WEDNESDAY 30 OCT 2013 9:35 AM


Last week, British Gas, among other national utility providers, announced a price hike of 9.2%. Alongside the announcement, Bert Pijls, BG’s customer service director, took to Twitter behind the #AskBG hashtag to respond to consumer queries. What was intended to be an open, honest conversation between British Gas and its consumers has since been lambasted in the press and on social media; with negative comments largely directed at the price raise itself.

On Monday’s #CommsChat, communications professionals were discussing social business strategy using #AskBG as a reference point. In the midst of that conversation, which followed some of the prominent story lines in the media, MD of British Gas Business, Stephen Beynon, stepped in and addressed the topic as well.

“We felt we had an absolute duty to make ourselves available,” Beynon tweeted. He mentioned that the chat should have been approached differently – without using a hashtag and from a personal Twitter account. He added that the Twitter team, including Pijls was actually sitting next to decision-making stakeholders throughout the chat, allowing for maximum transparency and coordination.

Indeed, though the price increases present obvious problems for consumers, it is often not the utility provider at fault. Energy prices are subject to shifts in the global oil and gas market and rising costs of infrastructure development. Lesley McLeod, director of communications and public affairs at Energy UK, the trade association for the energy sector, says the cost of raw materials and the wholesale price of gas are rising. “We need to do a better job of explaining to people what we’re spending the money on,” she says. “We invest serious money to build new power plants that are going to meet the environmental standards to comply with the environmental rules that we need to follow. Those are the stories that are going to take some time to get out.”

Monday’s chat went on to address the challenges and necessity of integrating social media into the entire business and the perils involved in crisis management via social media. Sectors like utilities, finance, oil and gas, and others have found this difficult in the past. Communicating openly within a sector that is already perceived poorly tends to evoke harsh criticisms, as evinced with #AskBG.

For more on energy and utilities communications, click here or visit our iPad edition for the September issue of Communicate.