In PH, SMS is a social media tool

Posted at 02/20/2013 5:26 PM | Updated as of 02/21/2013 1:33 AM

MANILA, Philippines – In the Philippines, where only 35% of the population have access to the Internet, SMS or text messaging can be a useful social platform, comparable to Twitter or Facebook.

Washington-based social media strategist Chris Talbot, founder of Talbot Digital, said that many who do have Internet access are very reliant on social media platforms to connect with a great number of people.

“Some of the the young people here (in the Philippines), if you try to ask them their e-mail address, if you want to send them something, they'd say, why would I have an e-mail, you can message me on Facebook,” he said, citing conversations he has had with Filipinos, particularly students, in the three days he has been in the country.

Chris Talbot of Talbot Digital talks about social media during a forum at ABS-CBN. Photo by Fernando Sepe Jr. for ABS-CBNnews.com

However, Talbot said that while text messaging in the United States is not primarily used as a social tool, Filipinos seem to be quite fond of sending texts to many people at once. This has the same effect as a status update on social networking sites.

“I was in Palawan for a couple days, and power was not on for half the day. The Internet was kind of ridiculous, but everyone still had their mobile phones. Everybody was sending text messages,” he said.

“I understand [that] here in the Philippines people actually forward their text messages to a lot of other people. We don't do that in the United States.”

Internet penetration in the Philippines is small, compared to the US. According to Undersecretary Louis Casambre of the Department of Science and Technology, only 33.6 million or 35% of the total 95 million Filipinos have access to the Internet. In 2011, the penetration rate was 29%.

However, the US Census reported that in 2010, 44% of households surveyed in the United States had access to the Internet at home and outside the home. Most people (36%) who accessed the Internet outside their homes did it when they were at work.

Realizing the importance of text messaging, brands and even politicians have jumped onto the SMS bandwagon to spread awareness of them.

Ads in the form of text messages is prevalent in the Philippines, and have sometimes annoyed recipients so much that the National Telecommunications Commission created facilities for complaints about so-called “text spam”.

However, marketers have remained optimistic about the growth of Internet use in the country, due to an increase in the usage of Internet-capable mobile phones.

With manufacturers churning out more low-priced smartphones, people who could not afford such devices years ago can now buy one for cheap.

At a mobile marketing congress in December last year, Ernest Cu, chief executive officer and president of Globe Telecom, cited data from research firm GFK that one out of three mobile phones in the Philippines is a smartphone.

About 95% of Globe's 150,000 new postpaid subscribers quarterly are also choosing smartphones, he said.

At the same conference, Anand Tilak, regional manager for agency business and sales development of Google Southeast Asia, also said that attention is shifting towards mobile media.

“Consumers are in love with mobile. People look at their mobile phones more frequently in a day than they look at their spouses,” he said.