Companies have been creating Viber Communities to communicate with their consumers over the pandemic. The messaging platform noted a 129% increase in community views and a 208% growth in messages sent to Communities in the first half of 2020 versus the same period last year. In the Philippines, Viber has a 71% penetration rate.

“People are now forced to shop from within their communities for the sake of convenience and safety,” said Veronica Feleo, Viber Rakuten’s business development manager, at a recent virtual roundtable. “On the brands’ end, there’s more of a willingness to connect with consumers.” 

Brand representatives in attendance agreed on the importance of tailored messaging. 

“There’s an intentional way of how we send messages,” said Brigette Villarin, director for operations at Megamobile, Inc., a member of the Inquirer Group of Companies. Inquirer Mobile shares information on current news, politics, and lifestyle topics to its 100,000+ strong community, and adapts its content curation based on trends.

“We noticed there was heavy engagement at mealtimes during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ),” Ms. Villarin said. “After July, the engagement became more concentrated in the morning, so that’s when we published all relevant information. In the evening, we shared lifestyle stories to give everyone a breather from the news.” 

Christina Lao, digital acceleration director of McDonald’s Philippines, added that the food chain’s Viber Community was set up to help ensure its patrons were maximizing their time whenever they went out. “People were looking for information [at the start of the pandemic], and the first thing they looked at was their phone. We want to earn our space in your app and provide information that’s relevant.” 

For its part, the Department of Health decided to create its own community when it received a deluge of inquiries early March, or soon after the start of the first national lockdown. “It was clear to us with so many inquiries that people were panicking,” said Dr. Beverly Ho, the director of the Health Promotion Bureau at the Department of Health (DoH). “When we started, we weren’t that well-organized… We eventually rolled out surveys to ask members what information they wanted from this group.” 

DoH shares both COVID and non-COVID information to its Viber Community, but it also takes care not to flood its more than two million subscribers with messages.

Meanwhile, SM Pasabuy is a means of satisfying the mall chain’s customer needs. Pasabuy is a play on the Filipino pasabay, a term used when requesting someone to get something at a store they plan to shop in.

At the start of the pandemic, SM promoted takeout, delivery, and curbside purchases in adherence to safety protocols. It also started offering personal shoppers in 71 of its 74 malls for those who wanted to shop from the comfort of their homes. 

“We have many fulfillment partners who do deliveries,” said Joaquin San Agustin, senior vice president for marketing at SM Supermalls. “We tied up with 67 apps nationwide, as well as riders in communities and those out of a job with bicycles. It might not be necessarily Pasabuy in GenSan, but there’s an equivalent there. It’s taking a look at customer needs and finding a way to satisfy them.”. — Patricia B. Mirasol