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Public Utilities and the Use of Social Media

IBM recently released a study outlining a daunting new problem for utility companies: lack of consumer knowledge. Thirty percent of respondents didn’t know the term “dollar per kilowatt-hour” – the standard way the retail price of electricity is measured; sixty percent knew nothing of the new smart meters and smart grid technologies being rolled out in much of the country. Even with today’s priorities of energy use reduction, energy conservation and creation of renewable energy sources, some utilities hesitate to use the new social networking tools for community outreach.

While some companies are taking full advantage of the social media revolution by using Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn, others have done so only tentatively. And yet these tools can help utilities to quickly and easily disseminate information to their customers. Posting energy savings tips, regulatory notices and press releases can both inform the public and generate goodwill towards them, something many utilities conspicuously lack.

Recent natural disasters on the East Coast – Hurricane Irene especially – have once again demonstrated the need for effective social outreach. During emergencies, transmitting critical intelligence to constituents through social networks can both lessen the number of complaints and provide a platform for service requests to be made.

It is far better for public utility companies to be ahead of the curve rather than behind it, needing to conduct damage control after public relations efforts fail.

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