Whether it’s hurricanes, high winds, extreme heat or cold, every utility faces its own set of weather-related issues that can leave customers in the dark. More energy companies are using social media in their outage communications plans to reassure customers and share updates.

But some utilities may be wondering about the best practices in outage communications – are they posting the right information, at the right time, on the right channels, or even reaching the right customers.

Social media is an absolute must-have in our digital world. Customers will often visit your energy utility’s social media pages to find answers to questions or updates on service information before they ever click through to your website. This is why it’s important your social media is built up with appropriate links, FAQs and posts with relevant information that have your customers in mind.

When it comes to communicating outages, social media is your utility’s best friend. It allows you to provide quick updates so customers aren’t left in the dark. Continue reading for best practices in outage communications and examples.

What are outage communications?

Outage communications are an essential part of any energy utility’s marketing and communications strategy. When the power goes out, customers need answers. They look to your energy utility for explanations, details and estimated restoration times, in addition to safety and security protocols.

In the past, best practices in outage communication may have centered around emails, phone calls or even fax. Now, however, customers expect immediate updates via text alerts, real-time outage maps and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Best practices in outage communication

Power outages can leave customers concerned and confused, but your relevant, quick communications can help alleviate these feelings. Keeping customers informed of outages is generally the same across all platforms. You must:

  • Alert customers as soon as possible
  • Send follow-up links of outage maps or restoration times
  • Provide safety tips and suggestions
  • Respond to customer questions or concerns

Best practices in outage communication comes down to your utility making customers the top priority. Proactive and timely information is what social media is all about. The more you can tell customers about the situation, the better.

Its best to share information on multiple platforms including email, text, your website and social media to ensure your customers see the updates on the platform of their choosing. However, remember to post frequently on social media, as this is where customers tend to turn for quick information in today’s digital age.

How to use social media in your outage communication plan

Statistics show that 3.96 billion people currently use social media worldwide. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 72% of U.S. adults use at least one social media site, with 69% saying they use Facebook, 40% Instagram and 23% Twitter.

It’s important to have a social presence for various reasons, including:

  • Customer choice – It provides another way to meet customers where they are
  • More connection points – In addition to email or phone calls, now you can engage with customers on social media
  • Show humanity and brand personality – Customers want and expect to see more behind-the-scenes and genuine content on social media
  • Control the story – Your social media page, your story; control what customers see about your utility with a planned social media strategy
  • Overcome misinformation – “Facts” spread like wildfire on social media, which makes it all the more important to set the record straight quickly

It’s clear that social media isn’t going anywhere. While your energy utility doesn’t need to be on every single social media platform, it’s important you know which ones your customers are using so you can quickly reach them with pertinent information. We suggest using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for real-time updates and using YouTube to post and share proactive safety videos well in advance of an outage.

When using social media, keep in mind these best practices for outage communications:

  • Customers appreciate frequent, real-time updates rather than waiting for one large update. Doing so can help your utility see a reduction in call center traffic and customer frustration.
  • Use social media to drive customers to other important outage information, like your outage map or safety tips. It’s a good idea to keep one page of your website dedicated to this information.
  • Confirm when full restoration has been reached and thank customers for their patience. No one likes being in the dark – your communications and gratitude will help customers feel like they know what’s happening every step of the way.
  • Listen and respond – customers will often post questions or concerns on your utility’s social pages or posts. It’s important to not let these comments fall by the wayside. Respond accordingly with reassuring tones and as much information as you can, including links to your outage map, real-time restoration updates or safety tips.

Successful customer engagement on social media

At CS Week 2021, Oncor shared that their real-time updates were powerful contributors to increased follower counts after big-weather events. For example, they saw a 68% increase in Twitter followers during the five days of Texas storms earlier this year.

Customers want and expect replies to their comments or questions on social media and, more-so, expect them in a timely fashion. According to Statista, 47% of U.S. consumers have a more favorable view of brands that respond to customer questions or complaints on social media. Further, customers expect a response within one hour, yet 45% of brands take more than five days to respond to messages.

Replying quickly to customers with relevant information can lead to a positive customer experience, which in turn leads to:

  • Brand loyalty
  • Increased sales
  • Customer retention

When replying to customers, consider when to handle a situation publicly or privately. Many times, it helps to answer questions publicly for other customers to easily see the answers. Plus, this shows that you are, in fact, replying to comments. However, sometimes there is sensitive information involved, like requiring an account number or address to further investigate a situation. In these cases, publicly replying to the customer that the conversation should become private will still show your utility as a responsive resource, while keeping the customers’ information secure.

This is typically how Oncor handles situations as well. At CS Week 2021 they said that 93% of their customer service requests on social media are related to outages and 77% of those are posted publicly for all to see. Their goal, however, is to respond publicly with a personal note, but ultimately move it to a private chat.

Examples of outage communications on social media

Social Media Meteorologist – Facebook

Oncor hired a meteorologist specific to their social media team to report on real-time storms and outages in live videos and posts on their platforms. This is a unique approach to delivering relevant and quick information to customers.

