Struggling businesses have expressed concerns over Government’s proposal to temporarily ban the world’s biggest social networking site ‘Facebook’ in the Solomon Islands.
The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), as the peak body representing the private sector in the Solomon Islands, is particularly concerned with the negative impacts this decision will have on our small micro-businesses, entrepreneurs, and those in the informal sector who depend on social media, especially Facebook for marketing and advertising.
“It is the Government’s prerogative to make such a decision, but as a Chamber, we believe that there are other pressing issues that require our collective focus,” SICCI Board Chairman, Jay Bartlett, said.
Members of the business community have shared their concerns with SICCI today (Tuesday 17 November) while others opposed the decision to temporarily ban Facebook.
Paula ter Brake, Managing Director of Tower Insurance Pacific said Facebook is the most widely used social media platform in the Pacific Islands and is an important communication tool relied upon by individuals, businesses, and communities.
“Tower uses Facebook to engage with customers and their communities regarding a variety of matters, most importantly those relating to the preparation for and response to severe weather events.
“The most engagement Tower has on Facebook is relating to claims processing following major events, as such, Tower strongly opposes any proposal to ban Facebook usage in the Solomon Islands,” Brake said.
70% of SICCI’s membership is made up of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), one of them is SAMEDIA Limited and Director, Ms. Gloria Hong said for small businesses interacting with consumers on social media is an important marketing strategy.
“Using social media helps us to build brand awareness, increase our customer base, and connect with customers.
“In my view, banning Facebook is a threat to businesses, especially the small businesses who cannot afford to run advertisements on radio, newspapers, and on TV,” Ms. Hong said.
Tongs Corporation has invested a lot of time and effort to launch and grow their Facebook presence as a mode of communication with their customers.
Their sales and Marketing Manager, John Wopereis said Facebook has been an effective tool in building relationships with the wider community to grow product knowledge and showcase the inspiring stories of builders, contractors, and homeowners.
“In terms of our planning for 2021 onwards, it’s important for us to be clear on what to expect as we have outlined Facebook as a key marketing tool and have content lined up ready to go. We need to know what’s happening so we can be clear on where to invest our time and effort,” Mr. Wopereis said.
Like the COVID-19 global pandemic, Tourism will again be the sector most affected by the proposed plan to ban Facebook.
Sunset Lodge based on the island of Savo relies heavily on social media to attract customers.
Owner Bernard Kemakeza has taken up every opportunity presented by Government and SICCI to improve his business’ online presence and sees this move as a setback.
“Coming into 2020 we did not anticipate the global pandemic impacting the Tourism industry the way we’re experiencing at the moment.
“For small operators such as ourselves we are struggling to pay our workers, to pay tax to Government, help our nearby communities and we look forward to when things get back to normal.
“The training we have received from the Government through the responsible ministry has helped us market our products which eventually helped us during this pandemic. I would call on Government to reconsider its decision to ban Facebook and consider its citizens who are only trying to keep their business afloat,” Mr. Kemakeza said.
The high cost of advertising is a common concern for businesses and Facebook provides a more affordable option.
Mr. Anthony Fargas, Managing Director of Coral Sea Resort and Casino said advertising in the traditional media is not viable in a depressed economic landscape on a regular basis.
“There is a high uptake of Facebook with Solomon Islanders and freedom of expression and information should be encouraged in any democracy or competitive landscape.
“It allows businesses to connect directly with suppliers and customers, as well as allowing individuals to keep in close contact domestically and internationally with family and friends,” he said.
At some point in the future, Solomon Islands will be re-opening it borders and Tourism Solomons has around 34,000 followers/likes on Facebook.
Mr. Fargas asked: “How will the Solomon Islands be marketed with previous international guests and new international guests if we cannot tap into direct communication channels with them?”
He said guests will be considering where to travel during the pandemic, as at post-pandemic many people will be wanting to travel somewhere that is safe and close.
“The Solomon Islands is well placed to take advantage of this – but any positive effect of this will be diminished with the removal of basic communication rights – such as Facebook,” he said.
Countries that have banned social media (Facebook) include China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria.
Banning Facebook will only bring about negative press on the world stage and is not the solution for the country’s social media issues which will keep the country out of touch with technological evolution.