Kate Peabody and Michele Ralston of Greater Cincinnati Water Works will be presenting on this topic at the 2012 American Water Works Association Annual Conference & Exhibition in Dallas, Texas, Wednesday, June 13 at 9:15am. Learn more about all of CH2M HILL’s AWWA ACE activities and presentations.
Outreach to and engagement of stakeholders has become increasingly important for water and wastewater utilities as infrastructure and capital improvement projects are needed; rate structures are changed; growing populations need more service; and environmental and security concerns are raised to the forefront of public debates. In this dynamic environment, it is important that utilities professionals use the most effective and dynamic communication tools available to connect with stakeholders and their community on an ongoing basis. Categorized generically as social media, these tools enable a mutually beneficial and crucial dialogue between stakeholders and utilities.
Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) is a great example of a utility that built its case for social media and is now finding value in implementation. GCWW workforce and customer base, like many water utilities, ranges from Baby Boomers to Millennials. Each generation has communication preferences from how they receive news and information to how they seek it out. In essence this divide rests at the core of a water utility’s business processes, from billing to recruiting to infrastructure replacement and more.
In the spring of 2010, GCWW established a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube Channel. About 10 months later, a 6 hour training session was held for senior staff and a separate session was held for middle managers and other key support staff. Training was conducted by an outside firm in partnership with GCWW’s Chief Communications Officer. Participants were given an overview of social media, presented with business case examples as well as success examples the utility had experienced to date. Lastly, attendees were asked to brainstorm on ways social media could be used throughout the organization to enhance communication with customers and the community.
Since implementing social media training and sites, a change in organizational thinking has occurred at GCWW, and it’s growing. An editorial calendar has been assembled using ideas from the brainstorming sessions. Engineering is exploring Twitter to update customers about construction projects and main replacements. Discussions are underway to develop a team of senior call center staff to monitor social media and with real time response to customer tweets and Facebook posts. And GCWW is exploring the idea of a social media team with representation in key areas such as distribution for main breaks and leaks, engineering for construction projects, recruiting and more. In addition, the potential of social media is now being explored within goal teams developing GCWW’s latest Strategic Business Plan.
Social media is proving their worth to the utilities community. While many utility communication officers, like Michele Ralston of GCWW, understand the value of social media and are looking to implement programs, many utilities have yet to implement a social media program. This can be due to a variety of reasons (founded or unfounded) including constrained budgets and resources, limited understanding of the tools, fear of change or legal ramifications, message and user control, audience participation, and many more.
Michele and my AWWA ACE presentation will guide communications professionals in addressing the most common objections and making the case for a social media program for his or her utility or public works. The goal is for attendees to be able to immediately go home and begin putting together their utility’s case for using social media so that they can win over management and begin implementing their own social media program in conjunction with their communications plan.
Questions about implementing a social media program at your utility? Email me at email@example.com.
Kate Peabody is in marketing and communications for the CH2M HILL Water Business Group based in Englewood, CO, for whom she strategizes and runs social media programs, including the CH2M HILL Access Water blog, public relations, and internal communications, among other responsibilities. She has given numerous industry presentations on how public works and utilities can effectively utilize social media. She has a bachelor’s in communication from Santa Clara University and a MBA in environmental policy and management from the University of Denver.Tags: AWWA ACE 12, communication, communications, community, greater Cincinnati Water Works, social media