Let’s face it. We live in a communications era that is changing by the minute. What that means for brands is that they must increasingly find more clever ways to break through the noise to not only promote their products and services but also keep their customers engaged.
For utilities that means going beyond the meter and inviting two-way communication through the use of social media. Social media is about people and the voices behind them. It’s about story-telling and the “we” not the “me.” Social media is built on content, contribution, shared interests and passions, engagement, listening and community.
Why is it important for utilities to participate in social media? Because that’s where many current customers live and it’s certainly where future customers live. Social media is a communications tool. Social media provides the vehicle for utilities to listen to and engage with their customers, allowing them to position themselves as a trusted advisor by talking with their customers, not at them.
While there are endless social media opportunities for brands to engage with customers, we will focus on the three largest social media properties:
People and brands use Facebook to connect and reconnect with friends, family and colleagues; post and share content such as photos, videos and links; engage with current and potential customers through community building; and to keep up-to-date on information. This year, Facebook will reach one billion users. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world behind China and India.
Facebook provides utilities with a tool to reach customers where they spend a tremendous amount of time. People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook with 50 percent of active users logging on every day. The average user creates 90 pieces of content each month and more than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums) are shared each month making users a very valuable brand ambassador (or vocal opponent) for a utility.
Take the CPS Energy Facebook page as an example of a utility that uses Facebook to effectively communicate with customers. Utilities can use Facebook to post all of this and more:
- Information about programs and services
- Updates on load events
- Tips on topics of interest
- Press releases and news coverage
- Customer surveys
- A schedule of customer events
As with all social media, the utility’s Facebook page must be monitored. That means responding and reacting to comments that are positive and negative. That reinforces the message that you are interested in talking with customers not at them.
Twitter was launched as a simple way to communicate a concise real-time message in 140 characters or less. It has become the pulse of real-time global news and has empowered the masses to become citizen journalists. It has become a customer service tool, allowing brands to monitor consumer chatter and sentiments. Just how powerful is Twitter as a communications tool? There are more than 400 million users tweeting more than 250 million times daily; 500,000 new accounts are created every day; and 1.6 billion Twitter searches are conducted on a daily basis.
Utilities can utilize Twitter to disseminate important, useful information, such as energy saving tips, outage notifications or other relevant information, which will encourage followers to re-tweet to their followers and thus a community continues to grow.
Establishing a blog helps to position a utility as a trusted advisor. The blog posts should be no longer than 500 words and should focus on what customers need to know or be aware of. Blogs like the CPS Energy blog, are typically authored by the CEO of the company. This helps humanize the brand, as people relate to other people. It breaks down the corporate barrier and allows customers to connect with senior management and leadership. Blogs don’t have to strictly be word posts; they should incorporate a multimedia approach and utilize photos or video as well. Blogs also help with search engine optimization, as it’s a powerful and effective tool for creating content – content that search engines love.
YouTube is not only the biggest video sharing site in the world, it also is the second largest search engine in the world. Utilities can use their video channel as a sales and marketing tool. They can publish and share videos that tell a story. For example, as utilities engage companies like Consert, they can post how-to videos to assist customers on how to utilize the Consert Solution so they can begin controlling their energy usage, conserving energy and saving money. YouTube is proof that we like visuals – more than 35 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and YouTube accounts for more than two billion views a day, which is double the prime-time audience of the three major U.S. broadcast networks combined.
There is no doubt about the power of social media. It can be one of the most cost effective, influential communication tools in a utility’s marketing toolkit. If the task of establishing a social media presence is daunting, start small. Begin by using Facebook and Twitter as a newsfeed and post only press materials and media coverage. Facebook and Twitter accounts can be linked so posts to one will automatically post to the other. Once you are more comfortable, move forward with relevant customer-focused posts. Develop an “editorial calendar” of topics that can be covered until ideally you are posting to all of your social media properties at least three times a week.
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Tony Di Giosia is the director of marketing for Consert Inc., an intelligent energy management company based in San Antonio, and an expert in customer recruitment and retention. Consert plans 140,000 residential installations in San Antonio by 2014 and will work with CPS Energy to reduce peak demand by 250 megawatts over the next four years using Consert’s patented Virtual Peak Plant™.