Storms attract new social media followers, engagement keeps them coming back

stormoptThere is nothing like an extreme weather event to build up your social media program. According to a recent story in Intelligent Utility, Redirecting to a non-government site customers turn to their utility’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed during emergencies to get updates about power outages and restoration times. Once the lights are back on, however, you run the risk of losing your new followers if you do not figure out how to keep them engaged.

The article offers four steps for engaging social media users when the lights are on and the sky is blue—you know, most of the year. The best part is that these suggestions apply to any customer outreach program, high-tech or otherwise.

Choose your themes
Start by identifying message themes that are relevant to your customers’ daily lives—safety, energy efficiency and preparedness, for example. Then find experts inside your utility to provide information on those topics. Your communication with customers starts by keeping the lines open in your own organization. You should also reach out to partners in the community who do work related to your themes, such as police and fire departments, non-profits and the media. Cross promotion with their social media outlets will add variety to your message and strengthen your communications network in times of emergency.

Once you have a good flow of content, you need to organize it so that your followers get useful information in real time, in a way that makes sense to them. The article recommends building a content calendar that organizes messages by theme, date, time and platform. You can schedule “evergreen” items like seasonal efficiency tips and storm readiness in a regular rotation and reuse them with a little updating. A calendar will also give you the flexibility to respond to current events, such as accidents, with items that address your customers’ concerns.

Always look for the simplest way to communicate your message, especially in social media. Using pictures, videos, graphics and diagrams can help you break down your message to easy-to-understand pieces. And don’t think that “platform” refers only to electronic communications. Ask yourself if that newsletter story could be summed up in a few bullet points on a bill stuffer or in a well-written public service announcement on your local radio station.

Listen, listen some more
Because utility customers need electricity and can only get it from their utility—so far—it can be easy to forget that communication is a two-way street. Social media offers businesses a way to find out what their followers are saying and to engage them in dialogue. A customer may be more comfortable complaining on Facebook or tweeting his dissatisfaction than calling in a complaint. You can use that opening to start a conversation that ultimately resolves the issue and turns the follower into a loyal supporter.

The ability to engage with customers on a more personal level is a good argument for launching a social media program, but the old-fashioned way works, too. Place representatives at community events where they can meet customers face to face, and promote your annual customer meeting. Work with partner agencies to create fun, informative demonstrations to present at utility and partner events. Never pass up an opportunity to talk with your ratepayers and to look at your utility through their eyes.

Analyze, refine, repeat
A communicator’s work is never done, and every outreach plan is a work in progress. This is where social media makes its value known. You will be able to track trends, see which posts are getting attention and which are being ignored, and adjust your messaging accordingly.

In the pre-social media days, measuring the results of public outreach was notoriously difficult, but the old indicators can still tell you a thing or two. Train your representatives to pay attention to the questions customers ask at events or when they call your service desk, and to ask follow-up questions. What sounds like routine complaining about high utility bills may be a cry for more efficiency programs. Watch program participation figures—Do you get an uptick in interest in a particular program after promoting it? Without promoting it? Are customers dropping out of programs? Are they asking for something you are not offering?

Social media provides utilities with excellent new tools for improving customer communications, but the philosophy underlying the strategies is old-school. Figure out what the customer wants, deliver it to them in a timely and useful manner, follow up and use the feedback to improve the service. That is the proven formula for turning foul-weather followers into loyal and satisfied customers.

Source: Intelligent Utility, 3/25/15