Twitter and Public Utilities | Social Media Conference Coverage

Martin Murray, senior corporate news representative for Public Service of New Hampshire started out by talking about how social media is changing news coverage. When a transformer caught on fire, and Martin got there every other person in the crowd had a phone and was updating their own personal networks. His job is to respond to the media, but the media wasn’t looking for the utility reps – they were covering it on their own.

[This post is one in a series from Ragan’s Social Media Revolution Conference, which took place in Chicago on June 24-26.
Browse my social media conference coverage.]

Why and how @psnh used twitter.

In May 2007, Martin couldn’t imagine why anyone would use twitter. Started in April 2008.

The first followers they had were from the media, New Hampshire Public Radio and The Nashua Telegraph.

First tweets were about significant outages: July 2008 tornado.

The December 11, 2008 ice storm gave them an opportunity to give updates and answers about the 320,000 customers without power. Although they couldn’t tell people when they’d get their power back, they were providing information. Set up an online newsroom to link to a new section that they’d created to quickly and easily update Ice Storm 08. Made tremendous progress, given the damage, but it took almost two weeks to get full power back to everyone on Christmas Eve.

Twitter followers went from about 100 to 1900 followers after the storm hit.

The National Telegraph took a report they were producing and posting on the newsroom and posted it as well, including the numbers before and after.

PSNH doesn’t have a social media department – two people each took 12 hour shifts. They developed relationships with their twitter followers. It was okay for people to vent, being without power for that long is a lot to ask.

Twitter is an easy way to save material and to create Twitter data with tools like TweetStats. They really do assist you in creating and maintaining fairly positive relationships.

Other social media tools used in the state’s worst natural disaster . . .

It was tougher and tougher as they got into it to make people understand how bad it was. One of the ways they felt they could communicate with their customers was to get pictures of the physical damage. Worked with a videographer to do a professional interview and get it up on YouTube the same day. Turned out to be invaluable. Showed president, Gary Long, onsite talking about the damage and what they were doing to get the power back on.


On Flickr, they set up a group for image uploads. PSNH is on Facebook, but only using the tool because they can. They’re still grappling with it and trying to figure out what to do. Set up FriendFeed, online newsroom – interesting in a number of ways. Still have a bit of gap between IT and communications as a regulated company with a firewall. Basically as a work around, they set up a completely offsite newsroom that’s on outside servers so they can populate and modify from anytime, anywhere.

One of the things they knew was coming was an investigation from the regulators. PSNH produced a report called “Record Outage: Record Recovery” that told the story from the utility’s perspective. Martin took the pdf and posted it in the newsroom and shortened the link to After posting the link on twitter, they got 1,000 views the first day and 11,000 the next – huge for them. Several of the media that followed them used their own link – so there’s no way to know the total number of downloads.

Traditional outreach included emailing news releases. Press conferences were conference calls.

Because of the report and twitter ,they were able to blunt criticism. There are four other utilities in New Hampshire – another one was creamed in terms of not having any social media tools, communications, customer service response and web updates. Because they were having that conversation, that was a positive thing. Same damage, same situation, PSNH came through with some begrudging admiration. At least two towns have cited PSHN as giving them the idea to be on twitter.

Being on twitter should be about helping with business objectives, like linking to images of a mock oil spill drill.

Lindt chocolate factory will be producing chocolate in the US and came to PSNH to talk about how to burn one ton of cocoa bean shells in place of burning coal. They released a press release, posted on twitter to watch a test burn: two people showed up, but two other significant stories appeared that included the photos they had posted on flickr. “It was the kind of story you dream about – the home run.” If you provide the material to the media, there’s a good chance they’ll use it.

What’s next . . . build more internal support for twitter to demonstrate and educate, enable and empower other employees, continue to engage customers’ conversations and utilize tools to monitor and engage in conversations.


Note: Lightly edited transcript based on Barbara Rozgonyi’s reporting. May contain inaccuracies and typos. Also missing other opinions; please add yours.

Thanks to Ragan Communications for the ticket and to CME Group for hosting!

Social media conference coverage.

Read #ragansocmed, @wiredprworks twitter coverage or browse all #ragansocmed coverage.


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