Summits, workshops, and other face-to-face experiences amplify the effectiveness of traditional tactics and communication channels. This model places the primary and secondary activities in the larger context.
Channel Communications Framework
The above chart organizes common and novel communication vehicles into logical groupings based on their suitability and potential for one-way versus interactive exchange.
- Account contact represents the standard one‐way mechanisms that utilities use for administrative and transactional approaches. These are excellent for notices, announcements, and promos to drive people to places for targeted deeper information.
- Direct contact uses the customer service and field organizations already in place to not only impart information but to also listen to customers and learn what these individuals care about. They can reach out proactively or receive in-bound requests for info. Training can include scripts to draw out what the household cares about.
- Online channels—While everyone has a website and we’re seeing lots of FB, Twitter, Green Button, and portals being deployed, not all are equally effective. Customers choose to look at site, read, tweet, download data, or respond. These are most valuable if info is shared and managed as two-way channels. Establishing news alerts or leveraging the critical mass of partner groups' social networks is recommended before, during, and after AMI deployment. Message-based services like Twitter are especially valuable to communicate storm outage and recovery information and provide an opportunity to collect mobile phone numbers.
- Program channels Existing energy efficiency programs run by utility teams, third party vendors, weatherization, and energy audit teams can incorporate smart grid content to increase their value and longevity through complementary tools and content.
- Vision—Explaining long-term smart grid goals make effective connections with the community, though it's important to distinguish aspirational goals from immediate benefits. The vision can be delivered through videos, inspirational presentations, and written narratives and shared on the summit website and at the event.
- Integrated content—It’s all electricity to the customer and the distinctions among energy efficiency, DR, smart grid, etc. are often lost on the public. One could argue that making the digital meter itself such a point of promotional focus instead of the benefits has been a distraction.
- Demo centers— Allow people to see the smart grid in action alongside energy efficiency devices/practices and ask questions. Ideally these exhibits can be designed in the consumer's context, i.e. devices within a house or mobile home as well as show distribution automation elements that people could notice if they know what to look for. Understanding something that is normally hidden in plain sight can be a point of pride.
- Native and multi-lingual communities— Making this connection part of the corporate culture through translated materials and special programs is rare and can be improved in many companies. Ethnic chambers of commerce, available in some areas, can utilities help reach underserved small businesses.
- Constructive engagement— Build relationships and develop trusted energy advisors and champions from both the utility and community organizations. If educated and empowered, all employees are potential champions for SG. Vehicles range from large-scale channels reaching hundreds at a single venue to personalized face-to-face interactions.
- Charitable support—Encouraging employees to volunteer, contribute, and serve on local non-profit boards builds strong connections with their neighbors.
- Community events—Participating in events organized by other groups gives marketing people direct contact with consumers and provides valuable insights to help interpret formal research data. It also makes them a known presence in the community.
- Town meetings—Bringing the vision and answering questions can be brought to local meetings of various scales. In some locations community meetings may be disrupted by small groups of protesters who travel from meeting to meeting. Restructuring the Q&A format to allow more personalized attention to the full range of resident concerns can alleviate this problem.
- Community summits/initiatives—Community summits bring disparate residents together with stakeholders (regulators, advocates, community organizations, and utilities) in a structured methodology to show how SG can serve the community's goals. Ideally activities proposed at the summit are on-going and leadership is shared with individuals and partner groups from the community.
- Partners—Energy literacy workshops for community‐based‐organizations will build trust, empower other local champions, and extend word-‐of-‐mouth support.
- Schools and faith-based organizations—There are several energy literacy curricula and programs that have been extremely well-received by teachers, students, and parents and congregants. Key to success is getting local school officials and congregations involved. School-based programs (K-12 and university) are likely to be proposed at any summit event.
- Press office—Educating the press about the principles involved in delivering a reliable supply of electricity needs to be balanced with their need to maintain an independent voice and can be improved in many regions. The ideal time to forge the relationships is when skies are calm, electricity is flowing, and controversies are non-existent.
- Media—Participating in summits, workshops, and hearing from independent third parties who are knowledgeable allows press, broadcasters, and bloggers to feel the groundswell of support and watch utilities collaborate with their customers. The community leaders who participate in summits are excellent sources and local sustainability projects provide positive press hooks.
- Brand awareness—Inventive and compelling promotional campaigns can present issues from the customers’ perspectives. While TV and radio spots are great when affordable, simple inexpensive newsletters and other low-cost tactics have been very successful in creating strong bonds as well.