Roha Tariq & Lauren Robinson - Jun 24 2021
Pacific Influencers: Engaging Digital Celebrities for Social Change

African Swine Fever prize competition winners with their piglets in Timor-Leste

Can social media and digital influencers truly use their platforms to create widespread or even country-wide behavioural or social change? In Timor-Leste and Fiji, Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF) collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF, Timor-Leste) and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport (MCTTT, Fiji) to implement digital media campaigns with the help of local influencers and put the question to the test.

MDF identified ‘influencers’ with a robust and engaging social media presence in both Timor-Leste and Fiji. And though these two countries had two different issues, social media proved to be the great equaliser.

In Timor-Leste, around 70 per cent of households own pigs – the animals are an economic commodity as well as a social one. Pigs are used as food, gifts and markers of social status. African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious pig disease that appeared in Timor-Leste in September 2019 and has since killed approximately 50,000 pigs. All pigs are susceptible to ASF, which has no known cure. Unfortunately, many pig-keepers are unaware of the virus and the threat it poses to their herds.

Since pig rearing is practised by most rural households, this ASF outbreak presented a major threat to livelihoods and the economy as a whole. Swift action was needed to ensure that the virus was effectively contained in order to prevent industry collapse.

Across the Pacific Ocean, in Fiji, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted the economy. Overnight, the Tourism sector came to a virtual halt, and many businesses were forced to scale back staff and operations. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), which employ approximately 60 per cent of the country’s workforce, were among the most vulnerable.

#SalvaFahi (Save Pigs) in Timor-Leste

MDF used a combination of television, radio, social media and SMS messages for the campaign, and utilised tools such as short videos of real farmers sharing best practices on ASF prevention methods. The social media campaign was blended with an innovative and cost-effective method of engaging three Timorese social media influencers to run an interactive online prevention campaign to create awareness.

The campaign reinforced several key messages for pig rearing households including building pens, fencing pigs, avoiding the use of kitchen scraps for feed, discouraging cross-border movement of pigs and pork products, ensuring proper burial of dead pigs, and reporting deaths and illness to the MAF hotline. MDF worked with the influencers to set up prize competitions to further engage audiences, encouraging them to share their pig pen pictures and tips on preventing ASF.

The campaign reached around 60,000 social media users. These influencers have a huge Timorese fan base, and this helped MDF reach a wider community with accurate and engaging information. The competitions were also a big hit: a girl who won a pig for her family and her father (a pig farmer) have since joined MDF’s bio-security trainings. Another participant motivated her mother to participate in the competition, photographing her posing in front of her pig pens.

“I saw the pig pen picture competition online and asked my mom to pose in front of the pig pen. She qualified as a winner for free biosecurity training. Now she does not allow the pigs to roam freely and she keeps them in clean pig pens,” shared Ansa Cruz, one of the competition winners.

#Supportlocalbusiness in Fiji

In Fiji, MDF and MCTTT ran a national social media campaign under the Ministry’s ‘Fijian Made – Buy Fijian’ initiative using the hashtag #SupportLocalBusiness to kickstart the campaign. MCTTT and MDF engaged eight prominent Fijian social media influencers to drive the campaign. The campaign ran for eight weeks, featuring 137 small businesses, their products and contact details. The influencers introduced consumers to new MSMEs, encouraged them to participate in ongoing promotions and drummed up support to save local business. Of the promoted businesses, 60 per cent were women-led and 80 per cent of the businesses reported an average 15 per cent increase in sales revenue through the promotion.

A number of the businesses that were promoted through the campaign reported that community support had been overwhelming. Sera Ranadi, who manages a stall at the Nausori Municipal Market said demand for her ready-made seafood packs rose significantly. “One of the past Saturdays, two gentlemen came asking for me in the market… they shared that they came all the way from Suva to find me and buy my seafood! They said ‘Andhy Blake has been posting your stuff on Facebook.’ Since I met Andhy, he has changed my business.”

The campaign has also motivated businesses to capitalise on the momentum and develop their own social media profiles. The campaign has also had a ripple effect: several of the contracted social media influencers continue to promote local MSMEs and one of the influencers, a professional television producer, went on to create a show that profiled small businesses around the country.

With campaigns like these, innovation can bring social change. Digital media campaigns which are well-designed and consider the local context can effectively turn mobile technology and social media networks into powerful tools for behaviour change and platforms to generate viable business opportunities. The campaigns in Timor-Leste and Fiji trialled something fairly new for both the economies, with great success.

MDF is funded by the Australian Government and implemented by Palladium, in partnership with Swisscontact. Download MDF’s annual report. For more information contact