San Diego is home to many companies considered to be social media powerhouses. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is one of them, literally. SDG&E provides energy service to over 3.4 million customers in San Diego and southern Orange counties and employs about 5,000 individuals. Not to mention, they interact with customers on almost every social platform available.
Fandom Marketing had the pleasure of interviewing the SDG&E social media team and learned how they use the power of social to connect with customers online. David Lawrence, social media and web manager along with Noël Ehlers, social media and digital communications manager share their expertise on managing an award-winning social media program. Discover how the SDG&E social media community has grown exponentially over a short time, how they’ve managed to engage with customers in ways they never imagined and more in this awesome interview.
BWF: What does the SDG&E social media program look like?
We’re big on the two-way aspect that social provides.
SDG&E: If you were to see an icon line-up, it’s the usual suspects: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn. But if you were to dig deeper, you’d see that the SDG&E social media program would be part of a larger, integrated communications strategy; a way for the company to communicate and engage our customers and stakeholders. We’re big on the two-way aspect that social provides.
BWF: How does your brand build online community? OR, how do you connect your brand to fans?
To provide that value we need to provide timely and relevant information to our community. We share information about how to save on your energy bill, as well as answering customer questions, including outage-related questions in real time.
SDG&E: It’s important to SDG&E to combine proactive and reactive communications. Put another way, we answer customers’ questions, as well as share information about our company. Building that online community is about providing value. At the end of the day, we are who we are: we deliver energy to San Diego and southern Orange Companies. While that is extremely important, we can’t compete with news services or other companies that people LOVE (see Starbucks, Apple, et. al.). So to provide that value we need to provide timely and relevant information to our community. For example, we share information about how to save on your energy bill, as well as answering customer questions, including outage-related questions in real time.
BWF: What has been your biggest challenge?
It takes a dedicated staff – some would say partly crazy – to answer questions at all times of the day and night.
SDG&E: We’re a pretty small group, but delivering energy is 24/7. We may go home at “5 p.m.,” however, a number of customers ask us questions after hours. It takes a dedicated staff – some would say partly crazy – to answer questions at all times of the day and night. Thank goodness for mobile phones and Wi-Fi.
BWF: What is your biggest success?
We grew our base of followers from 1,700 to more than 17,000 in a few hours (we’re proud to report we’ve retained most of them, and have even grown to 19,000+ since then).
SDG&E: On Sept. 8th, 2011 all the power went out in San Diego County, as well as places up California, Mexico and Arizona. It quickly became clear that people couldn’t communicate via traditional channels (TV, radio, computers, etc.). Online became critical, especially since people could use their mobile phones. We were able to update our website, SDGE.com, as well as communicate via Twitter. We started a hashtag early on (#sdoutage), and communicated every few minutes.
We tweeted updates, safety information, and restoration information. It was great to have that channel available to us. We grew our base of followers from 1,700 to more than 17,000 in a few hours (we’re proud to report we’ve retained most of them, and have even grown to 19,000+ since then). But it also showed the power of social, as the conversation continued throughout San Diego (a crowdsource, if you will), as strangers helped strangers with information, and it really connected communities and neighbors like never before.
BWF: How do you measure success?
We’d rather have 10,000 HIGHLY ENGAGED followers, than people who might ignore our posts.
SDG&E: Analytics are big for us, and we measure everything we do. We use a few mainstream tools to analyze and measure our social efforts, but true success is hard to measure. For some, having 100,000 Facebook likes is a measure of success. While that would be great, we’d rather have 10,000 HIGHLY ENGAGED followers, than people who might ignore our posts.
BWF: How big is your social media team? Who does it?
SDG&E: One full-time employee, and another who manages all digital for the organization (web, mobile, social, email, etc.). We also have engaged our Call Center, which helps with the customer service aspect of our social program.
BWF: Where do you get content? Who curates it? Do you use user generated content and how?
Our team gets out our virtual tin cup and asks employees for the facts on what they are doing.
