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Facebook Proves Key Digital Platform for Trade in the Philippines

With Filipinos the world's biggest Facebook fans, its reach goes beyond keeping in touch with friends and relatives.

Photo: Low-cost smartphones and free access has seen Facebook dominate the Filipino social media scene. (Shutterstock.com/junpinzon)
Low-cost smartphones and free access has seen Facebook dominate the Filipino social media scene.
Photo: Low-cost smartphones and free access has seen Facebook dominate the Filipino social media scene. (Shutterstock.com/junpinzon)
Low-cost smartphones and free access has seen Facebook dominate the Filipino social media scene.

The Philippines is now one home to some of the world's keenest uses of social media – particularly Facebook. According to the GlobalWebIndex Q4 2015 survey, the average Filipino spends 3.7 hours per day on social media, significantly higher than any other ASEAN country, including Indonesia (2.9 hours), Vietnam (2.3 hours), Singapore (1.6 hours) and Hong Kong (1.5 hours).

By far, the most important social media platform for Filipinos is Facebook. When the company opened its Manila office earlier this year, Dan Neary, Facebook's Vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region, was unequivocal about its dominance. He said: "Some 91% of internet users in the Philippines [49 million people] are on Facebook, with 90% of them accessing it via mobile. Two in three Filipinos are connected to a business page on Facebook, with many of them using the platform to discover new brands and products."

In fact, Facebook's explosive success in the Philippines and market dominance has led many businesses to adopt it as their key platform for online marketing. As a result, many companies don't even bother having a website. Instead, they use their Facebook page to showcase offers, respond to enquiries, engage followers and promote their brand.

Companies then complete the sales process by linking visitors directly through to one of the large, established online e-commerce malls or to their own dedicated e-commerce portals where customers can conclude the transaction. Lazada, the Southeast Asian e-commerce website owned by Alibaba, is among the most popular options, with its Facebook page having garnered more than 15.5 million likes.

A good example in the SME sector is The Super Food Grocer. Having already notched up 42,253 page likes, it posts high quality updates two to five times a month, typically in the form of graphics, professionally-made videos, recipes or article snippets. All of these feature calls to action, linking directly to the company blog or online shop.

Overall, there are a number of factors that have driven Facebook's ubiquity across the Philippines. Principally, there is the fact that affordable, locally made smartphones – at prices below HK$565 – are widely available. Then there is the fact that the Philippines is now the fastest-growing market in Southeast Asia. A key driver, though, has been that the Philippines still largely constitutes a highly price-sensitive, pre-paid mobile data market. One of the incentives offered to build loyalty to particular data plans has been free access to Facebook, an initiative that has also promoted its wider uptake.

Culturally, Filipinos are highly social by nature and are used to following word-of-mouth recommendations. This has turned Facebook into an unmatched platform, allowing it to have a huge influence on the purchase decisions made by Filipinos, many of whom set huge store by the online recommendations of their friends.

Unlike with Google, a search for a company name on Facebook brings up company information, as well as recommendations and likes by friends and role models, all in an easily comprehensible, standardised format. According to Social Bakers, a social media monitoring site, of the top 10 most popular Facebook pages in the Philippines, six are by local celebrities, all of whom are entertainers. Anne Curtis, the Filipino actress and television host who tops the country's celebrity list, has more than 13 million followers. Angelina Jolie, by comparison, has only around 5.5 million.

As such, the successful large-scale social media campaigns in the Philippines tend to be those that are emotional, highly interactive and celebrity-driven. Increasingly, celebrities (and aspiring online celebrities) are able to monetise their large numbers of followers by establishing a personal Facebook 'brand', something that companies will pay to be associated with.

Coupled with highly supportive local consumer behavior, the extent of Facebook's penetration is good news for any overseas brands looking to build sales in the Philippines, especially those that have a limited marketing budget. Facebook offers such businesses the opportunity for strategic ad placements, content marketing and the use of low-cost campaign analytics. This allows them to create and manage campaigns on a reasonably modest budget, while also optimising brand engagement.

Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Cebu

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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