Social media lessons for utilities

The exponential rate at which the Internet of Things and all the different communication outlets are growing has changed the traditional landscape, and is forcing utilities to add resources to keep up with customer needs and demands. In today’s world, customers expect utilities to have a presence on social media presence. Further, they expect to be notified via these outlets any time they may be affected by a utility issue — for example, natural disasters.

Randi Zuckerberg on Social Media

Credit: Okky.novianto/Wikimedia Commons

Natural disasters have provided utilities lessons on the need to keep their customers informed. Social media has become an important (if not the most important) tool for utilities to stay in touch with their customers.

“Customer support in this day and age is a totally new beast,” Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, explained at DistribuTECH earlier this year. “Good news travels further and faster than before. But bad news also travels faster and further than ever before,” spreading through posts on Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other social media outlets.

“When the power goes out, people aren’t just reaching for their candles anymore, they are reaching for their phone,” she explained.

To solve the problem, it’s important for energy companies to think like media companies because, in essence, “you are all now media companies,” Zuckerberg contends.

During Hurricane Andrew there were no iPads or smartphones and most people didn’t even have cell phones. Since then, utility companies have evolved along with the technology and have learned how to better communicate with their customers.

Natural disasters have also made clear the need for utilities to work together to grow the technologies to engage their customers. That collaboration is never as important as in a natural disaster. After Hurricane Sandy, those barriers were broken down out of necessity, and customers all across the country saw what can happen when utilities work together.

“The great thing about our industry is that we help each other when we have a problem,” said Michael Yackira, CEO of NV Energy. “In our industry we have, for many decades, worked together to restore power when there is a problem in our system.”

While utilities from all over the country traveled to the East Coast to help out during the crisis, they found they were running into political roadblocks. Yackira said their teamwork helped address government barriers and find “a new way to approach restoration.”

“We worked with the Department of Energy and Homeland Security, and other areas of the federal government, to assure that when we were rolling from state to state there wouldn’t be problems along the way,” he explained. “We had 67,000 employees from various — outside the Northeast — utilities, go to the Northeast and restore power. Power was restored in almost record time.”