Example of outage communications on social media

Listen and Respond – Facebook

In response to a post about crews working to restore power, many Duquesne Light Company customers had questions about when they could expect their power to be back. DLC quickly responded to comments about the expected restoration times and thanked customers for their patience.

Example of outage communications on social media

Be Proactive and Know Your Customers – Facebook

San Diego Gas & Electric knows that it has a wide variety of both English and Spanish speakers in its customer segments. Because of this, the utility is quick to post important safety messages in both languages, like this message on signing up for outage alerts.

Example of outage communications on social media
Example of outage communications on social media

Proactive Emergency Kit Video – YouTube

Help ensure your customers know what to do in case of emergency. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) made a helpful YouTube video showing how one family prepared an emergency kit. For many people, the list of standard emergency kit items may not be enough. Watching a video demonstration may get the point across.

The video also demonstrates an evacuation, reminding viewers that friends and family members outside the emergency area should be a point of contact to relay information whenever possible. Watch the video below:

Storm Safety Tips Video Series – YouTube

Duke Energy created a series of storm safety videos in both English and Spanish for their customers, sharing insights about what to do when there is a downed power line or a damaged meter box. The videos are short, which means customers are more likely to pay attention and watch the full video. A real employee of Duke narrates the video with a reminder, “Don’t worry, help is on the way.” Watch the full video series below:

How to Report an Outage – Twitter

ComEd frequently uses Twitter to share proactive outage communications. In the tweet below, the utility explains how to report an outage or get outage updates, showcasing a quick video to visually show customers how to do these things.

Example of outage communications on social media

Outage Update – Twitter

ComEd is also quick to use Twitter for real-time outage updates, including thanking customers for their patience. In this tweet, they inform customers that they are continuing to work on restoring power lost from a storm and link over to their outage center for more information.

Example of outage communications on social media

Outage Alert – Facebook

AEP Ohio quickly took to Facebook when an outage was reported in the city. In addition to alerting customers, the post also provided additional ways for customers to stay involved, including links to their outage map, text alerts and app.

Example of outage communications on social media

Outage Alert – Facebook

In the wake of outages due to a hurricane, Entergy posted this update on Facebook with a real-time picture of the damage. They let customers know that crew members were assessing the damage and will be working to restore power as it is safe to do so. Despite the fact that they were currently unable to give a restoration update, the utility clearly keeps customers updated with information as they can. The post also links to their newsroom site on the website with further updates about the storm restoration process.

Example of outage communications on social media

Use these best practices to develop your outage communications strategy. Learn how Questline Digital can help.

A social media strategy is an essential component of an energy utility’s digital marketing plan. You can provide real-time updates, share helpful information, receive feedback and connect directly with your customers. Most importantly, popular social media sites are where many customers spend their time online. In order to reach them, you need to spend time there, too.

To engage your audience and build a trusting relationship between your energy utility and social media followers, you’ll need to optimize what you post, when you post and where you post. Follow these best practices to make sure your social strategy earns shares and likes — and avoids getting unfriended.

Reach the right audience on the right platform

There are a lot of social media platforms out there, and it seems like a new one is generating buzz almost every week. Learning new platforms, creating accounts and managing all these profiles can be overwhelming, especially for time-strapped energy utility marketers.

The good news is, you don’t need to use every social media platform — just the ones that your customers use the most.

Facebook should be the primary focus for most energy utilities. It reaches the most residential customers and the widest audience overall. LinkedIn, meanwhile, is an ideal way to reach business customers. Posting on Twitter and Instagram can be effective, but these platforms aren’t essential to reach your audience.

  • With 2 billion users, Facebook is an ideal platform for reaching a residential audience.
  • LinkedIn has more than 575 million users, and 40% of users access it on a daily basis.
  • More than 80% of Instagram’s 1 billion users follow a business account.
  • There are more than 500 million tweets sent every day from Twitter’s 330 million users.

Use an appropriate voice on social

Social media platforms are more casual and conversational than other customer communication channels. You don’t want to come across as too stodgy, but you should also be true to your energy utility’s brand. Even when you’re being friendly and personable, you want to sound like a trusted community organization, not a sarcastic teenager.

Your energy utility should maintain the same voice, or personality, across all of your social media accounts. Aim to be authentic, helpful, knowledgeable and friendly each time you craft a social media post, regardless of the platform. But change your tone based on who you’re targeting and the situation at hand.

  • Residential customers want to be entertained, while business customers want to stay up to date on industry trends and news.
  • Be personable to delight and amuse your audience on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Be direct with clear and concise language when posting to LinkedIn.
  • Be sympathetic and understanding in your posts when addressing an outage, natural disaster or other crisis.

Pick the best times to post

Social media tends to be ephemeral. Messages are consumed within a fairly short window after being published, without a lot of staying power. In fact, studies have shown that most retweets on Twitter happen with the first hour after tweeting. As a result, you want to post when your customers are online to see it.

