In the competitive energy world of today, it is becoming increasingly important for energy companies to analyse what is being said about them on social media. With the help of “social data intelligence”, companies can monitor social media like Twitter as well as discussion forums, and respond to customer concerns quickly. Social media analytics firm Talkwalker, based in Luxembourg, supplies software social data intelligence software, published a fascinating report recently showing how utilities in the UK and US performed in social media in a recent month. We have the highlights for you below.
From smart meters to social media, there is more data at the disposal of utilities companies than ever before. Aside from the vast quantities of “social data” produced by networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn there are also blogs, forums and an ever increasing number of online news websites. This information is generally unstructured with mentions of utilities companies coming in all shapes and sizes: from direct mentions including the company name to replies to a company Twitter account or comments on a forum.
For utilities companies, understanding trends and public sentiment online can have important business implications. It can help them monitor their own customer service performance, or prevent customers from switching, or to help combat a crisis when it occurs. New tools, known as Social Data Intelligence, can help companies can make sense of what is going on on the internet. It involves careful social listening through tracking the constant flow of social data from social networks, online news, blogs and forums and applying in-depth social media analytics to analyse and order this information in a way that is a) easy to understand and b) provides insights that can be used to direct decision making.
Below we will look at some ways in which energy companies can use social media analytics to their advantage, with some concrete examples from the UK and the US.
Evaluating Customer Service Performance
Social media has given consumers more power than ever before to air their views to a wide audience on any given topic. Electricity, gas and water are essential features of modern life and any problems in their provision quickly become a source of discontent. Whereas previously such grievances would have been the problem of the customer service departments of energy companies, consumer organisations and sympathetic friends, family and colleagues, now annoyance and anger is distributed worldwide with one click.
Being able to react quickly to customer complaints on social media can therefore be very important for utility companies. Research from Edison suggests that customers who complain on social media expect a response within 60 minutes so staying on top of this with effective social listening is key.
And it is not all about negativity. As much as negative comment and dissatisfaction must be monitored, judged and handled quickly and respectfully, such open connections to customers also offer an opportunity to connect with customers as well as a chance to monitor this hitherto unknown customer opinion and learn from it.
1.1 Analyse Twitter to gauge sentiment
If you want to know how customers feel about your company at any moment, a good starting point is to do a sentiment analysis on Twitter. Outside of telephone calls, their Twitter account is the most direct link that customers of utilities customers have to a customer service representative. So this kind of analysis helps to understand how your customer service channels are performing in response to the competition.
Sentiment analysis for UK Big 6 energy providers: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
As an example, we have looked at the Big 6 UK energy companies in the period 20 January to 18 February of this year. As the chart show, in this period nPower’s customer service experienced the highest level of negativity and the lowest level of positivity. By contrast, EDF Energy’s customer service channel showed the highest level of positive sentiment and the lowest level of negative sentiment. This is a good indication that they are doing something right.
Emotions cloud for Big 6 energy providers: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
Twitter results can be arranged in a theme cloud consisting of a variety of positive and negative “emotion” words linked to the customer service channels. This chart shows that emotions about the big 6 UK energy providers were mixed, with a slightly higher proportion of negative comments, but also some positivity such as “helpful”, “brilliant” and “excellent”. More specific negative words such as “confused” and “difficult” can also help to get an idea of the particular aspects of the service or problem that are causing trouble.
1.2 Understanding the causes of negative and positive sentiment
From this point it is important to dig deeper to discover the causes of negative sentiment.
Theme cloud for nPower Twitter customer service channel: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
Examining the results for npower, the main identifiable causes of discontent appear to be a mixture of account problems, meter issues and delays. For catch-all terms such as “account trouble” it may be worth going a further step to analyse the specific cause of the problem:
Examples of different types of “account” problems posted to customer service channels of energy providers
1.3 Gleaning customer insights from forums
For customers of utility companies, consumer forums on the internet are also a hotbed of discussion Although many people will take to short-form sites such as Twitter to complain, for-advice-forums can be a better channel for customers to get more detailed information from other customers. As a result, they are also a gold mine of information for utility companies who want to find out exactly what troubles customers are having either with their own service or that of their competitors.
