In September of 2013, I discovered a new microblogging platform. My friend Noemi was using it and introduced me to the person in the Philippines representing Bubbly, an audio platform that allows you to record 90 seconds of voice. It also allows others to listen to you and if you are on a Premium account (like I am), you get people who subscribe to you.
I immediately fell in love with Bubbly. More than just an expressive outlet of my thoughts, I discovered that it was a great platform to draw people with disabilities into social media because of its audio feature. I had visually impaired followers and they were so happy to engage on Bubbly with me!!!
It’s been more than a year now since I joined. In that span of time, I came to appreciate Bubbly even more. And….I came to realize that there was a lot more to its possibilities.
* I was focused on the wrong audience – I thought my audience was netizens. So I spoke in English and talked about stuff that I thought the middle class would like (restaurants, food, tech stuff, esoteric, food-for-thought). But after a while, I realized that the greater majority of my subscribers were people who did not have even smartphones. They were feature-phone users who subscribe to me through the telcos Globe and Smart!
* Bubbly became my bridge to the digital divide – Can you imagine hearing a cock crowing in the background of a follower’s comment? Or being asked if you could send some mobile load? From some comments, I realized just how poor some of them were. Some did not even have a tv set or radio. Our posts were their windows to what was happening in the country. Some told me they liked hearing not just news as broadcasters tell them but also what I personally thought of it. They were looking for people with opinions! At Blog Watch, we had always struggled to think up ways for our online engagement to bridge the digital divide. Now here they were — the offline people in the C-D bracket who had no internet access — on Bubbly!
* Filipino is the great equalizer – Speaking in Filipino is definitely not my comfort zone. I was brought up at home speaking in straight English. But my followers have asked me to speak in Filipino more often and they love it when I lapse into Cebuano or Ilonggo sometimes. Maybe they feel closer to me when I speak their natural dialect. I still make English posts now and then. It’s good to also teach them English as it will come in handy later. But now, I am forced to challenge myself to learn the Filipino equivalent of many words that come naturally to veteran broadcasters on TV and on radio who speak Filipino every day. Problem is, after my Cebuano and Ilonggo posts, I got requests to do posts in Ilocano, Pampangueno and Bicolano. Eeeps!
* Middle class impressions that the poor blindly follow politicians and are only interested in showbiz personalities is wrong – Many of my followers have left comments thanking me for posts where I talk about the economy, the political scene, and tips on how to save money. They have opinions too and they can think. The reason we often conclude they do not decide well (or even sell their votes for a measly sum, though some actually do that) is because they do not have enough information at hand. And that makes them vulnerable to politicians who feed them propaganda. There is no alternative voice that could allow them to weigh different sides of an issue before deciding. There are traditional media places for such alternative opinions but as I already mentioned, many of these people don’t even have the means to buy a newspaper or a TV set. But they have cellphones (isn’t that just typical of Pinoys?)! With Bubbly, we get a chance to explain issues to them and even ask their opinion. And oftentimes, they surprise us with their answers.
* I reach young people too! – I thought in the beginning that my followers would naturally be my age. But when I began talking about how students could save, some followers began introducing themselves. Many were high school or college students but I had a good number of teenagers, as young as a boy in 6th Grade, who were interested and who actually followed my advice on saving. One even updated me about 3 months after my Bubbly post. She already had set aside P300. You can’t imagine how good that made me feel. A good friend, Randell Tiongson, who is one of the country’s premier personal finance planners, used to say in his workshops that only a very tiny percentage of Filipinos had savings and investments. It may be a baby step but I think regular Bubbly posts about saving tips might just get a good number of them on a saving and investment mindset.
They also request me to give advice on love life (a very unexpected request…channeling Dear Tiya Dely!) but it is something I am considering doing to keep them interested and listening. Communicating with young people means not expecting them to go up to your level but you coming down to theirs. I will do whatever I can to keep that channel of communication open.
* Empowering the less fortunate is possible – During and right after Typhoon Ruby stormed its way into the country, I was on Bubbly regularly posting weather updates. When things were calmer, I did a Bubbly post and praised my followers who also kept up with me during those hours, updating me on the weather situation in their areas. I called them Bubbly Patrollers (inspired by the term TV Patrollers, citizens who do mini on-cam reports with their smartphones). When you give the less fortunate the respect due them, they step up to the plate. I was so amused because many of them began reporting to me on Ruby’s aftermath in their areas, but sounding like reporters. My realization: TV patrollers need to use smartphones but Bubbly patrollers can just use audio on any cellphone! What a dramatic change in citizen journalism this can be!
* Bubbly has a multiplier effect – A couple of followers asked me if they could share my Bubbly posts. Of course I said yes. But what was amazing, I found out, was that in their circle of friends, those who could pay the Bubbly subscription rate would be the ones to subscribe to me. Because it is audio, he/she would then let his friends listen also to my posts. That is the SHARE equivalent of online social media! Imagine, this bayanihan effort is their very own idea. In emergency situations, I can post information to my followers and know that they will help disseminate this information in their communities.
* It works even when the internet is down! *NEW* – I just got it to work because I’ve been working with Bubbly on the initial glitch. While I did all of my Bubbly posts while connected to the internet, it has this one great feature that is perfect during disasters. You can do a Bubbly post EVEN IF NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET. Because it uses audio and is accessed by offline subscribers through telco subscription, apparently it works the other way around too. I did a test post and it went through! To listen to that post, click HERE.
Now…if only I can find a way to make sure telco signals do not go down because offline posts are dependent on their staying up…
* Interesting demographics! – This week, after helping out with Project Agos’ mapping efforts during Typhoon Ruby, I got inspired to do the same mapping technique but this time, listing where my followers are from. A picture truly is worth a thousand words because after listening to a number of people telling me where they were from, I got a pretty good visual.
Here is that interactive map. So far it only has 1 layer – location. As I get to know them more, I will try to add layers.
My friend Noemi wrote an article on Blog Watch about how she uses Bubbly. You get a better picture of how both of us use it.
My Bubbly account can be subscribed to by dialing **8877 from any mobile phone. Noemi’s code is **8828. The first 7 days is a free trial. After that, it is P1 per day.
Bubbly is indeed becoming a powerful way to reach the unreached, to inform the uninformed, and to empower the powerless. It is my hope that more netizens catch on to using Bubbly and allow social media to expand beyond cyberspace. I already see many possibilities for Bubbly. Beyond citizen advocacy, Bubbly should already be considered another way to reach offline people during disasters. When a platform allows real conversations to happen between those who are more fortunate in life and those who may not be as fortunate, maybe something wonderful can happen.