Beyond SMS – Using Social Networks to Reach a Broader Market (Part 1 of 2)

By Aditya Banerjee

This is the first of a two part series on the panel presentation for the RBAP-MABS National Roundtable 2012 Conference session entitled “Beyond SMS – Using Social Networks to Reach a Broader Market”.

Panelists Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of Rappler, John Owens, Chief of Party of RBAP-MABS, Hans Roxas Chua, President & CEO of Blue Blade Technologies and Learning Edge, (Ret.) Gen Charles Hotchkiss, Executive Committee Chairman of Cantilan Bank, and Ferdinand Sia, Business Development Advisor for Chemonics International, mutually delivered an engaging presentation on the increasing importance of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter in reaching and interacting with new and current clients. In the Philippines, 95% of the online population is connected to Facebook, and it is estimated that by the end of the year more people will be accessing the internet through their mobile phone rather than on a computer, which represents a significant shift in the way that information will be exchanged and consumed by Filipinos.

Ms. Ressa kicked-off the panel session by detailing how social media is creating social change and how social networks are altering human behavior and the way we interact with each other, brands, products and services. Social network theory, as Ms. Ressa explained, focuses on group dynamics rather than individual behavior. Most notably, the “degree of influence rule” demonstrates how social networks transmit ideas including emotions and other subliminal messages that influence behavior up to three degrees of separation. The basis of the “degree of influence rule” relies on the fact that what an individual says or does affects our friends (1st), friends of friends (2nd), and friends of friends of friends (3rd). Surprisingly, influence is strongest between an individual and their 2nd and 3rd degree networks, which is known as “the strength of weak ties.” The degree of influence rule and the strength of weak ties principle converge in social networking spaces such as Facebook pages and on Twitter, where group dynamics are the driving force in the spread and flow of information.

To illustrate the power of group dynamics, Mr. Owens provided local examples to support Ms. Ressa’s point about influence. In his own personal experience, he has had re-tweeted tweets from his own personal account of 1,000 followers. Through his network, he has had single tweets reach an audience of potentially 500,000 people, which reveals the potential power of spreading information to followers via social networks. Compared to traditional print or TV media, which reach much smaller audiences – social networks represent a transformative new method that can reach a much broader audience at a substantially lower cost.  He also highlighted useful examples of how rural banks can use social networks sites to not only promote the bank but also engage and support micro and small businesses in their communities. He shared Facebook sites of banks that allow and encourage their own clients to not only interact with the bank but also with each other to share ideas and tips as well as potential business opportunities.  While clients interact with each other, banks can also promote solutions that help clients meet their goals of saving for the future, obtaining a line of credit, or answering questions about how to apply for a loan or open a new account.

As shared by all the presenters on the panel, rural banks should strengthen their online presence and take advantage of rapidly growing social network sites, especially Facebook. Social networks such as Facebook, and more recently, Twitter, provide unprecedented opportunities to engage with potential and existing clients in the Philippines more rapidly than ever before.