SDG&E: Anywhere and everywhere. We are a large company that does a lot of good things in the community and work on innovative projects. We are good at what we do, but we tend to be a little shy about talking about it. So our team gets out our virtual tin cup and asks employees for the facts on what they are doing. No employee is safe and we’ll take anything! In this sense we are like traditional journalists, hitting the pavement to see what is newsworthy, what is going on, etc. An editorial calendar helps with this, as well. We do not use UGC.
BWF: What changes in digital marketing have impacted your business? What has surprised you the most about it?
SDG&E: The adoption of social media has helped us reach customers like never before. It gives us access to places and at times that we couldn’t have 10 or even five years ago. Email is the glue that holds all digital together; our customers really like this channel. That’s a little surprising in that it seems more immediate (SMS/Twitter) communication trends higher in what you read in trade publications.
BWF: What makes a brand successful in today’s environment?
The most important measure is customer satisfaction.
SDG&E: If you look at all the top brands in the world, e.g. the ones we mentioned, Apple, Starbucks, as well as others like Nordstrom’s, Coke, Nike, etc., one common denominator of their success, the most important measure, is customer satisfaction. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO just gave an interesting interview on 60 Minutes (link), and he was talking about the longevity of a brand. But the core of what he was talking about was customer satisfaction and talking about ways to increase customer satisfaction (the interview is a must-watch as they talk about drones delivering goods within 30 minutes of submitting an order).
Social gives us a fabulous opportunity to improve customer satisfaction as we connect with customers and help them and resolve issues, and serve them like never before. It shows a human element that we hadn’t been able to show before.
“Social gives us a fabulous opportunity to improve customer satisfaction…and serve them like never before.” ~@SDGE http://t.co/ifb1DPjluE
— Fandom Marketing (@FandomMarketing) January 7, 2014
BWF: What one big lesson have you learned that you wish you could teach others? OR, what advice would you give to marketers?
Not every customer is on social, wants to communicate this way, and it is not magic.
SDG&E: Social media is not a silver bullet to solve all business problems. It’s another tool – albeit a powerful one – in the communications tool box, but it has to be integrated with other channels as well. Not every customer is on social, wants to communicate this way, and it is not magic. It’s a lot of hard work, and it pays off.
BWF: Successful social media strategy changes all the time; how do you stay current on social media trends?
We measure what works and doesn’t work and adapt and change for what works for us.
SDG&E: We are by no means perfect, so we are big believers in the Plan-Create-Publish-Analyze lifecycle. We measure what works and doesn’t work and adapt and change for what works for us. As far as industry trends, we love SlideShare!
BWF: What strategy or posts have you found work best for getting responses from fans?
SDG&E: The spirit of social is the two-way communication, so instead of just speaking at customers, when we ask questions and ask opinions we get more engagement from our customers.
Meet the Experts: David Lawrence & Noël Ehlers
David Lawrence is a native San Diegan (go Chargers!) and manages SDG&E’s web group, responsible for its external and internal websites, social media, email and other digital assets.
Noël Ehlers (@nehlerssd) is also a native San Diegan (go Padres!) and manages SDG&E’s social media program, responsible for daily community engagement and implementing SDG&E’s social media strategy. She loves helping individuals and organizations embrace social media.
You can connect with them on Twitter @SDGE and on Facebook.
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I like their thinking! Plan – Create – Publish – Analyze. That is some pretty dedicated staff to be available off hours to answer questions! They must really love the service they are providing… like a lifeline if you will. Thanks for sharing some “powerhouse” tips!
Thanks for reading, Joann. Glad you enjoyed the interview.
Excelent example of customer engagment. I rely on Twitter first for emergency information–it is much faster. Great post, too!
Thanks for your comment, Suzette. Isn’t it a great example? I also rely on Twitter if I want to find out what’s going on, especially in emergency or traffic situations. When the 163 freeway was closed on Thanksgiving Day, I went straight to Twitter to find out what was going on. It’s amazing how quickly information spreads through social media.
good stuff, so nice to see even the big guys doing it right!