Mention volume for UK energy providers on selection of consumer forums: Feb 4, 2015 – March 5, 2015
The chart above shows us that from 4 February to 5 March, nPower and British Gas were the most discussed companies on forums that discuss energy companies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant amount of the discussion was negative:
Sentiment analysis of UK energy providers: Feb 4, 2015 – March 5, 2015
As a next step, companies can take a closer look to find issues that may be particularly worrying and require more urgent action. If we take the example of nPower who had a relatively high level of negative sentiment (Note: Ecotricity and First:Utility had higher negative sentiment but a low number of overall mentions),we get the following results:
nPower theme cloud for forum mentions: Feb 4, 2015 – March 5, 2015
In this case part of the problem appeared to be an allegation that nPower fabricated a meter reading, a potentially serious allegation if true and one that may need to be examined quickly to ensure it gets rectified or dispelled before it develops into a larger problem.
1.4 Sending information to the right departments
Once a problem area or even a specific customer with a problem has been identified, this issue can then be flagged up and immediately distributed to relevant departments so they will be notified straight away if any such activity occurs. For example, if it is a billing issue, reports can be sent to the finance department. If it is an issue with the online account, technical support can be alerted. This can all be automated through the creation of automatic alerts:
Examples of possible alerts that can be set up using Talkwalker
By creating a robust alerting system, utility companies can make sure that they are instantly made aware of any potential problems and get the appropriate department working on a solution immediately.
Identifying Potential Causes of Churn
In a market where energy retailing is competitive, identifying and understanding reasons for customer churn can be crucial. Analysing the performance of customer service channels is one way to look into this, but another way is to analyse general social media conversations about keyword combinations such as “switching providers” or “changing energy suppliers”.
Twitter is often the platform through which individuals will vent their frustrations publicly so we decided to take a look at the conversations taking place around this topic.
Over a 30-day period in January and February, for example, the top mentioned company was Ecotricity, a relatively new industry entrant focused on providing green energy to consumers:
Theme cloud for “switching supplier” related keywords: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
The assumption may be that people are trying to switch to the green energy providers from other energy companies but in actual fact the reality is more complicated. The decision of Ecotricity’s founder to donate to Britain’s labour Party was met with a mixed reaction causing some to suggest switching away from the company.
Twitter reaction to Ecotricity’s donation to the UK Labour Party
In this way utility companies can identify the possible reasons that customers want to switch and react accordingly, either by creating communications to combat issues or if appropriate, by responding directly to detractors to explain decisions.
Here also, forums can be a useful source of insight regarding customer behaviour. The theme cloud below shows the terms most associated with terms like “switching supplier” in a selection of forums:
Theme cloud for switching keywords on forums: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
In this case it is Scottish Power’s name that comes up most often and discussion isn’t just about disgruntled customers looking for a new provider but also cost savvy customers just looking for the best deal due to the coming end of an old contract:
Example of comments related to Scottish Power on MoneySavingExpert forum
Whilst short-form sites like Twitter can include some references to customers who are looking to switch supplier, the long-form, discussion-oriented structure of forums allows energy companies to look at exactly why a customer may want to leave.
By understanding why customers switch supplier through in-depth Twitter and forum analysis, utility companies can better target their communications or offer special deals to certain customers and improve their customer retention and acquisition. Identifying Potential Causes of Churn
3. Understanding the Key Industry Topics – and Influencers
For utility companies, understanding broader industry themes can also be important when making business decisions. In-depth customer and business surveys can provide comprehensive, deep analyses but conversations on social media and other online platforms can provide information in real-time, at scale and at a fraction of the cost.
In most nations, regulators in the utilities industry tend to have a lot of power as the services that utilities provide are essential for consumers and therefore need careful monitoring. Regulators are also increasingly taking their communications online and using social media as an avenue to spread their messages and amplify their campaigns. Understanding how receptive the public are to these campaigns and seeing how much interest they generate can be a useful way for utility companies to understand general sentiment towards the industry and the issues that surround it. The below theme cloud shows the most discussed hashtags around the two most important UK energy regulators Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, and the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) during one recent month:
Hashtags related to key UK regulatory bodies Ofgem and the DECC: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
Hashtag tracking is a useful way to monitor campaign-related themes on social media as they are often secondary (or even primary) slogans.
The hashtags show a mix of concerns mainly around the topics of cleaner energy (#GreenDeal, #BackClimateAction, #solar) and unaffordable bills (#GasBillsKill, #coldhomesweek, #fuelpoverty). #coldhomesweek and #fuelpoverty for example refer to the problem of people in Britain being unable to heat their homes properly in winter as they are unable to afford the cost of energy. The issue is considered both a problem with the energy companies and energy regulators and has also inspired some to call for a revolution in the energy industry to keep bills low.
