Can the Philippines produce a great social media platform?

Vince Hermosura
Can the Philippines produce a great social media platform?

The country had been considered the world’s social media capital, but we have yet to see a major social network emerge from Filipino founders

When Universal McCann declared the Philippines the social networking capital of the world in 2008, Filipinos celebrated. Though some may argue the title is an empty one, it is noteworthy: Actively using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others is a testament to how digitally savvy the majority of Filipinos are. We embrace new platforms and technologies more fully than anyone else on earth. The social networking capital of the world indeed!

But we need to evolve from this point. Most of the social media platforms we consume are those created by the tech giants in Silicon Valley. Don’t believe me? Unlock your smartphone and check how many of your apps are created right here in the Philippines. I imagine the number for the vast majority of people will be zero — for we simply do not have tech entrepreneurs creating social media platforms, products, or even services. We need to go from being voracious social media users and followers to being social media creators and entrepreneurs.

One of the first notable social messaging platforms in the Philippines was arguably Chikka, which was founded by Dennis Mendiola and Chito Bustamante. Though some may look at their flagship product, Chikka Text Messenger (CTM), as a simple messaging platform, it was very revolutionary for its time in the early 2000s. CTM was the first platform in the world to enable people who were mobile (using SMS) to communicate with people who were on desktop (using the internet), beating all the messaging platforms like Viber and WhatsApp that we know today and rightfully earning the loyal usage of millions of Filipinos around the world.

Chikka would go on to become one of the flagship tech companies from the Philippines, exiting to PLDT in 2009. Few entrepreneurs have since followed in the steps of Mendiola and Bustamante in creating a social media platform like CTM, and that’s unfortunate. The Philippines has all the tools — the tech talent, the potential user base, the budding ecosystem for venture capital — to create social media products that can be used by millions of people around the country, if not the world. We can very much produce our own Mark Zuckerberg or Evan Spiegel, and that idea can be a self-fulfilling prophecy or a self-defeating prophecy: If we believe we can, we will sooner rather than later. If we believe we can’t, we will never even get the chance.

Also read: The Philippines needs to develop a good angel ecosystem; muru-D Singapore Head

But the situation is not all bleak. There have been a handful of tech startups in the Philippines built around the social media space. One was Socialytics, a social media marketing company co-founded by Chikka alumnus Jonas de los Reyes which exited to Globe subsidiary AdSpark in 2015. Another is Senti, which was founded by Ralph Regalado and aims to analyse social media content in Filipino languages for brands. Still another is a Hoy!, an ad rewards platform for branded content founded by Seph Mayol. Outside of these notable entries, the landscape for social media platforms, companies, and services is noticeably thin.

One of the most ambitious platforms to emerge over the last year that deserves highlighting is Kumu, a livestreaming and content mobile app founded by Roland Ros, Rexy Dorado, Andrew Pineda, and Clare Ros. The core feature of Kumu is the livestreaming — Filipino content creators can point the camera at themselves and go live, showcasing their stories, moments, and talents with an immediate audience that spans the globe. This premise has already attracted many notable Filipino talents, such as singer-songwriter Mica Javier, HealingMindsPH founder Gisa Paredes, and DJ Skratchmark and club owner Angelo Mendez, the duo who forms 2 Blocks from Burgos.

Though Kumu may seem pretty straightforward, the ambitions of the founders are much grander than just a content app: They want to create a thriving economy. Right now, Filipino content creators have few outlets where they can make a living. They can try to on YouTube, but they have to build a fanbase of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to have a realistic shot of monetizing from their talents. Kumu wants to simplify this process: By growing a devoted fan base of as little as five to ten thousand users, content creators would be able to earn meaningful revenue.

Kumu will enable income-generation through tipping, a feature that is going live this month. Fans can send their favorite content creators digital gifts that correspond to real-world money. In this way, fans will be able to support the content that is most relevant to them, helping the content creator make more of it in the long run. The tipping economy is already well established in countries like China or the United States, where the top gamers who livestream on Twitch routinely pull in annual salaries higher than most doctors or lawyers.

For the Kumu’s four co-founders to succeed in their mission, they want the app to be the platform for Filipino creativity — they will need network effects to kick in, just as has happened with any dominant social media platform. The fans who follow their favorite content creators to Kumu must serendipitously discover other creators they like on the platform, which will incentivise new talents to join and livestream, who will bring with them their own fans, and onward the growth will go until Kumu is a household name.

This process may seem complex, but you have to remember it will begin with the simple act of a single person deciding to tune in to a talent they like. Here’s to hoping we watch and see where our collective Filipino talent will take us in the world of social.

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