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BUILDING COMMUNITIES IN A HYBRID AGE IMMAP tackles the currency of engagement

IMMAP’s third Virtual Member Meet-up (VMM) for 2022 was held on June 2 under the theme, “The Engagement Currency” Moderated by Gary Abello of ZMG Ward-Howell, the session was geared towards providing members with community-building insights, strategies, and techniques, as shared by some of today’s most popular online personalities. The discussion was set to focus on the evolving face and importance of online community development and engagement in a hybrid world.

David & Golyat founder and CEO, Miko David, delivered the evening’s keynote address, providing data and insights, which contextualized the hearty panel discussion that followed. Composing the panel to lend their expertise were Rakuten Viber APAC Marketing Lead Christian Aguilar, Home Buddies Founder Frances Cabatuando, and Edamama Director for Brand & Community Karla Suguitan.

The importance of online groups in the Philippines couldn’t be overstated: as shared by David, based on his data, 4-5 out of 10 users across age segments were members of such groups, spurred on by specific interests (such as hobbies), intents, or needs (such as business-oriented initiatives). Interestingly, David noted, the more affluent the audience, the more engaged they were in Facebook groups.

While the upper middle class did make up a bulk of the active group users, Home Buddies’ Cabatuando pointed out that the lower middle class had also become active in making their presence felt, with groups such as “Hampaslupa Buddies” increasing in popularity.

Over the six quarters examined, David noted the dramatic rise of platforms such as TikTok and Twitter in Facebook-centric Philippines. Among the factors driving the popularity of online communities in general was the efforts of dedicated community admins in creating engaging content. Another major factor was active contributors, influencers, and content creators adding to the dynamics. According to David, even the so-called “lurkers” in groups played a part, as they were always invited to engage.

According to Home Buddies’ Cabatuando, aside from clarifying the roles in a community -pointing out the difference between admins and content creators as an example- they key to success was humanizing it. “In my case,” she shared, I made my group an online barangay, and worked on building relationships so the people in the group know they aren’t just strangers on the internet, they’re my kapitbahay. It’s the same as an on-ground group – once you know who your co-members are, you’re more likely to engage with them inside (and even outside!) the group.”

Edamama’s Suguitan concurred with the sentiment, citing the importance of establishing trust with the target audience as exemplified by McKinsey’s criteria of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. “Do they see you as selfish and self-serving, or as really genuine and authentic in the relationship you want to build with them?” Suguitan posited. “Are we creating conversations that matter to them? Are we making them feel seen, making them feel heard?”

Speaking for Viber developer Rakuten, Aguilar shared Viber’s increased role in online communities came about as a natural part of messaging evolving from purely one-to-one communications to one-to-many, a phenomena that was greatly accelerated due to the global pandemic. He pointed out that the brands that had become successful on Viber were those that invested in content that was specific to their communities and/or directed towards starting conversations. “If you want to get into these communities, you have to get in the right kind of way by understanding what the community is talking about, who they are, and what drives them.”

“If you don’t engage where people are very active,” said David, “You miss out a lot by not including it in your strategy.” Indeed, given how brands and publications not only regularly participate in and contribute to online groups now, it’s not surprising that many have become active in establishing their own, having seen the value of interacting directly with their consumers in a manner not afforded by traditional advertising or marketing.

While their approaches may differ, the panelists generally agreed that the key to creating a true sense of community in this socially-distant age, be it from brands or special interest groups, is the ability of everyone involved to stand by a measure of authenticity.

For more information on IMMAP, future VMM’s, and other upcoming events, please visit The next IMMAP Virtual Member Meet-up will be held on July 28, focusing on the role of digital transformations in empowering the socially involved.

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