In the utility and energy industry, Reliant Energy probably is one of the very few early entrants to social media sphere. The January Chartwell newsletter (http://www.chartwellinc.com) featured its “hub-and-spoke” model. This newsletter is available only to its service subscribers. The following is a summary of the articile.
Reliant Energy, based in Houston, TX, is an electricity retail arm of NRG, which owns and operates nearly 26,000 MW of generation capacity. The company officially launched a single social media platform www.energyinyourlife.com on December 7, 2010. The objective is to help forging lasting bonds with people, by contributing to the dialog on topics of interest relating its expertise. Leading up to the official launch, the Company’s preparation took several steps:
Step One. Listening
Prior to the official launch, the Company took approximately 6 months to employ Nielson Buzz Metrics listening tool to help understand the target audience.
Step Two. Developing the Plan
The Company engaged Schematic to assess the research, identify channels and determine the direction.
“The approach developed was a hub-and-spoke’ model. The site www.energyinyourlife.com was the center of the hub and spoke model, which gives Reliant the opportunity to control the conversations that it supports with content and advance and valuable information.” All its presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and flickr is integrated into this single platform.
Based on the plan Schematic had developed, the first phase was to create engagement and eventually connecting users with their own personal profiles, so ultimately making Reliant’s overall presence in the marketplace more engaging and more relationship-oriented.
Step Three. Implementing the Plan
The Company decided to use LiveWorld’s social network platform (http://www.liveworld.com). The software was customized to integrate with Reliant’s website. “It has its own content management so it ahs its own login right now”, according to Sicily Dickenson, Director of Marketing Communications of Reliant Energy. “Over time we may integrate it even further. It was the fastest way to market… because we have no idea if the site components we have up today are going to be the things that people will want to use in the future… It offers a lot of the interactive components that we can easily add or subtract.”
Another key component of the implementation was to create an internal social media organization. Three full-time social media staff members were brought into the market communications department. These employees monitor and respond to online posts, write articles, and create content for the site. Another 15 to 20 employees support the program as subject matter experts or advocates. This group of people has not only been debunking myths that float around cyberspace, but also initiating and defining conversations – “everything from what’s going on in the community to who’s got the newest EV car, actions people can take in the summer to help lower their bills, and the various tools that are available out there”.
According to Chartwell, Reliant seeks to learn from its users and deliver the most value to the centralized site. Issues to be explored include determining the extent of customer interest in engaging in conversations. The Company noted that roughly about 85% of users are readers only and do not participate in discussions. This could lead to a different approach such as the use of more blogs.