Can Utilities Get More Face Time with Customers on Social?

Market Strategies International has conducted research on a lot of energy topics, including how utilities use social media (see Utility Social Media Index). I recently read a really interesting article along these same lines that states utilities’ use of social media is expanding. According to the article, of the 50 largest utilities, 49 have active Twitter accounts, all have Facebook accounts and 15 have mobile apps. It’s certainly encouraging to see this trend since it has the potential to increase customer engagement, especially among the tech savvy. As we have identified through our own E2 research, increased customer engagement has a direct correlation to higher customer satisfaction and brand favorability

But what really strikes me is that only a small percentage of customers overall are actually engaging with their utility’s social media channel. Specifically, the study cited in the article found that “for social media, on average utilities had over 11,000 Twitter followers (or just 0.8% of customers).”

Evaluating Magnitude, Intensity, Timing & WIFM

When we talk with clients about the evaluation criteria for classifying and tracking major initiatives, one of the concepts we use is “magnitude,” (i.e., the number of customers that will be affected directly and indirectly by a company action or initiative). It would seem that social media—at least at this point in time—would receive a lower score based on this criterion. On the positive side, social media channels have a very timely impact on customers who are followers at varying degrees of “intensity,” so social receives somewhat higher marks on the “timing” evaluation criterion. Generally speaking, it’s not clear that social media scores very strongly on the “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) criterion. The exception, of course, is during an outage when we typically see engagement spike as customers try to find out when their power will be restored. The challenge for energy utilities is keeping followers engaged in between outages.

Boosting Face Time

Ultimately, the value of social media for energy utilities cannot be overstated, particularly given the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, mobile alerts and utility “apps” that offer utils a compelling engagement opportunity. The challenge is getting more “face time” with customers who are generally spending no more than 10 minutes each year interacting with their utility.

The customer segmentation research we’ve been conducting to help clients prepare for the “customer of the future” has generally included social and mobile measurement. By conducting this type of research, energy utilities can get in touch with what customers want out of their online experience, better positioning their channels (as well as other programs and tools) to be more successful.  Higher awareness, adoption and usage of these tools will build greater trust with customers, help customers understand the utilities’ brand, increase engagement and drive improvements in customer satisfaction. Email me if you want to learn more about our social and segmentation energy research.

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Tim Veitengruber

About Tim Veitengruber

Tim Veitengruber is a Director in the Energy Research division of Market Strategies International. During his many years with the company, he has managed quantitative and qualitative research projects within the telecommunications, energy utilities and advertising industries. Tim is skilled in the management and analysis of customer satisfaction and loyalty research and has managed many projects ranging from transaction-based measurement and market share assessment to brand management, customer segmentation and new product development. When not giving his two cents on a topic, you can find Tim spending time with his wife and two kids, keeping an eye on his favorite sports teams, coaching baseball or trying to watch for the next “big thing” on HBO Now, Amazon or Netflix.

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