Image by Adem AY

How brands can connect with dark social communities in
the Philippines

Published on WARC.

Across the Philippines, social platforms have primarily been a way to connect with individuals and small communities of family and friends. However, life in extended lockdown has elevated, evolved and expanded these virtual communities to become more structured, targeted and organised, with community groups categorised by location – village or city – or by interests, such as baking or cooking, DIY, gardening, and fitness and wellness.

Well before COVID-19 forced the nation to hit the pause button, the Philippines – recognised as the “text messaging capital of the world” – was already adept in communicating across the social ecosystem. However, the innovative approach and increasing number of private communities have been significant, especially among millennial users in urban areas such as Metro Manila and Cebu, where media usage is high (71% penetration rate with 40% spending at least four hours on social media, according to GWI data).

These larger private communities have addressed the emerging concerns and needs of this post-COVID world, such as:

  • Social connection – Isolation has forced Filipinos to find new ways to connect either with loved ones they miss, the neighbourhood they belong to or those who share their interest and passions. Closed communities also allow for more intimate connections that filter out the clutter of most social media platforms.

  • Information dissemination – Vague government guidelines and conflicting information led to the creation of informal groups like Quarantine Tribute Tips (49,000 members on Facebook) and the PH Coronavirus Updates channel (120,000 subscribers on Telegram).

  • Social commerce – Local communities created buy-and-sell groups (such as the Marketplace Manila Viber community) to support sellers in their local communities and address quarantine restrictions. They also provided alternatives to get supplies without going outdoors. Brand-owned business channels soared 211% and transactional messages grew 299%, turning Viber into one of the dominant platforms for business in the country.

  • Trusted recommendations – Content shared by friends and family members on dark social carries more weight and is seen as more trustworthy than content shared by a brand. “Studies presented at the online fact checking conference Global Fact 7 in July 2020 said that people tend to believe their friends when verifying information on social media and that some messages on WhatsApp are influential because they come from friends and family.” (Rappler)

 

While there are certainly barriers for brands to consider – as dark social is harder to measure and intercept – the high trust and engagement in these communities can provide valuable opportunities for brands if they are authentic and thoughtful in their approach.

How brands can connect with dark social communities

It’s well-documented that dark social communities are often encrypted, unregulated and not exposed to outside scrutiny. They can also be prone to fake news and misinformation, despite efforts of these platforms to enforce restrictions.

But as these communities grow in popularity and influence, brands which understand their own purpose and role within the lives of their communities and audiences can develop innovative and authentic approaches. As advertising budgets get smaller, targeted and thoughtful direct communication through dark social channels offer brands an opportunity to engage, when the content and timing are right.

1. Provide real value on messaging platforms

Beyond just establishing visibility or creating an official account on messaging platforms, brands must determine a clear objective or address the specific needs of their audience. This drives relevance and gives users a reason to engage with them on these platforms.

  • Provide reliable information – The interactive Kira Kontra COVID chatbot by the Department of Health (258,000 Viber subscribers; also available through the DOH Facebook and website) was able to answer questions about COVID-19, community quarantine guidelines and other related concerns. It also allowed users to conduct a COVID self-check assessment, helping address health anxieties and reducing unnecessary hospital visits.

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  • Provide customer service despite limited operations or restrictions – With users unable to visit physical stores for their needs, Globe At Home Postpaid Viber Community (5,800 members) was able to help existing Postpaid customers remotely with troubleshooting and account-related concerns. It also became an effective channel to directly announce marketing efforts, such as Postpaid promos.

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  • Provide alternative e-commerce opportunities – As businesses struggled to connect with customers due to the lockdown, SM encouraged their malls to go hyper-local to engage with their communities. The Take Out & Delivery at SM Viber community (66,000 members) initiated SM Pasabuy (personal shopper) services, with riders and personal shoppers ready to help customers under lockdown. As quarantine restrictions eased, the Viber community evolved to share mall guidelines (such as operating hours and safety precautions) and marketing efforts such as promos.

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  • Provide entertainment value – Another way that brands can achieve organic reach on dark social is to rethink the purpose of their online content and see how it can have long-term shareability. Those with distinct, relatable brand personas (e.g. Angkas) or engaging and disruptive content (e.g. RC Cola) will still get noticed and shared organically in dark social channels. This is an opportunity for strong creatives to stand out.

 
2. Work with micro- and nano-influencers to tap niche audiences

Micro- and nano-influencers continue to be a valuable bridge between brands and audiences, especially when their average post-engagement rates are often higher than macro- or even mega macro-influencers. Their audiences may be smaller than others but they are highly engaged and trust brand recommendations from these personalities.

Group administrators and specific community members have also developed a level of credibility within their circle and are influencers in their own right. Having a dialogue with them on how your brand can create value to the community may endear the brand to them.

3. Create private communities and be willing to establish trust and engage with consumers on a more personal, one-to-one level

As consumers retreat into more private spaces, there is an opportunity for brands to create private spaces of their own, where brand trust and engagement become more of a two-way street. Consumers will be more likely to form real connections with brands when the focus isn’t just on achieving sales.

  • MOMA Moms of Manila and Alaska (31,000 members) is Alaska Milk’s private community for moms, where users share parenting tips and recipes with one another. Alaska initiates community conversations, encourages user-generated content and occasionally conducts market research, often offering e-commerce vouchers as an incentive.

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  • Bookworm Corner at Fully Booked (14,000 members) is an active community of book lovers, with daily discussions and highly engaged members. Fully Booked occasionally promotes its own events and promos and uses the group to conduct market research (e.g. getting direct feedback on its online delivery service, feedback on packaging, etc). The community occasionally gets rewards, such as first-access to events and offers, so it’s mutually beneficial.

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As mysterious as dark social can be, there are still opportunities to endear your brand to these communities. Those that provide real value and engage with them properly can quickly build brand trust and loyalty.