over again. Second, the inevitable downfall is brought about by the fact that thanks to local telecoms, the adaptation process of Filipinos as of today is no longer as sluggish as it was before. A simple invite page can go viral if done properly. And we’ve all seen this happen before.

If I am correct in theorizing that Noynoy Aquino, Gibo Teodoro, and Manny Villar had a bigger impact on Social Networks than what was previously observed, then the impending 2013 Senatorial Elections should send more shivers to Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook became popular in the country not because it was all part of “the Great Facebook Plan,” but because Filipinos allowed Mark Zuckerberg into their lives. But the thing is, even with all the hype and the convergence of services offered by Facebook with local telecoms and TV networks, nothing specific has been created for the attention-hungry Filipino users to date. This is what Friendster should have done. This is what MySpace should have done. This is what Multiply wanted to achieve but they were just a tad bit too late.

It’s quite ironic how a website that popularized Farmville is still quite lost when it comes to fully appreciating the importance of the Filipino Internet User who, as I’ve described, is quite nomadic when it comes to on-line brand loyalty.

Mark Zuckerberg should teach Filipinos to “farm within Facebook” so they won’t leave them for good for a greener pasture somewhere out there. Sure, sure, we have China and perhaps India who have more Internet power than us. But mix them up with the Japanese and Koreans and I’m pretty sure Facebook will just get lost in translation and never get anywhere with those territories.

This is the reason Japan’s mixi or Gree, and Korea’s Cyworld will never feel threatened by Facebook, Twitter, and just recently, Google+. Otherwise, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil might just be in the adjacent valley with a +1 sign.

Google’s slogan is “Don’t be evil,” but isn’t everyone online tempted to checkout Google+ these days?


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