Knowing the impact that particular campaigns are having is a strong start but ultimately campaigns are run and spread by people. As such, knowing who is at the heart of a campaign can help when targeting communications or identifying which stakeholders to potentially include in industry discussions. The below influencer chart shows the online commentators who have had the most influence on the topic of #coldhomesweek and #fuelpoverty:
Influencer table sorted by engagement for top hashtags related to #coldhomesweek and #fuelpoverty: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
In this table there are a couple of people and organisations who could be of particular interest. One is Britannia Comms, a digital communications agency that has increased the reach of its message mostly by extensive posting. Another is Stephen Fry, a British actor and TV presenter who only tweeted once but due to his immense following on Twitter, the reach of his one tweet is over 8 million. The tweets of Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party may also be worth keeping an eye on as she is a politician and therefore in a position to move public opinion more than most.
Tweets from Caroline Lucas and Stephen Fry on topics of #FuelPoverty and #coldhomesweek
Once important influencers have been identified, they can be placed in a special source panel so companies can keep track of the conversations that matter and alerts can be created as an early warning system for potential crises.
Monitoring a crisis
For large utility companies running major operations with infrastructure across multiple regions, problems are never too far away and a crisis can happen at any time.
One such crisis happened for Duke Energy in the US last year when coal ash from a Duke Power plant spilled into the Dan River in Virginia. At the end of February it became apparent that criminal charges were being prepared to be brought against the energy giant for violation of the Clean Water Act. This was clearly apparent in this sentiment analysis of Duke Energy:
Sentiment volume over time for Duke Energy: Feb 3, 2015 – March 4, 2015
The large spike of negative sentiment just before February 19th coincides with the announcement that Duke Energy would face criminal charges for the spill.
Getting quantifiable data on levels of positive and negative social sentiment is a good way to see the overall picture and here also automatic alerts can be set up. In this way PR and Communications teams can be warned as soon as negative sentiment spikes.
But delving deeper into the themes of the discussion can give more information about how exactly the negativity is being manifested online:
Theme cloud for Duke Energy (left) and hashtag cloud for Duke Energy (right): Feb 3, 2015 – March 4, 2015
These two theme clouds show that the coal ash spill has been a key issue for the online public when talking about Duke Energy, particularly on social media where #coalash has had the most usage over the last month and special hashtags have been created to discuss the incident like #Prison4Polluters, a potentially very damaging hashtag for the company.
Crises by their nature are times of high stress and heightened sensitivity. Social media analytics can help energy companies understand public sentiment and identify the influencers and stories that matter and then react in real time to stop the situation from spiralling out of control.
Tracking the Mood of the Market
In recent months, the effects of tumbling oil prices on energy/utilities shares has been a hot topic among market analysts and financial press alike. In month from 20 January to 18 February, there were 700,000 mentions of the term “oil price” across all online media. The discussion around energy and utility stocks is not quite at this level but it is still significant with over 40,000 mentions over this period:
Mention volume for “utilities shares” related keywords: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
Given falling oil prices one might expect the overall mood towards utility stocks to be broadly negative but an analysis of all mentions of utility stocks combined with a list of words to reflect attitudes suggests otherwise:
Theme cloud for emotions words related to utilities stocks: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
A look at the most engaging tweets on this topic suggests that this is due to energy stocks having dropped so low that they are now worth buying as well as the recent mini-surge in oil prices adding some additional upward momentum:
Tweets related to utilities stocks: Jan 20, 2015 – Feb 18, 2015
For more in-depth information about your own stocks or stocks of direct competitors, one way of isolating stock related online conversation is by looking purely at cashtags, the financial sphere’s version of the hashtag. Here is the online conversation volume of the cashtags of three major US utilities:
Mention volume of cashtags for US Utilities Southern Co,, Exelon and Duke Energy: Feb 3, 2015 – March 4, 2015
From this graph each company can quickly see how often their stocks are being discussed on social media and in this case Southern Co. comes out on top. By adding filters such as “buy” and “sell” further insights can be gathered on exactly what social stock market commentators are saying about their shares:
Ratio of mentions linked to “buying” and “selling” stock for each utilities company: Feb 3, 2015 – March 4, 2015
Now we see that although Southern Co. had been getting most of the attention it wasn’t necessarily for a positive reason. In comparison to Duke and Exelon, Southern Co was more frequently mentioned alongside the word “sell” than “buy”.
The above is an edited version of a report produced recently by social media intelligence company Talkwalker, based in Luxembourg. Energy Post is not in any way sponsored or paid by Talkwalker. We decided to publish the report because we believe it is informative and may be of value to our readers. The full report can be downloaded here. The editor.