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Whether it’s a general comment or enraged criticism – social media is usually the first place customers go to voice their thoughts and opinions about utilities companies.
Because of this, it is important for brands to have a proper online reputation management strategy in place.
Before we go any further, what exactly is online reputation management? Well, though it largely comes under the umbrella of social media monitoring, this practice can also involve dealing with online reviews, producing content and general community management.
In this article, I will specifically be focusing on how utility companies use social media channels for reputation management.
Online reputation management on social media refers to how brands respond to customer conversation.
For example, if people are complaining or even praising a service, but the brand remains entirely unresponsive – this can have a detrimental effect on its overall reputation.
Here are a few basic rules for effective management:
- Monitor mentions
- Respond quickly
- Be transparent
- Prepare for a crisis
- Address criticism
Let’s look at a few examples of utility brands putting the above into practice.
Not many electricity suppliers have an Instagram account, let alone use it to effectively communicate with customers, but Hawaiian Electric is different.
When a storm hit shores in 2014, it utilised the channel to let customers know about areas of power outage and repairs, as well as reinforce messages about safety. It has since continued to do this, expanding its strategy to incorporate general posts relating to the local community.
By using a visual medium like Instagram, the brand is able to project a positive image and reassure customers in the process.
After all, while it might be useful to hear that a company is repairing a broken electricity pole, seeing a photo of it in action is far more powerful.
Figures from Citizens Advice revealed that SSE received the lowest number of customer service complaints last year, making it the top energy company overall for customer satisfaction.
A big contributing factor appears to be the way it handles queries and criticism on social media, with a fast response time and polite tone of voice across the board.
This is particularly evident on the brand’s Facebook page, where it ‘typically replies within an hour’. And although complaints are still common, the brand’s approach appears to be effective for calming angry customers.
With 77% saying that valuing the customer's time is the most important thing a company can do – a fast response is one of the most effective ways for brands to ensure that they can maintain and improve a positive reputation.
PSEG – a gas and electric company based in New Jersey – shows that social media can be used for brand reputation management in alternative ways.
In 2014, it started planning for an infrastructure upgrade to replace 250 miles of gas line - a project that would result in a lot of upheaval for local residents.
Instead of an announcement on its website, PSEG chose to use micro-targeted Facebook ads in order to let people know what was going to happen and how it would affect them.
When users clicked on an ad, they were taken to a specific page where they’d be able to select and view a work schedule and relating disruption.
By utilising social media in this way, not only did PSEG demonstrate transparency, but it also pre-empted its customers' needs.
Brand Q&A’s on Twitter are always risky. A few years ago, British Gas suffered a huge backlash from angry customers over price hikes, leaving the social media team with egg on its face and even more of a negative reputation than before.
On the other hand, this type of activity can work well for smaller brands. Ovo is one brand that has utilised an ‘always on’ strategy to monitor brand mentions and successfully draw in new customers, often using Q&As to highlight the shortcomings of competitors.
We came here to have breakfast and help our customers. And we've just finished our toast. pic.twitter.com/Bcr3QYnRGP— OVO Energy (@OVOEnergy) February 6, 2017
Despite its overall approach to social media being far more appealing than most utility companies – using a conversational and personal tone – Ovo has not had an entirely positive couple of years.
Having failed to compensate customers for missed or late appointments, the company recently agreed to pay £58,000 to charity instead of undertaking formal enforcement action.
While the experience has undoubtedly tarnished its reputation, Ovo’s charitable donation and intent to improve customer service is part and parcel of online reputation management in action.