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For Utilities, Social Media Can Be a Powerful Communication Tool

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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Because social media use is now so common, it’s an excellent way for businesses of any type, including utilities, to communicate with customers. As an interaction method, social media offers numerous benefits, such as being easily accessible, timely, and a two-way. These benefits can be put to use in several important ways.

Nurturing Relationships

The foundation of all communication with customers is building trust. Utilities can use social media to build trust by doing things like sharing useful information, responding promptly to customer service requests, and offering ideas for energy efficiency.

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Another building block for keeping customers engaged on social media is serving as a “bulletin board” for community events, especially those sponsored by the utility or municipality for which it operates.

The more customers see that a utility has their best interests in mind, the more they’ll be willing to participate in energy efficiency campaigns, attend utility-sponsored community events, and exercise patience during outages.

Offering Customer Service

Modern utility customers, especially millennials, appreciate multiple ways to communication with their utilities. Social media can be one of those ways. Utilities can offer the option for customers to contact them via their favorite social media application, the most popular being Facebook and Twitter.

To effectively deliver customer service in this channel, utilities should keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Let customers know they can use social media to get issues resolved, and tell them how to do it. This message could be as simple as, “Have an issue? Leave a post, and we’ll respond within an hour.” Repeat the message often and use fun graphics to help get the message across. 
  • Have staff monitor each platform regularly and reply quickly. Social media is an immediate medium, so customers expect a rapid response. It’s also important to respond to every comment or request, no matter how minor.
  • Know when it’s time to take the conversation offline. Some fixes will be simple, and the conversation can stay public. But, anything more complex than a few exchanges between the utility and the customer (especially if the customer is angry) should be moved to email, text, or phone.

Social media is a great place to promote energy reduction campaigns. Utilities can post helpful tips, announce related workshops, offer efficiency assessments, or create contests to get customers engaged.

Managing Emergencies

Utilities can use social media to help customers during emergencies, but some prior thought should be put into how it can be done most effectively. Communications professionals should develop a plan that answers some basic questions about the process:

  • How does use of social media fit into the overall emergency communications plan?
  • What can customers expect to see on social media during an emergency?
  • Who will be responsible for posting information to social media outlets?
  • How often will notifications go out?

The following are some possible types of information to post:

  • The reason for the outage and the extend of the damage
  • Estimated power restoration times
  • Resources for emergency assistance, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contact information
  • Alerts for further events (e.g. additional extreme weather expected)
  • Safety tips
  • Ways for customers to let loved ones know they’re safe (Facebook and Twitter both have built-in features for this)

Utilities that already know how successful social media can be as an outreach tool should think about how they can use it even more effectively. Those that haven’t used it much may want to consider initial steps toward incorporating it into their overall communications plan.

Does your utility use social media? If so, how? What are the biggest benefits for your customers? Please share in the comments.

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