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What’s next for messaging: Chats merging with communities

By David Tse Published Jul 27, 2022 5:00 am


The pandemic was a disruptive time for everyone, we couldn’t emphasize this enough.

As the Singapore-based senior director for Rakuten Viber in the Asia Pacific region, I had to make the work-from-home setup work at the height of social distancing, like everyone else did. Naturally, I had no other choice but to round up my colleagues from different countries through online means. But I believe that with our APAC culture of openness and constant communication with and feedback to each other, we have a high level of understanding, trust, and appreciation of our joint accountabilities and responsibilities. And this very culture enables and empowers us to work effectively as a team even if we may have limited face-to-face meetings in this new normal.

Read what Anna Znamenskaya wrote about Viber in InBetween: Escaping loneliness in time of social distancing

This work setup only made me better appreciate the incredible work Viber is offering to its users everywhere. In the middle of a worldwide crisis, I’ve seen Viber stick to its core values through and through.

Our mission has always been to let our users freely and creatively express themselves and connect people no matter who they are, or where they’re from. The needs of our users have always been our top priority. Since its launch in 2010, Viber has been focusing on how we can improve the way we communicate, and the users’ overall online experience. This philosophy has served as our guidepost in every decision we have made in the past two pandemic years.

Viber’s commitment to better serve our users amid COVID-19 and social distancing was apparent when we quickly responded to the surge in the app when lockdowns were implemented, and bolstered our capacities by increasing the maximum number of participants in Group Video and Audio Calls. We partnered with the World Health Organization and the Philippines’ own Department of Health to provide our users with life-saving information on the pandemic.

This communications platform has turned into something that helped micro, small, and medium enterprises survive an unprecedented force majeure.

My first full year with Rakuten Viber was marked by strategic local partnerships that helped us understand the needs of our users and respond to them effectively. The customization of content is very important for us, because Viber has always been conscious about getting the pulse on what its different markets respond to and engage with. We do care to learn and find out what our users in different parts of the world like, what they’re into, what’s relevant to them.

Recently, in the Philippines, we have sealed a partnership with Cebu’s biggest weekend food market Sugbo Mercado to easily connect food sellers to foodies through the Sugbo Mercado Food Market channel. We are also with local artists through Backstage Pass, a first-of-its-kind Viber Channel with over 700k members that offers music enthusiasts exclusive access to artist interviews, special engagements and personal interactions, unseen footage, new music, first drops and previews, and more.

One of my humbling and inspiring experiences at Viber was seeing how this communications platform has turned into something that helped micro, small, and medium enterprises survive an unprecedented force majeure. COVID-19 was tough news to many businesses, sure, but it was ruthless to MSMEs, which make up 99.5% of business establishments in the Philippines.

Viber has given small online enterprises an equal playing field that’s not run by some algorithm that big businesses can hijack by simply burning money. The messaging app has given small online entrepreneurs an opportunity to harness the power of conversational commerce and reach out to engaged consumers through their chats and strengthen relationships.

Apart from our calling and messaging services, MSMEs are now able to leverage Viber Channels, a supergroup chat where only admins and Superadmins can post, keeping their chats clutter-free without sacrificing engagement since they can include a comment box per post. To help them gain more traction, we also created our official food directory, FoodPH, a chatbot where users can search for a specific type of food or cuisine or look for a dish based on location.

This new normal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to transition to a better future. It is all giving us some time to recalibrate our priorities by giving us a glimpse of what the post-pandemic world will look like.

To further assist small businesses and in recognition of their valuable contribution to the local economy, we have partnered with GCash to give MSMEs first dibs on QR codes before they become available to all users. We are also working with Globe on the Viber Negosyo Serye webinars that aim to equip small online businesses with tools and know-how on getting sales and strengthening their customer relationship. Recently, we launched the Raket Mo ‘To and Da Best of FoodPH business grant programs, which intend to give small online entrepreneurs the boost they need to find success in their businesses.

We’ve come to the day we’ve all been dreaming about since March 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic that forever changed our lives. I know, we are not back to pre-pandemic normal just yet, but we’re seeing many countries finally and cautiously opening their borders to tourists, and businesses that have been disrupted are starting to recover their losses.

In this new normal, I finally had my long overdue brainstorming with the Viber Philippines team in Boracay last April, and attended our first in-person event last June to launch our partnership with Mineski Global. These made things even clearer: we can never take human interaction for granted. Face-to-face interactions create more opportunities to be in the markets and to understand their challenges and motivations, so we are able to provide a better environment for the team to work with each other, and most importantly to meet with partners and listen to our users.

For me, this new normal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to transition to a better future. It is all giving us some time to recalibrate our priorities by giving us a glimpse of what the post-pandemic world will look like. After all, the pandemic has changed the way we communicate and consume content; it has impacted the way we learn, interact, share, and even conduct businesses. And this is where messaging platforms, like Viber, will drastically evolve to contribute to this vision.

We no longer see ourselves as just a tech company providing the most secure and advanced platform for communication, but a “community place” where our users can find content of their interest and interact with fellow users of the same passions or benefits. Student and teacher communities are interacting and learning through our Viber channels or group chats, merchants are interacting with their customers with their product offerings, entertainers are engaging their fans and sharing their creative journeys, and even mobile gamers are inviting friends over to compete in the hyper-casual gaming communities of Viber.

The foundations are already drilled down, and the messaging app is going beyond its mission of keeping people connected to putting its users first and foremost. Viber can also offer content and e-commerce opportunities without the noise of social media’s algorithms, providing our users a more meaningful, positive and safe environment to communicate with each other and consume their beloved content.