A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about the new trend towards electricity democratization and decentralization. This trend predicts a convergence between utilities as the energy providers that we know them as today and consumers, who may in fact become the energy providers of tomorrow with rooftop solar, wind, etc. The piece cited Jeremy Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution that credits the combination of inherently renewable distributed energy and the internet as having a potentially transformative effect on the shape and structure of our society.
Perhaps the first step in that morphing of our electric delivery system is for leading utilities to engage more actively with their customer base via internet-based social media.
Reliant Energy was the most popular utility (if that’s not an oxymoron) with the most Likes on Facebook (19,443), followed by Florida Power & Light (14,270) and Detroit Edison (13,131). San Diego Gas & Electric had the most followers on Twitter (16,379), followed by Public Service Electric & Gas (9,729) and Virginia Electric & Power Co. (8,854). As for YouTube, Florida Power & Light had the most subscribers (278), followed by Puget Sound Energy (168), and Duke Energy Carolinas (148).
Why are these utilities using social media and what do they expect to gain from each of these networks?
Tricia Bower, Social Media Manager at Direct Energy explained to Zpryme that, “Social media connects us in a personal way to our customers. It helps us show them we’re more than just a logo or a bill; we’re an energy partner and we want to share our expertise to help make a difference in their lives.” (Direct Energy had 13,155 fans on Facebook).
According to Zpryme, the primary advantage of Facebook is customer service.
“Monitoring and targeting customers on Facebook should feel non-commercial and resonate positively as a ‘friend.’ Nobody in the US does it better than Reliant Energy; outside of real-time feeds on Facebook, link to http://www.energyinyourlife.com/ from their wall and click on helpful links such as HERE FOR YOU.”
Twitter, on the other hand, is most effective for real-time crisis management. “The way that utilities engage customers has changed, one-way communication is a thing of the past. With just 140 characters, utilities can tweet real-time updates to mobile devices during crises such as blackouts, earthquakes and storms — while even responding to questions. Immediately tweeting earthquake status updates last year, Dominion Virginia Power is a brilliant example of social media done right.”
Finally, YouTube, is best for consumer education. “By utilizing YouTube, a utility can put a face no its brand, taking full advantage of visual and auditory learning — from rate increase news to smart meter education… There is no better platform to educate consumers about the Smart Grid.” FPL is a role model in this type of application.
Given the difficulties that numerous utilities have faced in rolling out Smart Meters, particularly, with customer acceptance, this type of online education makes a great deal of sense. Given the inevitability of changes in electric service which are on the horizon, the cultivation of amicable relations between utilities and consumers through social media makes a good deal of sense. And to quote Opower’s Director of Corporate Marketing, Eric Fleming, “With 98% of the US online population using social media for a whopping one out of every five minutes spent online, there’s a tremendous opportunity for utilities to engage their customers in new ways, To put this in perspective, on average, Accenture has found that people only spend about 6 minutes interacting with their utility each year.”
[Image Credit: Courtesy of Zpryme]
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.