Utilities more into social media than ever

Social media are critical in reaching customers during power outages but also in providing energy savings tips, bill pay and other customer engagement services

Electric utilities in the U.S. are expanding their use of social media and mobile applications to improve smart grid benefits and better engage with their customers. Of the 50 largest utilities, 49 currently have active Twitter accounts, all have Facebook accounts and 15 have mobile apps.

These media are critical in reaching customers during power outages but also in providing energy savings tips, bill pay and other customer engagement services, according to a new study published by Northeast Group, LLC.

The study found that for social media, on average utilities had over 11,000 Twitter followers (just 0.8 percent of customers), tweeted 36 times per week, and responded to customer comments within 28 minutes. The top three utilities for social media were Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW), Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Dominion.

The study identified a correlation between the quality of a utility's social media activity and the level of engagement of their customers. Over a one-week period, 40 of the top 50 utilities responded to customer comments via Twitter. Over the same period, 33 of the 50 utilities provided energy savings tips for customers and 20 of the 50 posted safety tips.

Among the 50 utilities, 15 had mobile apps and 43 had at least a mobile website. The top three utilities for mobile apps were San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), MLGW and Con Edison. This ranking included the functionality and quality of these utilities' mobile apps. Increased operational data, or "big data," is enabling utilities to improve their mobile apps.

Utilities are developing their own mobile apps and social media content and are also working with third parties. Key third-party vendors covered in the study include Nest, Opower, Schneider Electric, SAP, Aclara, C3 Energy, Belkin, Tendril, Simple Energy, Bidgely, Ecobee and others with mobile and customer engagement platforms.

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