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What the #energy giants should learn from #socialmedia

The UK energy industry – and indeed across the world – has seen its reputation and image battered in recent years.  In fact, it mirrors what the financial institutions went through… and are still recovering from.

We all know why.  They’re seen as faceless giants: untrustworthy money grabbers profiteering in a price-fixing, uncompetitive environment.  Indeed, studies show when earlier this year the UK’s Big Six announced their energy prize freeze that consumers were cynical with two thirds (69%) not trusting energy companies to deliver on this and that it would not be enough of an incentive to stop them from switching. (The Big Deal)

But even with an energy price freeze, consumers don’t think it’s good enough – it actually mede little difference with 54% of consumers saying it has no impact on them and that, instead, bills need to come down in price. Ultimately people need and want price cuts, not price freezes.

what-the-energy-giants-should-learn-from-socialmediaThe biggest issues that energy companies face are bad customer service, lack of trust and very damaged, almost non-existent relationships with their customers.   It’s not surprising to see in a recent customer service survey by Which that Npower and Scottish Power were ranked last for poor customer service with many of the respondents unhappy about their billing systems and lack of transparency.

Here’s how energy companies can make use of social media to start repairing their brands:

Managing customer service

This is true for any business, of any size, in any sector: bad customer service results in angry, disloyal and frustrated customers. Social media offers an effective way for these companies to manage their customer service and to become more approachable and accessible to their customers.

In fact, social media offers a perfect medium for managing emergencies, such as power outages or other such problems. In times like these, utilities companies should assign several people to manage their social media accounts (especially Twitter) to respond to each and every comment and query. Or outsource it to an agency (such as ours!) This can make an amazing impression on your audience.

For example, during hurricane Sandy last year, an energy company from New Jersey dedicated 22 of their staff members to their Twitter account to respond to all enquiries and to post safety information and give updates on the service. By the time the service went back to normal, they had sent out 9,000 tweets and the number of Twitter followers increased from around 14 thousand to almost 58 thousand (Wall Street Journal). Engagement, brand awareness and the all-important trust / reputation therefore rocketed.

However, social media is not just for power outages and other emergencies.  They should always assign a few staff members to deal with any questions from their customers via social networks. Questions that go unanswered will only make an even worse impression on their audiences.

Similarly companies need to put thought and planning into their campaigns. Last year when British Gas announced their energy prices increasing by a whopping 9.2% they took to Twitter with a hashtag Q&A session (AskBG) which resulted in an epic fail with hundreds of people complaining.

Education and humour

Ok, so trust is rock bottom and no-one believes what energy companies say!  So why not offer real money-saving advice and help educate your audience via social media to save more money with energy-saving tips?

What’s more, make it a little more fun every once in a while!  Turn it into a game or a contest. This will not only help them regain some trust, but will also help attract more engagement.  Without engagement, it’s hard to build relationships and impossible to rebuild trust.

build relationships-2Build Relationships

So you’ve realised you’re not trusted?  Why not hold your hands up now and again?  Say: “I’m sorry” and “I got it wrong”.  Repeatedly giving excuses and avoiding the issue is wrong and merely erodes trust further.

Social mediaallows for companies to build better relationships, by holding honest conversations with their audience. Energy firms should urge their customers to voice their opinions and be prepared to respond to them. They also shouldn’t be afraid to start honest discussions – the only way that people could start trusting energy companies again is by aiming to resolves issues and alleviate their worries. Companies shouldn’t evade questions and/or give half-hearted excuses.

communicateUnderstand Your Customers

Energy companies can also use social media to understand their customers better – what do they want and what do they need? How can they deliver better service to them? What new products can they come up with? What do (and don’t) they like?  It’s important to use social media to not only communicate to your audience, but also with it.

The only way to move forward is to show that you are listening to your audience and that you truly care about their needs, wants and suggestions.  After all, isn’t the age-old business tenet: “know your customer”? Our post here explores how businesses need to embrace social media to better understand their online customers.

What do you think about the Big Six, and energy companies in general? Do you still trust them – or have you ever? What do you think could make you trust them more? Please let us know in your comments 🙂

Dan Purvis
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Dan Purvis

Head of Integrated Marketing Communications at Fintrax Group Holdings
Dan Purvis is Head of Integrated Marketing Communications at Fintrax Group Holdings, and is also a Media Champion for the Alzheimer's Society, helping spread awareness and understanding of this cruel disease.

Previously, he was Director at Comms Axis, a full service marketing agency specialising in content, social media & website services for businesses of all sizes.

Dan Purvis writes for a number of leading business, social media and marketing sites, including Smart Insights, MarketingProfs, Marketo, MarTech Advisor, Marketing Tech News, MarTech Today, MarTech Exec, and more.

Dan was also ranked by Brand Republic as one of the Top 50 UK Marketing & Social Media influencers.
Dan Purvis
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