Surviving an electrical fire(storm)


Image retrieved from Flickr

How to recover when you haven’t responded effectively to communication demands during a power outage and everyone is looking…

The energy industry is as susceptible to social media firestorms as any other industry and electricity companies suddenly become of interest when their product is not available.  Unexpected loss of electricity is a fast reminder of how important it is and how much we rely on it.

Sharing critical information quickly with consumers is now easier for energy companies than it has ever been.  And nowadays – it is expected.  Drawing on my experience of responding quickly, effectively and through the right channels with accurate information on power outages, coupled with recent academic research, I’ve compiled information designed to help you respond, whatever your social media maturity.

Be prepared- start now

In order to emerge in a positive light or at the very least unscathed when demand for information suddenly peaks, like during a power outage, energy companies should have a social media crisis plan.  There is a lot of good information on how to handle organisational social media to prepare for this.  One particular framework, the ‘honeycomb’ provides detail on seven building blocks (identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups) which can be used to develop an appropriate social media strategy (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011)

Not prepared?  Keep your cool

If you are in the middle of a power outage and your efforts have been focussed on restoring power and not on communicating updates to your customers, you might find yourself in the middle of a social media firestorm as unhappy customers express their anger through your social media presence.  Research shows that an important part of reacting to an online firestorm is to “retain composure and continue to communicate and interact”  (Zorbach, Carley, & Pfeffer, 2014) .

When the German bank ING-Diba were faced with an onslaught on their Facebook page they kept calm and social media commentators praised their composure and confidence and noted their response may have strengthened their brand.

 Say something

Failure to respond is perhaps the worst approach.  Make sure you provide regular updates on what customers should expect and respond to their questions quickly.  One of the more famous social media firestorm failures was for the company Kryptonite.  A high profile product failure lead to blogs, then more blogs, local newspapers articles and even the New York Times ran a story and the company did not bother to respond at all.

This too shall pass

In this fast moving world of social media and online news stories your social media crisis will soon be yesterday’s news.  Recently with the tragic Paris attacks, the hash tag #ParisAttacks trended globally for only six hours. As newer stories grab attention, attention to your situation will decline.  Keep responding and then think about what you have learned and what you might need to change to be in a better position going forward.

Create fan networks (Zorbach, Carley, & Pfeffer, 2014)

In order to build up your brand and reputation you need networks of people outside of your organisation that can spread positive messages on your behalf.  If you have a good base of customers that trust you, you are in a strong position if a crisis should occur.  Do not wait until you need advocates, focus on your social media presence now when you have the time to plan and develop a long term strategy.

It could never happen to me

In denial that your company would ever end up in this situation?  Do this helpful exercise to remind yourself of how your customers might feel during a power outage…

Turn off and unplug everything from the power sockets in your house.

I’ll tell you when you can plug things back in.

Or maybe I won’t.

I used Storify to collect the research for my blog.  For more information please check it out.


Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Science Direct, 241 – 251.
Zorbach, T., Carley, K. M., & Pfeffer, E. (2014). Understanding online firestorms: Negative word-of-mouth dynamics in social media networks. Journal of Marketing Communications, 117-128.




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