Why is the energy industry stalling on social?

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

Recent events have intensified the discussion around value versus investment, strategy, and broadcast against engagement in social media for consumer and well-known brands, but in niche and specialist industries this deliberation is even more pronounced. In this blog, we look specifically at social media use in the energy sector and the factors affecting widespread use and championing of social as an effective tool in the PR mix.

Energy is a broad and encompassing term, covering companies like Shell through to SME companies supplying solar panels or led lighting to localised areas. A global multi-national maybe on a different scale to a micro-business supplying and fitting energy efficient insulation but what does appear to be a consistent and unifying theme is the seeming lack of activity on social channels.

When researching potential clients, looking through their social media channels is one of our touchpoints and it’s this process which has highlighted the social silence; twitter accounts with the last tweet in November 2016, links to Facebook pages from websites with a 404 not found error, Christmas messages on LinkedIn pages. It’s a social ghost town. But why?

Maximising public support for renewable energy

With a record 82% of the public supporting renewable energy it seems obvious for businesses to capitalise on this good favour and push out impactful communications that further the public’s support. Public policy engagement and shaping public perception has, and continues to be, a challenge for the energy industry so why, with social being a direct link to their publics, isn’t it being widely used by the energy industry to shape the narrative around production, use and benefits?

This avoidance could be down the fact that social media – particularly twitter – is viewed and used as a customer service tool; a criticism response mechanism more than an integral part of the public relations mix. According to Ella Minty, reputation and stakeholder management adviser, the way we use social and the type of posts that typically attract attention means energy companies, when they do try to communicate, aren’t doing in the right way for their audience:

“Social media is for fun, discussion, controversy, complaints and social interactions.

Understanding how a company generates and uses energy is not enough – many do and couldn’t care less. Today, negative and sensationalism sell. Positive and beautiful don’t – and there is plenty of neuroscientific research to draw upon in support of this comment. Human stories and how anything a company does may directly affect an individual will always supersede “we’ve invested £100,000,000 in wind power generation”.

Conversely, telling them that the £100,000,000 invested would mean that their monthly electricity bill will decrease by x%, therefore allowing them to save faster for that wonderful beach holiday or weekend treat, will resonate far better than any other “corporate speak” might. We need to speak with our publics in a language they understand, conveying the messages in a form that resonates with them, allaying their worries and eliminating their misconceptions.”

Ella believes that to overcome this hurdle and reconnect with their publics on social, energy companies must go back to the fundamentals of good PR – research and analysis.

“Social media to me is an interaction platform with those I am interested in – people or brands, not with those who are interested in grabbing my attention by whichever means necessary. The first rule of strategy in Public Relations teaches us about the paramount importance of research and analysis. “Research” for the energy companies’ engagement should not necessarily mean the information consumption channels of the masses, but the latter’s preference for information about your company, your services, your generation and use of energy. Nothing can replace the potency of a very well structured and information laden company website. If someone is really interested to learn what a company does/says/invests in, that’s usually their first port of call.”

Combining the who, why and how for effective energy communications

With the right foundations and strategy in place there’s no reason why communicating information around the world’s evolving energy supply couldn’t be a big green opportunity just waiting to be exploited according to communications adviser, Paddy Blewer:

“Energy companies solve massive challenges to global society. We all need secure, clean and affordable energy. Energy firms can credibly communicate about issues that are relevant to pretty much everyone. Energy firms have three big advantages when it comes to high impact communications. The “why” and “what” of the energy industry can both create great communications product and there is a well-established existential driver to communicate.

Again, energy firms have a big advantage, as the “what” is often great raw material for communications. The inherently dramatic nature of the global energy industry – enormous structures, deeply complex engineering systems – lend themselves to high impact communications product. Combine the “why” and “what” effectively and you have great campaign material, which can have exceptional visual impact with the correct creative content production.

Finally, there’s the motivation. Many energy companies live or die by their commitment to the concept of “Permission / Licence to operate”. They might not be directly selling anything to consumers but they institutionally understand that comms is vital to long term success.

Combine all three aspects and you’ve got comms gold.”

That last point on comms as a necessary cog in the wheel of lasting success is key to overcoming the challenges social media presents for the energy industry. Notoriously corporate, the energy sector is plagued by business-speak – brilliant successes and achievements happening within the business are often lost amongst by ‘innovative solutions’. Social, as Ella mentions above, is a place for interaction beyond the confines b2b and b2c, there we communicate on far more colloquial terms and as such energy companies need to add ‘how’ into the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. This is where the value of PR support can shine through and support both large and small firms to share the right messages in a way that connects and which services to improve overall reputation and encourage buy-in across social platforms.