You can find loads of conventional wisdom about the best days and times to share posts, but each audience is different. To find out what works best for your customers, try posting at different times on multiple days throughout the week to see which posts get the most engagement. Those results can help inform your social media strategy moving forward.

These recommendations, based on Questline Digital performance metrics, can help you get started:

  • Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram posts shared on Sunday often see the worst engagement; the worst day for Twitter is Saturday.
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the best performing days overall.
  • Facebook posts perform well when posted from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • LinkedIn posts see the most engagement when shared from 8 to 10 a.m. and at noon Wednesday; at 9 a.m. and from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday; and at 9 a.m. Friday.
  • Instagram posts perform well when shared at 11 a.m. Wednesday and from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday.
  • Twitter posts perform best at 9 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday; posts shared weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. see high engagement as well.

Keep it short, sweet and visually engaging

Social media users enjoy posts that get to the point quickly and concisely. They want to easily understand what program you’re promoting or why they should click the link you shared. The shorter your message, the better chance you have of capturing their attention.

Even better than sharing a text-based post, try to draw your audience in with an eye-catching video, infographic, animated GIF or photo. Adding visual components to your social media posts makes them more engaging. When posts grab their attention, audiences interact more in the form of likes, comments and shares.

  • According to Questline Digital performance metrics, energy utility social media posts with videos, GIFs and images see the most engagement.
  • Posts with videos get 200% more likes, comments and shares than those with just links or no media at all.
  • Add a GIF or short infographic to your social media post to demonstrate a complex topic quickly and clearly with engaging visuals.

The right social media content can help you build a strong digital relationship with your audience — and ultimately increase customer satisfaction by making your energy utility relatable and accessible. By following these best practices, you can connect with customers on the platforms they use most, at the times they’re online and with the right information.

Learn how social media content from Questline Digital can build engagement with your customers.

Infographic shows the history of visual communications

What do you get when you combine masterful design, concise info, creativity and meaningful stats? The all-powerful, brain-delighting, popular infographic — an ideal visual format for social media sharing that is easily consumed by energy utility customers and a great way to explain complex topics.

Infographics are a big part of today’s content marketing landscape. Subscribe to any business or special interest digital newsletter, and you’ll likely see an infographic. These data visualizations tackle nearly all topics in every industry.

Their popularity among readers continues to grow. The competition for digital mindshare is fierce and attention spans are at an all-time low. Studies show the human attention span has, on average, hit 8.25 seconds — shorter than the common goldfish.

Infographics are designed to catch your eye. Many of them do. But to keep that attention, they must clearly and creatively convey key information.

Before we dive into what makes today’s infographics popular, let’s look at where it all started. The very first infographics were, more than likely, found in early human dwellings. You guessed it — we’re talking about cave drawings. Design experts believe the earliest examples of the art form can be found on prehistoric cave walls from 30,000 years ago, when early humans painted scenes featuring animals, nature, family life and more.

Ancient Egyptians’ well-known hieroglyphics, which visually depict stories of religion, daily life and work, are considered by many to be early forms of infographics. The later, more sophisticated Egyptian hieroglyphics combined a visual alphabet that formed word pictures — artful, visual communications that have stood the test of time.

As we fast forward to the 1700s, infographics are discovered in the forms of charts, graphs and even maps. Many of those look a bit like basic infographics of today. In this era, we see typography beginning to take on a central role in design.

In the 1750s, William Playfair, a Scottish inventor and engineer, is reported to have invented and published charts that included line graphics, pie charts, graphs and other forms of basic data visualizations to help people understand economic factors such as taxes, labor and product costs. As Playfair put it, “Data should speak to the eyes because they are the best judge of proportion, being able to estimate it with more quickness and accuracy.”

In an article by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, she explained, “Before Playfair’s time, words and drawings were two distinct ways of communicating that rarely converged. But as the burgeoning Enlightenment gave birth to modern science and the first traces of the Industrial Revolution, economists, engineers and historians found a need for a new language: One that could quantify data visually.”

French lawyer André-Michel Guerry took data visualization further in the 1830s through shading. He darkened areas on a city map where crime or illiteracy rates were higher and, as a result, developed data-driven social science.

Even the mother of modern nursing helped shape modern infographics. Polar area charts, a twist on the everyday pie chart, were invented by English nurse Florence Nightingale and William Farr, England’s premier statistician. They discovered many fatalities from the Crimean War occurred due to poor hygiene. By charting different colors to designate types of fatalities, Parliament and the queen could quickly see how essential hygiene was, prompting them to improve sanitary conditions.

Today’s infographics combine actionable data insights with striking visuals to catch attention and encourage engagement. In fact, people are 30 times more likely to read an infographic than a regular article. Plus, people remember 65% of the information on the pictures they see. As we continue to seek new ways to distill complex information into easy-to-consume stories, infographics will undoubtedly be a driving force in the future of marketing and communications.

Sources: Brain Rules, Branch Collective, Gizmodo, HubSpot, NeoMam, Smithsonian Magazine, Visually.

Connect with your utility’s customers using infographics from Questline Digital’s Content Catalog.