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Website sorted? Social media activity is the other side of the coin and must not be neglected or your brand will suffer, says Alastair Pickering.

Like it or not, first impressions count, and these days a customer’s first experience of a company is often via its website. As the Intendance research finds (see page 16), some of the smaller energy companies have been the best at clicking on to this – Ecotricity, Good Energy and The Co-operative Energy – which all demonstrated a good understanding of how to connect with users online. Two of these companies are renewable energy providers, and their unique sales proposition helped to shape and clarify the style and tone of their online communications.

There is a challenge here for the big six. It is hard for them to create a coherent story of what they stand for because there is no strong narrative for them to tell, just shades of grey: “We’re a little bit cheaper, a little bit greener, a little bit better than our competitors.” Their websites reflect this.

Content and design are just one part of how online presence contributes to reputation. The other is how you use it. In this area, too, utilities have been slow to grasp the implications of developments in web technology, which has helped reinforce their reputation among the public as monolithic, slow-to-change organisations.

A new report from Pike Research forecasts that 57 million customers worldwide will use social media to engage utilities in 2011. This could rise to 624 million by the end of 2017, it says. Utilities will also spend more on social media, increasing investment from about £125 million in 2011 to £200 million in 2017.

”Social media is a tricky play for utilities, as it is for other industries unaccustomed to such a transparent and uncontrolled form of communication with customers,” says senior analyst Neil Strother at Pike Research. ”But there are ways to use the new social channels that benefit both the utility and the customer.”

This is part of the article written by Alastair Pickering, Research and Operations Director at Alva and released in full on Utility Week.

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