My Opening Remarks for #UtilitiesSocialMedia: the Script

Social Media For Utilities Is Becoming Indispensable.

If your favourite fries aren’t crisp enough, social media offers ways to lodge a complaint to your favourite fast-food – and get a response – while  you’re still in the shop. If the fashion site wants you to know that blue is the new black, it can flood your favourite social media with the news. Important as fries and fashion are, they’re not quite as important as power outages and service restoration. It just makes sense for your local utility to be as present, expert and available in social media as fast food chains and e-commerce sites.

For utilities, social media is apparently blurring the line between communications and customer service.

For the utility industry too the shift in consumer behaviour and the preference for social media is increasingly becoming apparent. Utility customers agree, and their social media appetite is growing.

  • Two years ago, an Accenture study found 30% of customers were open to interacting with utilities through social media, up from just 1% in 2010
  • 54% of respondents say local utilities should use social media channels to share real time information and warnings on approaching storms, power outages and time until service will be restored
  • 50% say that in addition to receiving information from their electric utility about emergency situations, outages and repairs, they want to communicate with their utility through social media to ask questions, express opinions and add localized information that would help other customers in their communityLet’s not forget that Social Media is a content distribution channel. You should not work on a Social Media strategy if Content Strategy has not been finalised and documented. Content strategy comes first, channel strategy follows.

Also, for business Social Media isn’t just a broadcasting platform. Instead, is a way to communicate to the right people at the right time.

Build Consumer Connect
Social Media has become a primary source of contact for many utility companies, and it’s increasingly important for improving customer satisfaction. More people are using Twitter or Facebook now to share their views or inquire about their utility service or to report an outage.

Customers often take to social media when traditional channels haven’t solved their problem, and utilities have a public opportunity to recover that customer and put their best foot forward. Clearly, social media is not a stand-alone activity and it needs to be aligned with the broader customer interaction strategy to ensure a consistent approach across all channels, be it through the contact center, Twitter, Facebook or in-person interaction.

Using Social Media for Reputation Management/Brand Awareness
Don’t think that if you don’t have a presence on social media people won’t share their views – they will establish a reputation for you even if you aren’t on there to share the facts.

A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is. This thinking manifests itself most strongly in social media than anywhere else. Customers are increasingly using social media to build or destroy the reputation of their service providers. Social media presents utility providers with an opportunity to manage brand perception and map customer sentiments towards the brand.

Customer to Utility comms
Customers can post photos of downed power lines (as long as they stay at a safe distance) so utilities will know exactly what caused the outage and how to repair it fastest.

Monitoring and analysing social media
Monitoring and analysing social media, utilities could pinpoint outages people are tweeting about, even if those tweets aren’t being sent directly to the utility. Following social media trends by geography could alert utilities when certain neighbourhoods are likely to adopt plug-in electric vehicles or rooftop solar, allowing the utilities to develop appropriate programs before they’re needed.

Create Customer Awareness/Nudging customers to do the right thing
Utilities currently struggle to enrol customers in energy efficiency and demand response programs. Just promoting the programs on websites is too passive. The awareness level among customers is far from what utilities would like it to be. Many customers are only partially aware of what their smart meters can actually do. Utility companies are using YouTube and Facebook to educate customers on topics such as energy management, advantages of smart meters and industry trends. Social media is also being utilized to generate user-specific awareness regarding changes in pricing, billing or even allowing customers to design their bills.

That’s the real power of social media. It’s a whole new level of customer service – very fast, very immediate. You could never reach that number of people through conventional means. It’s just not possible.


Also published on Medium.

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