Nov 12 2011
By Daniel Casciato
During the recent flooding in Central Pennsylvania, Facebook became an important tool for Pennsylvania American Water. First, it needed to dispense information quickly about a mandatory conservation for its Hershey customers. Secondly, it wanted to squash rumors that the customers there and in its Wilkes-Barre service area were hearing via local media and through the grapevine.
Being able to dispel rumors in real-time, answer questions from customers and provide updates increased its number of Facebook followers by 200 in one week. The spike in followers came at a good time: Pennsylvania American Water announced that it will donate $1 to the H2O Help to Others Program for each new Facebook or Twitter follower who liked its pages by October 15. The H2O Help to Others Program benefits low-income customers who may be having a hard time paying their water bill.
“Pennsylvania American Water is proud of our social media presence and the depth of information we provide customers through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube via status updates and short videos accessible through Facebook and YouTube,” says Josephine Posti, external affairs specialist for Pennsylvania American Water. “American Water’s overall social media presence is robust compared to other local utilities and is a benchmark nationally along with providers such as Florida Power & Light, ConEd in New York, or the DC Water and Sewer Authority.”
Water is critical for public health, essential to the hospitals and healthcare facilities in each of its service areas and information about service disruptions is essential, notes Posti.
“Social media has been a great tool in helping us provide real time information to our customers and the communities we serve,” she adds.
Posti was gracious enough to take the time to respond to my social media Q&A via email.
DC: What role does social media play in an organization’s overall marketing and communications strategy?
Posti: An organization communicates to deliver a message and social media is necessary if an organization wants to talk to their audience where they are. Facebook and Twitter usage grows with the proliferation of smart phones and provide an easy-to-use platform to get customers information in real time.
DC: Tell us about some of the most common misperceptions organizations have about social media marketing.
Posti: A common misperception is that negativity can highjack a brand’s presence. Most people who take the time to follow a brand are advocates for the brand and the occasional negative comment can be a great opportunity for a brand to respond quickly and authentically, showing their responsiveness.
DC: What are some of the issues an organization could face without a successful social media strategy?
Posti: Any organization that needs to provide customers with real time information is at a disadvantage if they’re relying on mainstream media or their website to provide information. The platform provides an easy-to-use format for graphics, video, links, sharing and comments that can help tell your story.
DC: How can organizations better engage in social media?
Posti: Start following others in your space. See what kind of information they’re sharing, how you can share it with your followers and what their followers are reading. The reciprocity that social media encourages can result in healthy collaboration and sharing of information.
DC: How has Pennsylvania American Water used social media raise awareness?
Posti: Facebook and YouTube provide the perfect forum for us to create and upload short videos that easily explain some of our processes. Now, customers can see what the inside of their water storage tank looks like, learn how we detect leaks underground and find out what our scientists do in our labs every day to ensure a high level of water quality. We’ve also found social media to be extremely useful during emergency events. During the recent floods in Central PA, we were able to provide regular, frequent updates to customers about a mandatory conservation, to dispel rumors and to provide accurate information about the flood’s impact to our service areas.
DC: What are some of your favorite social media applications/tools?
Posti: We love the YouTube app for Facebook. Our customers have found our short videos to be very informative and they’ve been able to peek “behind the scenes” on the water treatment and delivery process.
DC: Many of us can’t find enough hours in the day, how do you find the time on social media, and more importantly manage it?
Posti: It’s a group effort. Our four-person external affairs team works collaboratively; we all have administrator privileges. When an emergency occurs we make sure someone is “on call” to monitor and update our social media presence.
DC: On a practical level, can a good social media strategy be outsourced, or does it need to be executed internally?
Posti: My point of view is that managing it internally allows an organization to provide more authenticity and to have an ear to the ground when their followers have concerns. There have been many times when a customer has brought an issue to our attention and we were able to identify the internal contact immediately, addressing their concern much more quickly than we would have if a third party were responsible.
DC: What things should we absolutely avoid in terms of social media posts and tweets?
Posti: Everyone—customers and organizations—needs to communicate in the same manner we’d talk to someone we bumped into at the grocery store. Bullying, defensiveness and profanity are all ineffective ways to get a point across or get a real response to a concern. If it doesn’t work in “real life” it doesn’t have a place in other venues like Facebook or Twitter.
DC: Is there anything else our readers should know that I didn’t ask about?
Posti: We started our Twitter and Facebook pages at the suggestion of a reporter. During a severe weather event, I was calling local media every hour to give them status updates and finally a reporter asked me if I could just Tweet the updates. We realized that an organization like ours needs to be in that space. The service we provide is critical to public health, fire safety, business and quality of life. People don’t realize how big a part of their life clean water is until it’s not there and our ability to provide real time updates has been welcomed by our customers, the communities we serve and the local media. We’ve found a great deal of reciprocity among those audiences: municipalities and media who re-post our updates and customers who share our answers to their questions with their friends. We’re currently running a promotion where we’ll donate $1 for every new Facebook “Like” or Twitter follower to the H2O Help to Others program which serves low-income customers who are experiencing trouble paying their water bill. We’ve already doubled our followers and hope to triple them by the end of the promotion.
Josephine Posti has worked in public relations for most of her career, spending many years at Motorola before working for agencies (Burson-Marsteller and MARC USA). She even ran her own business, having served clients like Motorola, Techinomics and Ascensium. Today, she is very proud to facilitate external affairs for Pennsylvania American Water, the Commonwealth’s largest regulated water and wastewater service provider. Her responsibilities include public relations, crisis communications and community affairs for seven districts throughout Western Pennsylvania including Pittsburgh and Washington County. Posti received her accreditation in public relations (APR) in 2003. This designation is a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their expertise and their commitment to the profession and its ethical practice. She has served on the board of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and also serves on committees within the American Water Works Association. Outside of work, Posti serves as president of Mt. Lebanon’s school board, is a Girl Scout leader and teaches religious education in her congregation.
For more information on Pennsylvania American Water, visit them on Twitter @paamwater or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pennsylvaniaamwater.com. You can also find them on their YouTube channel @paamwater.
This article was reprinted from permission of Western Pennsylvania Hospital News where it first appeared.
Daniel Casciato is a full-time freelance copywriter, journalist, and social media ghostwriter from Pittsburgh. In addition to copywriting and ghostwriting, he writes health, legal, real estate, and technology-related articles for trade magazines and online publications. For more information, visit www.danielcasciato.com.
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