It has been three days since Basyang hit the country and left a massive but already resolved blackout, and now there’s another storm brewing (Pagasa just located a LPA east of Baler, Aurora). But before everything else, I’d like to mention some realizations after Basyang hit, from a perspective of a trying-hard NSM user despite lack of Internet connection (oh yes, we still don’t have Internet after 10 days).
The Ondoy Case
Social networking sites mobilized Filipinos efforts to reach out to the devastated Metro Manila after Ondoy and before Pepeng. There were posters of volunteer drives everywhere on Facebook and Twitter: Red Cross, UP Manila efforts, indie & mainstream bands’ fundraisers, among others. Tumblr rose to popularity with reblogs of photos of Ondoy’s wrath. Plus there were Google spreadsheets which functioned to (1) list all the places where people could drop their donations, and (2) locate people who weren’t rescued yet. (For a complete documentation of Ondoy + NSM use, please check Ate Alvina’s blog post.)
In hindsight, the use of new social media during the recovery of the country from Ondoy was revolutionary. Facebook for me then was just another social networking site, but when it was already there, you couldn’t help but want to join the club and help as well. I bet it’s the same emotion felt by millions of Filipinos who took part in building spreadsheets and reposting alerts. But to add, it wasn’t just plain revolutionary, it also served the need of the individual for self-gratification (knowing that you’re in a better position to help others) and the need for information and preparedness measures (there were lots of RTs from news outlets regarding Pepeng).
The use of social media during Ondoy was effective, but there was no blackout then.
Basyang is no Ondoy
The unpredictability of Basyang (blame global warming please, not its being a ‘woman’ typhoon) led to the devastation of Metro Manila and Southern Luzon despite earlier reports that it would hit Central Luzon. Unlike Ondoy, it was a gusty typhoon – there was not much rain, but the gustiness was terrifying and very powerful that it blew billboards and trees away and caused a massive power failure in Luzon. Now while it’s tempting to talk about the failure of Pagasa and the slow response of National Electric Grid Corporation to repair power structures, I’d like to point out some things that I learned/re-learned.
1. New social media is equivalent to electricity, Internet connection, and people combined.
Quite obvious, but it’s one shortcoming of new social media – it is technology-dependent, that without power and Internet connection, people cannot apparently collaborate in a virtual setting. Facebook was relatively quiet last Wednesday because power lines were not restored yet during that time. And while the devastation of Basyang is widespread like that of Ondoy (but of different magnitude and nature, I must say), there were no concerted efforts online to set up a database, say, of places without electricity, or of people missing. Which leads me to the next point.
2. Social media in the Philippines is still a thing for those with the resources.
There were no reports of people missing on Facebook, because people in the networks of these missing fishermen are probably not Facebook users, and if they do have Facebook, they won’t be able to access it for lack of resources, and generally, it is not a priority for their demographic during times of storm. But for people who consider new social media as part of their lifestyle, it’s hard to do away with it especially in times of uncertainty.
Wednesday noon I was itching to go online, because I feel apart from my social network and late with weather news because there was no electricity. What I did, I used the remaining battery of my netbook and I asked a friend of mine to send me load so I can use my USB Broadband to surf the Web. That is when I discovered the lack of efforts from NSM users to address the problems caused by Basyang. The only thing that was consistently talking of Basyang and its aftermath was Yahoo! Philippines website, but as we know, Yahoo! News is of broadcast type and just plain news and announcements. But that was not the only thing that I did online last Wednesday – I checked my inbox, I checked Facebook and Twitter in the same way that I would check it after class, and I checked my blog. I felt that news was enough for my uncertainty, because to start a group effort online is hard and useless especially when your target audience/co-collaborators are not there.
3. People have communication needs, and when they can’t satisfy it with a specific medium, they look for alternatives.
As I have said earlier, new social media during Ondoy was also to serve the need for self-gratification and for information. Because both broadcast and new social media were not present during Basyang, people looked for other ways to gather news regarding the aftermath of Basyang and restoration of power in their respective locales. In our neighborhood, somebody made the effort to go to Meralco and tell them that our place did not have electricity yet, that was afternoon of Wednesday, and asked when we could have it back. After that neighbor talked to someone from Meralco face-to-face, she told the opinion leaders (aka gossip sources) in the neighborhood so that the news would be spread. The next day, noontime, we had power restored. Our family car’s TV, the USB broadband – I believe these are all alternatives to the usual media that we subscribe to, and as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, never mind the extra money, time, and effort involved, we just have to get our message across.
OrCom calming the customer’s storm
Taking all these learnings, as OrCom practitioners in the future, there should be an effort on us to provide alternative media for communication, when all else fail. If we can’t talk to our audience online because of certain constraints, there are other ways to do it – face-to-face, via phone, through opinion leaders, among others. And to provide alternative communication channels means two things: (1) we are supposed to be well-versed of any communication channel that reaches out to our audience, whether during normal times or during times of crisis, and (2) we have to meet them in that alternative channel – we have to be present there as well to continue the conversations that we had with them in an earlier time.
With this post I’d like to commend Meralco not only for their relatively fast response to our electricity problem, but also with the way they handled customer complaint as such. I understand that Meralco’s problem scope is as big as Luzon, so they need customer input to tell them where to go. Their efforts to reach out to customers included a call-or-text mobile number, a hotline, and their presence in their offices. To hear someone say that they’ll act on your power disconnection within 24 hours and to work on that promise are reassurances that you are valued as a paying customer.