The mid-February weather in many parts of the US has been one for the record books. Weather channels are using terms such as “polar vortex” and “arctic blast,” and utility customers in the central US, especially Texas, and the Midwest are struggling with power outages and water problems.
Utilities are using social media to deliver news about planned and unplanned service interruptions. The successful energy and water companies are talking to customers in a sensitive, people-first way. They’re posting social content related to:
- The location of outages and what the utility is doing to restore power and water
- The rationale behind blackouts and rotating service interruptions; their impact on customers; and when they might stop
- Requests for customers to voluntarily reduce their energy and water use to help get the utilities back on faster
- Expressions of thanks to customers for their patience
- Info on staying safe during winter outages
- Warnings to stay away from downed power lines and guidance for reporting them
Our report The essentials for communicating about unplanned and planned outages (available to members of the Corporate Communications Service) explains that while it’s important to provide an estimated time of restoration, customers are more satisfied if they get a steady stream of updates. Customers also respond positively to photos of your crews working hard to restore power as well as images of the extensive damage to utility infrastructure.
Even if you do everything right in your messaging—such as using empathy and providing proactive updates—customers may still be upset and lash out in the comments sections of your posts. These people are looking for someone to blame and your utility is an easy target. Our advice: stay the course. Continue posting empathetic message and giving updates. In your responses, include these four elements:
- A thank-you
- An expression of concern
- Some marketing
- An invitation to take the conversation off-line
We’ve gathered some sample posts from utilities during this chaotic and painful time to inspire your own outage communication efforts (figure 1). We recommend visiting these utilities’ social media channels to see more examples of the types of posts they’re sharing as well as how often they’re posting. And watch our interviews with Sabrina Potirala, manager of digital business at ComEd, and Rebecca Sheperd, senior emergency preparedness administrator at ComEd, after their Braving the storm: Emergency communications in a changing world session at the E Source Forum 2019. Learn how their utility talked to customers during the January 2019 polar vortex that brought some of the coldest temperatures Chicago had ever seen.