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The traditional media often give utilities a rough ride, but social media provides them with an opportunity to engage directly with customers, says Jonathan Evans.
Utilities are no strangers to media coverage – for good or ill. As regulated (or part-regulated) industries of national importance, this is no surprise.
Crucial issues today include multi-billion pound investment programmes, global and national climate legislation, security of supply and pricing.
The traditional national and trade media tend to focus on such issues: a potential national energy crisis, pricing, the need for energy infrastructure investment and the appropriate energy mix – fossil fuel, nuclear or renewables. Sometimes the government appears the villain in this coverage, with utilities portrayed as innovators and entrepreneurs. At other times, depending on the mood or political persuasion of the media in question, utilities are presented as corporate fat cats.
Windows of opportunity
The advent of social media has given a voice to a group that five years ago had much more difficulty being heard – individual consumers. This has changed things. Instead of weighing in on one side or the other of well-known debates, blogs and tweets provide a window on a consumer-dominated conversation, where the language is emotive and the views are black and white. The issues here are personal: the impact of rising energy prices, fuel poverty and poor customer service. They largely label the energy providers as faceless corporations interested only in profit and unmotivated by customer satisfaction.
Twitter, in particular, has become a platform for the people (see chart below, “Overall coverage split”) and the reputation of the energy companies is constantly under attack. If utilities fail to understand the groundswell of social media opinion, they could well suffer significant consequences in reputation.
The IT industry responded well to the advent of social media, with companies such as Dell using Twitter as a customer service contact line. The difficulty is that most utility companies do not know how to engage successfully with consumers. When utilities have a presence on the internet they tend to be very corporate or a stiff, faceless customer service operation. The “social” element of social media is ignored and communications often lack the human element and personality.
Find this article in full at Utility Week.