Social Media Engagement: A Crucial Endeavor for the Utility of the Future

In today’s world of constant connectivity, people expect to have information continually at their fingertips.  To satisfy customers, service providers must deliver relevant news and updates in a timely manner, proactively quenching each customer’s thirst for insights that will impact their daily lives.  Water and wastewater utilities across the country are recognizing this fact, and pursuing means for instantaneously communicating with their customers.

I recently participated in a webinar titled, “Entering the Twitterverse: An Analysis of Twitter Use at Large Utilities” that was organized by the WateReuse Association.  During the hour long session, presenters from Raftelis Financial Consultants and the Southern Nevada Water Authority discussed the increasing use of social media engagement by water and wastewater utilities in response to industry trends.  These trends include diminishing utility budgets, the growing importance of educating customers about the true value of water, and the need to generate public understanding and support for utility initiatives.

Social media channels such as Twitter are ideal for addressing these issues because they are easy to use, allow for real-time information sharing, can reach a large audience and serve as a direct line of communication to customers.  They also are efficient.  For example, a handful of Tweets alerting the community to a service outage takes far less time than fielding hundreds of calls requesting information.  Channels like Pinterest and YouTube can also be leveraged to educate the community in a more visual manner, with content such as how-to videos and community improvement ideas.

However, simply creating and maintaining social media channels is not enough.  To successfully disseminate information, water and wastewater utilities must build a following by creating social media engagement opportunities to interact with customers and stakeholders – otherwise their messages risk being overlooked.  This engagement can be established through encouraging interested parties to comment on and share posts, along with other indirect methods.  Below are four tips from the webinar and Environics’ past experience for building engagement, and ultimately, a successful social media presence:

  1. Create content that is relevant and dynamic. The first key to building quality engagement is creating content that is relevant and dynamic.  Customers will not follow you if they don’t see value in the information you’re providing.  Be sure to incorporate pictures and videos that make your content “pop.”  Share news and updates about things customers need to know, or that helps them understand your service and rates.  Examples include:
    • News about service disruptions and outages;
    • New infrastructure projects/the need to replace aging infrastructure;
    • Utility-hosted events and meetings;
    • Tips for how customers can improve their service and protect the environment/conserve resources; and
    • Information about rate structures and changes in rates (water is worth it, tell them why!).
  2. Promote your channels. Even relevant and dynamic content can go unnoticed if your target audience is not aware of your online presence.  Generating awareness is key, and can be done through a number of methods, such as incorporating social media handles and logos on bills, flyers, signage and your website.  In addition to the handles and logos, a “call to action” should be included that drives traffic to your social media channels.  For example, “For more news and information about your service, follow us on…”  Don’t assume customers will simply decide to follow you on their own.  Tell them where and how!
  3. Be consistent. Posting fresh content on a consistent basis is another key to driving engagement, but doing so requires a plan.  Content about the week’s important news and events should be prepared in advance, and supplemented as unforeseen events occur. Another method (that we use here at Environics) is maintaining a social media calendar containing important dates and events to publicize.  The calendar provides a framework for the type and amount of content we plan to post throughout the year, and serves as an overarching guide that keeps us on track.
  4. Be responsive. Lastly, but most importantly from a customer service perspective, you must be responsive to queries, comments and complaints from customers.  While the ability to engage with your community online is exceptionally valuable, it does come with some inherent risk.  Customers may complain or ask difficult questions in this public forum that will require timely responses (we generally advise within 24 hours at the longest).  Crucial to addressing these situations is having pre-prepared messaging and a “water-tight” social media policy that allows your channels to be objective and transparent, but intolerant of inappropriate comments.

By following these social media engagement tips, your utility can launch and maintain a robust online community, improving and building new relationships with customers.  Social media channels will allow you to control the conversation, educate your customers, correct misinformation and have a dialogue with the community you serve.

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