Social media plays key role in customer communications

Ruchi Solanki, Research Analyst –

At the social media for utilities conference that I attended last week, utilities gathered together to share their strengths on what works, new initiatives and where social media is going in the years to come. As social media has advanced significantly for the utility industry within the last five years, utilities have become more creative in order to keep customers engaged and educated about offered programs and safety information. Social media is a mandatory part of communicating with customers and even the c-suite is recognizing its role and importance.

The conference started off with Ike Pigott, communication strategist at Alabama Power, problem solving on industry wide issue with other utilities ranging from creating customer awareness for different programs to getting employees to become utility ambassadors. (By the way, in just a few short weeks, Ike will also be moderating a panel at Chartwell’s 11th Annual Outage Communications Conference in Atlanta!)

One consistent issue that resonated with a lot of utilities is the struggle to integrate social customer service into the different social media channels in a way that benefits both the customer and utility when resources are limited. Several utilities have implemented different strategies when it comes to this. The Customer Communications Research Council has discussed how Duke Energy reorganized its social media approach by planning the steps and procedures strategically and invested in the right people to enhance their customer service. PowerStream, which recently merged into Alectra Utilities, focused on establishing processes and policies to respond to customers during business hours and allocate departmental control for the company’s several social media channels.

The conference included some great presentations that demonstrated not only where the industry is now with social media but also where it might be going and what trends we are likely to see in the next several years. Dan Séguin, manager, media and public affairs at Hydro Ottawa, discussed video integration across the social platforms. The utility is using video and drone footage to educate, promote, recruit and market to customers in the name of creating a positive and valuable customer experience. However, the presence of videos is not necessarily new in the industry. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative has offered customized video bill messaging tools since 2014 to explain bill changes to customers with more utilities following suit.

Snapchat, Instagram stories and Facebook Live were hot topics of conversation during the conference. Live video engagement to interact with customers has proven to be effective in promoting community outreach efforts and educating customers of all ages in a unique format. DC Waters is using Snapchat stories and filters to help bring brand awareness for the utility while using Facebook Live as a way to give children virtual tours of the sewers underground. BC Hydro is using Instagram stories and Facebook Live to put a human face on a corporate brand to help educate customers on commonly asked questions.

If you are interested in learning more about how to optimize your utility’s communication strategy and problem solve with other leading utilities, join Chartwell’s Customer Communication Research Council by emailing Tim Herrick at therrick@chartwellinc.com.

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