Last year, PSEG got approval for an infrastructure upgrade that would replace 250 miles of gas lines.
For the most part, our business leaders thought it was a terrific payoff.
The 1.4 billion-dollar “Energy Strong” initiative would increase reliability in some New Jersey towns that had just been hit by a couple of floods in a row. But it would also include plenty of construction inconveniences: ripping up roads, putting in new gas lines, and switching everyone over from the old ones.
And since this was one of the first phases in the giant Energy Strong project, it needed to go really well.
Mike Jennings, Public Service Enterprise Group's (PSEG) Manager of Media Relations and Social Media, manages external communication for the corporation which includes social media. And since no one on his team has social media as a full-time responsibility, the social side of the initiative was handled by a lean team of six.
To help establish a line of communication with the affected communities, PSEG created micro-targeted Facebook ads for 33 towns.
Mike says these Facebook ads were meant to reach out to help people understand what PSEG was doing and how it would affect them. They explained what road inconveniences the work would cause and shared a link to the proposed construction schedule.
When users clicked through to the website, they could select their town and see a schedule of work or outages in their area and other anticipated inconveniences.
To keep up with the schedule changes, members of his team sat in on weekly status calls.
At these meetings, they stayed up to date on what crews actually accomplished that week and what they projected for the next two weeks. But they also had an opportunity to express how the public was responding to the ads.
For example, during the holiday season, the Facebook ads were getting multiple complaints from business owners about the effect of the construction on their sales. And while Mike says this didn't directly affect their decision, it did start a conversation that resulted in PSEG halting construction in December.
One thing they didn't anticipate was the mass influx of questions and comments and the team's ability to respond to them all.
Mike explains, “Initially that was a bit of a burden, because we hadn't anticipated it. But over time, it became less of a problem because before we put a new ad up, we knew what the answers were to the ten questions we were most likely to get.”
According to Mike, it's especially important to really know what you're talking about. He says the first thing you need is good internal communications with the people doing the work you're supporting. One way they handled difficult questions was with the help of crew contacts on the ground.
“You need to really understand what the people in the community are seeing, because from their perspective, you're talking to them directly. So you have to know what's actually going on in their town.”
As for the response from users, it was mostly positive, but of course not everyone was happy.
The metrics were mixed. Although comments were two-to-one negative, 90 percent of the overall engagement was positive, including organic shares and likes. They also got good feedback from big influencers like city officials and mayors who shared their messages on Facebook or sent an email of appreciation to PSEG.
Mike says these kinds of stories from town leaders were shared internally with PSEG immediately. But their other measurements of success, like awareness, click-throughs, and sentiment were shared in bi-weekly reports.
“For the most part, our business leaders thought it was a terrific payoff.”
“The ads didn't cost much and the results were impressive,” Mike says. For example, they reached over 110,000 people, and received more than 9,000 click to their website.
He explains that like many utility companies, PSEG executives have been slow to buy-in to the value of social media. But successful initiatives like these could open the door to bigger opportunities in the future.
Follow Mike on Twitter and ask him what it means to be a Toastmaster. We've had Mike as a member of SocialMedia.org since 2014.