We’ve been talking about utilities’ use of social media. Commonwealth Edison, one of the nation's largest electric and gas utility holding companies, recently surveyed 30 distribution and generation utilities about their use of social media. Jeff Burdick, ComEd’s Communications Manager, was the study’s team leader.
Survey says: 83 percent of the respondents were motivated to use social media, especially for finding others interested in niche topics such as energy efficiency. But the actual numbers of Facebook and Twitter followers are low, representing only a small percentage of customers.
That’s ok. It’s still the wild west here, folks. No one knows anything yet, and the use of social media for B2B is still one big experiment. But it’s time to get in and start testing.
Burdick listed five conditions a utility should meet before using social media. Here they are, with my thoughts and ideas added:
Utilities, use social media when:
1. You want to reach a niche audience on a defined topic.
Use specific Facebook pages to speak directly to energy efficiency geeks, DIY/home improvement types, customers in a defined service area, or industry watchers. You could engage activists in a transparent conversation about your smart grid vision or your renewable energy goals.
2. You welcome two-way interaction.
Social media is all about listening. Hear that? Listen, listen, listen. Social media is SO not about you, your organization or your bottom line. It is SO about your audience. There are other venues for your organization to get top billing. Social media is not one of them. If you’re boring or self-serving on Facebook or elsewhere, remember what happens – unlike, unsubscribe, unfollow. See ya.
3. You’re prepared for negative comments.
They will come, so it pays to be prepared with a strategy. It’s not so different from the way you’d handle negative feedback in the flesh-and-bones world: you acknowledge the feedback, apologize if necessary, or politely correct any misinformation. Take the conversation offline, and offer a solution. Don’t be defensive. Do choose a trusted representative to handle this type of thing – and give that person free reign to be – professionally – genuine.
4. You’ve committed the resources to be successful.
Nothing says “we’re tired, washed up, and we’re not listening” like a blog or feed that is out-of-date, uninspired, or offers nothing of interest to the average customer. That said, the Internet is still the place to “fail often and early”. Feedback is immediate, so you can instantly gauge your audience’s reaction and try again – as long as you’re using tools to analyze your data.
5. You have a solid strategy to attract and retain an audience of acceptable size.
It’s ok for smaller businesses to start out slowly and build a loyal audience of followers. For those businesses, audience is more about quality than quantity. This is not you, big fish. While you should choose your target audiences wisely and with precision (see #1 above), you’ll want to build those audiences quickly and confidently. Look to other social media titans for their success formulas. Ford is a great example, using humor and first-to-know status to create value. Check out Ford’s Principles of Social Media here.
Thanks to Kristen Light at Electric Light and Power, whose post inspired this one.