Any good communicator will tell you that the secret is not just what you communicate but how you communicate it, and the business world, including the natural gas utility industry, is beginning to understand that social media—blogs like True Blue Natural Gas, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like—can play a valuable role in helping companies communicate with their key audiences.
A story in the May issue of American Gas magazine illustrates this point perfectly. One of AGA’s member companies, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) in Memphis, TN, saw an opportunity to use its Twitter account, which it had started in 2008 with little fanfare or following, to communicate with its customers in the wake of a terrible storm and tornado that knocked out power to about 140,000 customers—about one-third of MLGW’s customer base—in the Memphis area. Since Twitter can be accessed from a cell phone, Blackberry and iPhone in addition to a computer, MLGW could “tweet” to its customers, regardless of where they were, updates on the power outages, power restoration efforts, number of workers in the field, safety tips, and even contact information to get more comprehensive reports.
According to Glen Thomas, the communications and public relations supervisor at MLGW and author of the story in American Gas, the number of MLGW’s Twitter followers quickly went from about 220 to 1,500 and at one point MLGW even got a message from Twitter that the company had exceeded its tweet limit for that day.
But MLGW also got lots of messages back from customers wanting more information, including when they could expect power to be restored in their own homes, so MLGW began tweeting back, giving customers more specific updates on when a particular neighborhood might expect service restored.
MLGW’s use of Twitter even attracted local media attention; local television stations and newspapers did stories on MLGW’s use of Twitter, which was both good public relations and free advertising.
Now that the storm has literally and figuratively blown over, MLGW plans to continue to use Twitter for a variety of communications objectives, including tweeting about energy efficiency, conservation tips, community events and the like. Feedback from customers via Twitter is also being carefully monitored as a way to determine customer satisfaction with the company.
Yes, there are challenges, including staffing and time, but because Twitter is, quite literally, an instant communications tool—messages cannot exceed 140 characters—it is a way for companies to get and receive information quickly and succinctly. It certainly seems to be working well for Memphis, Light, Gas and Water. The company’s Twitter followers (and you can be one of them at www.twitter.com/mlgw) now number 2,500—and growing.