Note: This article was first published on philstar.com.
MANILA, Philippines – If you think the so-called social media will immediately cause a radical change in the way campaigns are conducted, think again.
Despite the hype about the so-called power of social media, experts believe its use and impact will be limited due to low internet penetration in the country.
And while social media can be an influential platform, experts said candidates would still rely heavily on traditional media and the tried and tested formula of personal interaction.
“The Internet is not as ubiquitous as it would appear to be, at least when you take it to account that the Philippines is entirely agricultural,” Danilo Arao, communication professor at the University of the Philippines, said in an interview.
“We have to be level-headed in analyzing social media, particularly the Internet connection,” he added.
Malou Tiquia, founder of political consultancy firm Publicus Asia, said she does not expect campaigns to rely heavily on social media for now.
“Social media will have relevance in the Philippines if we have 100 percent Internet penetration. Right now it’s not 100 percent,” she said.
Data from internetworldstats.com show that as of June 30, only three of 10 Filipinos or 32.4 percent have access to the internet.
The figure is higher than the 27.5 percent penetration for Asia but lower than that of Southeast Asian countries Brunei (78 percent) Singapore (75 percent), Malaysia (60.7 percent) and Vietnam (33.9 percent).
Miriam Grace Go, a journalist and author who covered the 2010 polls, said some strategists revealed that social media had accounted for only 20 percent of the source of information on candidates.
The remaining 80 percent come from the so-called “traditional” forms of media – print, radio and television.
“We should only look at social media as one of the many tools of candidates making themselves known to the people,” Arao said.
“We cannot discount the tried and tested formula of interacting with audiences and that would be the form of personal interaction, actually shaking the hands of people,” he added.
“Local candidates in urban areas could benefit more from the maximization of social media. But for those who live in rural areas, of course the more traditional means of campaigning would still be necessary.”
While much has been said about its potential, social media, Tiquia said, is not an awareness tool in the national level.
“In the local level, it’s hard. In the cities probably because you have Internet penetration to a certain degree… But in the national, it is not a tool of awareness,” Tiquia said.
“Kapag ‘yung parati kang singit nangg singit (If you butt in all the time) or you try to look cute, it can annoy [people],” she added.
Tiquia said no study has been conducted about the political leanings of social media users who often hit the “like” button.
Go said the number of followers or online friends does not reflect one’s popularity or support base.
“If you have a lot of followers, a lot of likes in your social media account, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are quality followers.”
A potent tool
Experts, nevertheless, believe that social media can make a difference in one’s campaign if used properly.
Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez said social media could help candidates introduce themselves.
“By the sheer number of rallies organized via Twitter or Facebook, we can no longer doubt the mobilizing power of social media,” he said.
“Social media has had its own share of stars who just totally appeared from nowhere but due to their skill in using social media, they became popular and people were not turned off.”
Go and Arao said candidates should look at the messages they are relaying to the public.
“You really have to start with who am I? What do I stand for? And then plan around that. How do I effectively present who I am? How do I effectively discuss my advocacies?” Go said.
“How you project yourself online should be a reflection of how you are seen in public. There has to be consistency,” Arao said.
Tiquia said politicians who use social media should know how to listen.
“The art of listening is crucial in social media… Have fun in engaging with people,” she said. – Ghio Ong for Philstar.com