Here’s an excerpt from our March 16 webinar: Consumer Perception of Outage Communication. Miss it? A recording is in our inspiration archives.
Before the pandemic, I had the privilege of conducting consumer focus groups as part of my graduate research. One item my thesis adviser hammered with me was: “Choose a topic that you can get comfortable with because you are going to spend a lot of time with it.” Boy, wasn’t he right? I lost count of how many hours I spent on the corner of a quaint coffee shop in Edmond, Oklahoma, sipping a delicious latte and reading, scrolling, listening and writing all about social media use during power outages. I had to get comfy with my coffee and my thesis topic!
After nearly two years of reading, assessing and planning, the highlight of my research was visiting face-to-face with consumer-members at four electric cooperatives in rural Oklahoma about their social media use during power outage events. Listening to members and interacting with them was rewarding.
The purpose of my research was to gain understanding of consumers’ information seeking practices by utilization of social media platforms during outage situations. After writing 59 pages on the topic, I came to three conclusions.
1. Need for Information
In the information society we live in, consumers are craving for communication. They are active seekers of information. Of the 96% of Americans who own mobile devices, 81% own a smartphone. Need for information is inherently connected to the ease of accessibility on consumers’ fingertips.
2. Consumer Expectations
When it relates to a situation that causes an immediate inconvenience — the loss of electricity — consumers expect information. When a utility maintains a social media presence, and if information is not shared via their social media sites regarding outages, the lack of communication may cause frustration, disappointment and consumer dissatisfaction.
3. Connection to Utility
The study revealed the exchange of information between the utility and the consumer fostered positive dialogue and empathy from the consumer, with most consumers expressing gratitude for line crews. Conversely, when consumers seek information and don’t find it, the connection between consumer and electric utility could be weakened.
While this research was conducted in 2019, many trends were strengthened in 2020. As we navigate a “new normal” during a disruptive pandemic, outages still take place and consumers still use social media platforms, perhaps with greater frequency.
This winter, Oklahoma was one of many states experiencing record-low temperatures for 12 consecutive days. We went as low as minus 22 with wind chills as low as minus 36. These extraordinary circumstances caused demand to exceed available power supply.
I found myself communicating about coordinated interruptions of service (controlled outages) for the first time in my career.
One recent morning, I sat comfortably on my home office chair to write about outages and monitor social media response. After one minute of seating, power went out. I was one of the lucky ones on the rotation of outages. However, I had also just made me a cup of hot coffee, so all was well. I had my coffee, a comfy spot and outages. Déjà vu.
Want to learn more about Anna’s research? Our eBook collaboration, “Social Storms”, summarizes her findings.
Anna Politano is the director of public relations and communications at the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives based in Oklahoma City. She earned her Master of Arts degree in media management from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 2019. She spoke to Pioneer Brand Storyteller Megan McKoy-Noe about her thesis findings at a webinar in March 2021. Watch a recording in our inspiration archives: WordSouth.com/tag/webinar-archive.