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Have you noticed shifts in the way you use social media?

blue lockI’ve been sharing more snapshots of my life on Instagram, not Facebook. I leave my account open since I tend to tag local museums, parks, and bookstores. But most of my friends’ accounts are private.

Messenger has grown more important for me, too. Why post something to everyone I’m connected to on Facebook when I only want to share it with 5 or 6 friends? And with more than 1,500 possible posts to see every time I check Facebook, I find myself less willing to add to the masses. If I have a thought about a TV show or my child makes a cute comment, I’ve started sharing via Facebook Stories. If someone sees it in the next day? Great. But no one will see it when it’s old news.

My personal preferences echo national trends. This week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared his privacy-focused vision for social networking.

His team of developers are busy building a new social network—one focused on privacy.

“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever,” Mark says.

To accommodate this shift, Facebook will focus on the messaging branch of social media.

“We plan to … make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services,” Mark says.

What Does This Mean for Utilities?

1. Our members will have conversations without us.

This has been happening for years in closed Facebook groups. With Facebook’s shift toward more privacy, it will become increasingly hard to use social listening tools to find out what people are saying about our brands, much less respond. Last week NPR wrote about how anger on social media can be contagious. Without being in the room to share correct information and help our members, problems can quickly escalate and trigger unhappiness in other members.

We must find as many ways as possible to reach consumers with the real story. Our websites should be responsive, accessible, and simplified. And we need to understand what may be fueling anger after an outage. I’ve seen more than a few communicators (and lineworker’s family members) react defensively to a comment online. In some cases, it’s not about you. It’s the medium. We must train staff on how to handle social comments.

2. We love Facebook, but we must be socially nimble.

There is increasingly more research on how leaving Facebook improves mental health (thanks, Stanford). My husband left Facebook last year, and never looked back. (Well, that’s not entirely true. He looks over my shoulder sometimes.)The way we communicate changed over the last decade. If people are not connecting on one social network, they use another. We must be socially nimble, ready to adapt to changes as they come. At Ruralite, we are ramping up our social media support program to add better listening, analytics, and social management options. When a new social channel pops up, we’ll be ready. So will you.

3. Messaging will become a powerful way to serve members.

New guidelines in 2019 mean consumers must start the conversation. This doesn’t have to be restricted to outage questions or new service requests, though. You can use Messenger to book energy-audit appointments, send reminders and share follow-up tips and surveys. Social Media Examiner has good tips on using Messenger.No matter how you use it, be ready to respond on Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct, and other messaging platforms. Good news on that front—all of Facebook’s messaging platforms will be streamlined in the near future.

4. Deliver an experience.

While we will still share information through social networks, it’s important to use other tools to engage consumers. Get involved in community events. Want your consumers to become more energy efficient? Send them helpful tools. Provide content consumers value across many mediums. As we discovered in our reader survey last year, print is alive and well. When asked about the role of print in a digital world, Terri White, editor of the film magazine Empire, sums it up beautifully.

“In this increasingly digitized world, you cannot underestimate how much people just want to feel something real,” Terri says.

I’m writing an article for NWPPA’s Bulletin magazine about how to harness Facebook Messenger to improve customer service. If you are using chatbots, Instant Replies, or a Welcome Greeting, I’d love to hear about your experience!