Friday, January 22, 2010

How Twitter Helped a Utility Manage a Crisis

At this week’s Utility Communicators International meeting in New Orleans, Glen Thomas, communications and public relations supervisor at Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), spoke about how his company experienced a more than 500 percent increase in Twitter traffic in less than three days.

Prior to June of 2009, MLGW had about 200 Twitter followers and the company used the channel to casually chat with customers about outages and safety information. This all changed on June 12, 2009, when a Tornado ripped Memphis knocking out power to 140,000 customers, 120 schools, 37 nursing homes and 90 industrial facilities.

After the storm hit, Thomas said the company began to Twitter updates about restoration. The difference this time – the masses were more engaged than ever before. Within three days, the MLGW Twitter feed went from 200 to 1,200 followers. The volume of Twitter traffic was so high that the company had to set up a primary Tweeter for the day and night shifts.

Thomas said the company also had to set Twitter update hours to avoid customer frustration. He noted that customers would direct message his Twitter pros well into the evening to find out recovery estimates for their homes.

Thomas’ Twitter lessons learned from the experience:
  • Can serve as another valuable customer service tool during a crisis
  • Great way to control rumors (At one point during the storm it was rumored that restoration was delayed while waiting for parts from China. MLGW’s Twitter feed corrected this rumor.)
  • You must set update hours in order to avoid customer frustration and communicate this clearly with your followers
  • Use Twitter tools to help the conversation: Tweetdeck, TwitterCounter
  • There is a daily tweet limit (MLGW was shut down one evening when it reached the daily limit)
  • Twitter is a great way to reach reporters (Journalists often retweeted MLGW posts)
  • Twittering during a crisis can eat up significant staff time, be prepared

The MLGW Twitter feed now has more than 2,000 followers and is a primary source for customers.

- Potomac Communications Group

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