Can a Public Utility be Social?


Is it too much? Is it worth the effort?

I have continued to struggle with an inner conflict that you also may be experiencing.  Does social media constitute a waste of my valuable time at work or can it be an essential tool for changing water use behavior?   Does this platform really have such power to bring about change?  I recently had the privilege to attend the 2013 WaterSmart Innovations Conference.  A workshop entitled “Ways to Influence Water Use through Social Media” sounded like the perfect therapy for me.  It could possibly give me the answer and push I needed to fully dive into the social waters.

I share with you a small sampling of what I learned from the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies knowledgeable presenters, Alan Harris and Richard Restuccia, and ways a public utility can and should be social.

Linkedin isn’t just for job seekers – more than 225 million users.  When considering social media outlets, Linkedin wasn’t on my list of time-wasters, umm, I mean marketing opportunities.  I had long ago written this site off as only for those trying to make connections to secure employment and nothing more.  Oh, how wrong I was.  Mr. Harris enlightened me as to how to use it more fully.

  1. Connect and share ideas with others involved with water conservation and community-based social marketing from around the world by using Linkedin’s groups feature.
  2. Drive traffic to your blog by posting links on your profile.
  3. Invite your connections to participate in and share your upcoming events with their connections.
  4. Reminder to me:  Update my profile.  You should, too.
Follow ACC Water Warrior on Twitter

Follow ACC Water Warrior on Twitter

Twitter is more than 140 characters – about 500 million Tweets per day.  “Tweet” is the sound I believed only a bird should make, not something someone working hard to save water should be doing.  But Mr. Restuccia softened me to Twitter.

  1. Discover what the world is talking about, aka “trending,” and add to the conversation through tweets or by using the trend to inspire a hot water blog topic.
  2. #Hashtags help you to connect with a Twitter-wide conversation.  Use a maximum of two hashtags per tweet and share your thoughts, which of course can creatively incorporate a conservation technique.
  3. Use a third-party app, such as hootsuite or buffer, to schedule future tweets to be sent.  Designate a special daily tweet-time, about 10 minutes or so, for scheduling future tweets and save your valuable time for other work duties as assigned.
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Follow Lily Anne Phibian on Pinterest

Pinterest is awesome – the average pin remains clickworthy for months, rather than minutes like tweets.  Ok, I admit I am a woman, as are 80% of the estimated 70 million (and growing) Pinterest users.  But who is the typical decision maker in a home?  Based purely on opinion with no facts to back me up, I say women make more of the household decisions, including that it is time to get a new dishwasher, faucet, or washing machine.  So, who does a public utility want to reach for changing water use behavior?  The users of Pinterest.

  1. Recognize people in your community who use water efficiently.  Promote water wise behaviors as the social norm through your boards.
  2. Provide water conservation education-related ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms.  While woman may be the decision makers, children are the influencers.
  3. Engage with a visual image, then link to tips about how to add native plants to a yard, find WaterSense products, or learn about water footprints.
google plus screen shot

Join Lily Anne Phibian on Google+

Google Plus has a place – and it is growing.  OK, I admit if I was to actively pursue Google Plus at this moment, I will officially sink underwater.  But I do plan to utilize this outlet as soon as I effectively manage my other social media time commitments.  Why?  Because Mr. Restuccia gave good reasons for doing so.

  1. Manage and target your “people” through the use of circles.  Have a conservation message to target a specific group of people?  Put them into the same circle and easily market to only this crowd.
  2. Rise in the rankings of a Google search simply by having a Google Plus account.  Who doesn’t want to be the top water dog in a Google search?
  3. Connect with others through the use of Google Plus communities.  Once your public utility is social, take the connection further into just about real life by using the “hangout” feature and video chat with others.

Diving into the social media arena is overwhelming and will be, at least initially, time-consuming. The socially savvy presenters from ValleyCrest helped me to see creative ways these platforms can work for a public utility.  With some careful time management, I hope to find the task of managing these sites as routine as checking my email.  Follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, connect with me on Linkedin, or be my friend on Facebook or Google Plus and find out if I’m up to the job.  I’ll do the same for you and we can navigate these waters together.  I think that makes us social.

Laurie Loftin

Facebook:  Friend Lily Anne Phibian or Like Water Conservation Office – Athens-Clarke County

Follow Me on Pinterest


Google Plus:  Join Lily Anne Phibian

YouTube:  Subscribe to Lily Anne Phibian

Linkedin:  Connect with Laurel Loftin


8 thoughts on “Can a Public Utility be Social?

  1. I agree utilities can use social media. Some have been successfully using social media for about three to four years. I would consider them the innovators in today’s utility industry. But some of the big behemoths have been reluctant for fear of retaliation, liability, or just lack of knowledge. There are many ways a utility can embrace social media and have it their arsenal of marketing goodies. Your article covers some good points to consider when using this new tool. Thank you!

    • Hi! I appreciate you taking the time to read our article. I understand the reluctance of utilities. Before we decided to dive in, we established a social media work policy using this as a guide: We also agreed to require comments to receive approval before being published. This does potentially cut down on communication between us and readers, but working for a government agency, there is a real possibility of comments being posted that are not relevant to the topic and the venue could be used as a source for retaliation. Recognizing and developing solutions for our concerns rather than becoming paralyzed by them has allowed us to add social media to our marketing efforts. I hope other utilities take on this platform.

      • Great ideas Lily Anne. Hopefully more dialogue can take place between utilities encouraging reluctant utilities to use social media.

      • I would love to hear how other utilities are using social media. My next question/dilema is how to turn the connections into actions. I think social media is terrific at raising awareness and sharing with others. I want to learn about and create ways to inspire measurable action that occurs locally. Has anyone had measurable success with social media campaigns they would like to share? This might inspire reluctant utilities.

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