09 April 2012

The Overseas Filipino Worker: If You Text Us, Do We Not Read

Philippine Passport
In any branch of science, the behavior of the subject is based on how it interacts and communicates with the environment; more so in the social sciences where a social relation or social interaction refers to a relationship between two or more individuals.

Looking at it in this perspective, life is about communication.

And there is no demographic that understands this more than an Overseas Filipino Worker. Working in solitude, away from friends and loved ones for extended periods of time, and surrounded with unfamiliar faces, the OFW appreciates communication.

With 11 Million OFWs spread across the world, it’s no surprise that the latest rankings show SMART and GLOBE ranked first and second, respectively, in global telecommunications in terms of proportion of revenues derived from data. Figures released for 2009 showed that the Philippines ranked number one in SMS messages with 2.63 Billion SMS messages sent.

Communication between OFWs and their families certainly contributed to that.

A Paradigm Shift

In the past two years, the communication platform has changed. Devices have crossbred with different technologies that it has blurred the lines on the limits of what a mobile phone or a personal computer can do. At this point, with cheaper prices, accessible services and powerful devices, there is no excuse in not communicating with someone halfway across the world.

With the advent of smartphones that can access the internet, and telcos providing internet services, there is a growing shift in communication habits. The latest 2011 data by TNS showed that 81% of families of Overseas Filipino Workers in the Philippines use the Internet as the primary communication platform. Mobile phone use is down to second place with 77%. Landline telephones which enjoyed a virtual monopoly a decade ago is down to 24%.

Even services offered are changing. Everyone has access to free VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services like Skype. Gone are the days of 5 minutes of talk time worth hundreds of pesos. Now, with an internet connection, one can talk for hours on end without being charged for the call.

SMART Philippines understands this. By embracing this technology and being a part of it, they have become relevant to this growing trend. Raymond Anthony Samarista of SMART, says, “With SMART, ensuring that Internet access becomes increasingly pervasive is the key – by making it available in every area of the country, on whatever device is in the hands of our subscribers, and at price points that suit every budget. This is the central idea behind our advocacy ‘Internet for All’, that of enabling every Filipino to enjoy the benefits of the Internet – including access to services such as Skype and Facebook Chat…”

Constant Updating

Social Networks also have a major influence in the Philippines. According to Comscore, there are about 28 Million Internet users in the Philippines. 93.9% use Facebook. This makes the Philippines number 1 in the world in social network penetration.

With Social Networks, OFWs are constantly in touch with their families. They have immediate access to the latest uploaded photos of their loved ones, they get to see videos of family gatherings, and they get the latest happenings in and around the household.

But even with all this. Sometimes, a phone call is the right kind of medicine to an OFW.

Despite being fierce competitors, both GLOBE and SMART are putting up infrastructures all over the country to increase communication coverage and internet speed. Partnering with other telcos in other countries, GLOBE and SMART are stretching out, covering the world to the benefit of everyone, not just OFWs.

In 2011, Globe formed the International Business Group—a unit dedicated to growing the international business of Globe. Through partnerships with some of the world’s largest telecommunication companies like Hong Kong’s CSL, Maxis of Malaysia, Guam’s IT&E, Lebara and Taiwan Mobile, Globe offers SIM cards and prepaid call cards with the most affordable call and SMS rates to the Philippines. Globe also has a wide range of IDD and international SMS offers that enable families in the Philippines to stay in touch with overseas Filipinos.

It’s Everybody’s Game

It is not just the telecommunications companies that hold the OFW dear to heart. Even Coca Cola understands their importance both to the country’s economy and the loved ones waiting for them.

Last year, Coca Cola and their communications partner McCann Worldgroup Philippines collaborated to to launch a viral video contest, “Where Will Happiness Strike Next: The OFW Project”. It featured the stories of three OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) who came home in time to celebrate Christmas with their happily surprised families.

In a release, Coca Cola and McCann Worldgroup Philippines, articulated the OFW sentiment, “It is perhaps this familiarity, and the sincere happiness of the OFW families in the video that rocked Filipino netizens to the core. Barely 72 hours after two versions of the video (one in original format, and one with English subtitles) were posted on Coca-Cola’s YouTube channel, a combined total of 1,015,641 views were recorded, with almost 14 thousand likes and 3 thousand comments. The video content was a Trending Topic in Twitter for two days, with people actively sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Reactions are mostly positive, describing it as heartwarming, touching and a tear-jerker. Messages of thanks and congratulations for Coca-Cola comprise most of the comments on social sites. It was on the country’s major news sites- even featured in the country’s leading primetime news show…”

The Filipino Touch

It’s safe to say that the majority of the population have embraced and understood the technology. Everyone anywhere is just a phone call or mouse click away. Cost for the first time, is not a major factor anymore.

The Philippines and our culture have a creative flair in our blood. We tend to see other uses for things that are a bit outside the box. After World War II, the boring army green Jeeps the US left was turned into colorful passenger jeepneys. In the early days, instead of wasting rocks used to hunt prey, a string was tied to it for easy retrieval; the yoyo. And with this far and advanced tool of technology, eBurol was conceived.

St. Peter eBurol is a service where the OFW can virtually attend the wake of a passed on friend or loved one. Because of contractual agreements or the element of time, not all OFW can just leave and go back to attend a funeral. Hence, with a webcam, a microphone, and an internet connection, an OFW can pay his or her last respects to a dearly beloved one.

Of the offered service, Rona Lucas of St. Peter Life Plan says, “Fortunately we have only had positive reactions to eBurol. Our clients attest that the wakes of their loved ones have been livelier, much less painful, and less sorrowful through the St. Peter e-Burol. The wakes have become a reunion among families who have not seen each other and been together for a long time. Our clients also tell us that the eBurol has been a great help in monitoring wake activities while they are at work.”

It goes to show that even in death, there is still no excuse not to reach out and touch someone.

The End Game

This started out as a study on communication and its importance to the OFW. And looking at all the companies and how they interact with the Overseas Filipino Worker, we see that communication is varied when it comes to services rendered.

It can be as straightforward as a phone call, a picture sent thru SMS or Facebook, or even a video posted on a website.

We also saw how emotions that an OFW and his family experiences thru a video and how this was communicated to millions across the country.

A new service was born to cater to those who lost a loved one.

With the sacrifices and pitfalls the OFW goes through, there is an uneasy feeling to think of them as a consumer market. And even if they really are a demographic that is not to be ignored, it feels good to see that there are companies who don’t take advantage of their situation and give them the best service that they deserve.

In the end, to make an OFW smile, all one has to do is reach out and say hello.