ESCOs – Mobile Apps For Marketing

For this post we’ll take a look at whether any of the ESCOs are using mobile social media apps to market their services to current or potential customers.

What is a social media app

Before starting, let us quickly define social media apps. In this case, we’ll consider any app that is available for a smart phone, that allows for engagement between the company and its customer and/or target market, and results in marketing the company’s services to its target market.

Why offer a social media app

If you’re wondering why an ESCO should offer a mobile app, consider the following. Over “50% of U.S. Consumers use smartphones” 1 and usage is continuing to grow. In addition, consider a recent Accenture study that indicated for certain interactions with utilities, “consumers overwhelmingly prefer “Web-enabled channels” (such as web portals, mobile applications and email) for the majority of their interactions.” 2 Given this data of growth and preference, offering apps that allow smartphone users to connect more easily with ESCOs should at least be considered.

Which ESCOs are offering social media apps

Examining the ESCOs in our list, only Constellation Energy offered an app. The app offered is named VirtuWatt and its designed to “monitor and manage their electricity use and maximize the financial benefits of load response programs through minute-to-minute meter telemetry, real-time pricing information, marketplace bidding capabilities, and automated energy curtailment strategies.” 3

At first sight, we might not consider this app to qualify for our definition of a mobile social app. This app is more about allowing a customer to monitor and manage their energy usage rather than engaging with Constellation. But consider this article offered on Socialmediatoday that discusses utility marketing. Within the article, it defines utility marketing as, “Putting content and information in your marketing material that your target audience can utilize.” Furthermore it states, “Utility marketing is about positioning your organization as a resource and smartphones are the new tools for finding resources. When someone has a question or a need, more and more, they reach for their smart phone or tablet.”

So if we consider the definition above, and the app in question, perhaps it does meet our definition but in an indirect manner.

Now, let’s extend our reach to other energy service companies outside our list. Doing this we discover several making use of a mobile app in a manner that fits our definition. One in particular stands out, Spark Energy.

Spark Energy is a nationwide provider of electricity and natural gas. Visiting their website we find they have a mobile website and mobile app for the most popular phones. Downloading the app (for Android in this case) provides the user the ability to manage their account (Texas only), make payments (Texas only), give feedback and share their experiences. The last two, give feedback and share their experiences, apparently are meant to be achieved from either the Facebook or Twitter widget that appear on the screen. So in this case, Spark Energy integrated social connection widgets within its app. When connecting to their Facebook page you’re immediately given the option to Like, Call, Write Post, or Share a Photo. On the other hand, Twitter allowed the user to easily send them a Tweet or follow them. What’s interesting here is that Facebook appears much more active than Twitter with regard to engagement.

Spark Energy's App

Spark Energy’s App

So in this case, Spark Energy is offering a mobile app that combines offering helpful services such as managing and paying on one’s account and the ease of access to Facebook and Twitter to capture feedback and engagement. One question to consider is whether Spark Energy is seeking feedback and engagement as a form of gamification. More specifically stated, Spark Energy is offering helpful services in which it seeks positive engagement and feedback from the users of the app via Facebook and/or Twitter.

Two interesting side notes in regard to Spark Energy. Since they cover many states, each state and even some cities have their own Facebook page. Some are community pages and others just pages. And on Twitter, they appear to be suffering from an identity crises with many Tweets mistaking them for the unaffiliated Spark Energy in the UK. These two notes are something that should be considered in another post.

Measuring effectiveness of the app

While these mobile apps sound wonderful, you’re probably wondering what feedback is being measured to gauge results and how it is being measured. Since we do not have access to any ESCOs internal metrics we can make some educated guesses.

First, let’s consider what feedback can be measured. Given that ESCOs are about being the supplier of energy to residential or commercial customers, we could of course measure traditional marketing feedback such as:

  • Retention of current customers 4, 5
  • Acquisition of new customers
  • Lead generation

While these traditional feedback metrics are valid, using them as feedback metrics for a social media app probably are not as appropriate as measuring feedback metrics such as:

  • Brand awareness 6
  • Website traffic directed from a social media property 6
  • Reach7
  • Engagement7

In deciding which approach to use, traditional vs. social, it’s important to remember what purpose a social media app serves. Specifically it’s about engagement, reach, and brand awareness rather than the traditional feedback metrics. Setting these correct expectations will be important in the valuation of any social media app.

Now let’s consider through what mechanism feedback will be measured. The mechanism in this case will be analytics.

In the case of Facebook, your choices are Facebook’s own built-in analytics called Facebook Insights or a third-party vendor, such as Social Sprout which will use the analytics data from Facebook.

Facebook Insight offers feedback in two areas. These being App Insights and Page Insights.

App Insights allows you to:

  • Track how users are interacting with your app
  • If you are an app administrator it provides additional feedback on “stream stories, referral traffic to your app, a breakdown of what user actions contribute to active user count, demographics on authorized users and active users, and the number of times permissions are prompted and granted.” 8

Page Insights provides:

  • Data on referral traffic and stream stories
  • Captures engagement with Pages

Your other option is to use a third-party vendor such as Social Sprout to analyze and report on the data provided by Facebook Insights. Third party vendors provide more robust reporting and data manipulation options than just Facebook Insight offers. In addition, many of them integrate the data into social media management tools. Of course as you might imagine, this comes at a cost while Facebook Insights is free.

In the case of Twitter and Analytics you have two choices. First there is Twitter’s own, Twitter Web Analytics. Unfortunately this is an analytics approach that is tied into Twitters own advertising rather than a standalone use. Second, much like Facebook, there are numerous third-party vendors that use Twitter data to provide robust analytic reporting. One interesting article exploring your Twitter analytic options can be found at Social Media Examiner.

An additional option for measuring analytics would be Google Analytics. It can provide feedback about what’s occurring on and within your website as well as where visitors are coming from. This would be valuable to any ESCO wanting to measure the more traditional feedback metrics such as new sign ups, and tracking of content usage on its own website as well as identifying how social media apps and properties are delivering traffic to their site. A good primer on its usage can be found on Social Media Examiner.

In summary, given the move by consumers to mobile usage, having a mobile app available will give them another reason to engage with an ESCO. Defining the feedback to be measured and how it will be measured will need to be established for measuring the effectiveness of any app.

1 Luden, Ingrid May 7, 2012 “Nielsen: Smartphones Used By 50.4% Of U.S. Consumers, Android 48.5% Of Them

2 pg24 Accenture 2012 “Actionable Insights for the New Energy Consumer

3 Constellation Energy September 13, 2011 “Constellation Energy Launches Its Next Generation Energy Management Application for Commercial

4 Richards, Christine Dec 27, 2012 “A look ahead: Customer marketing and segmentation

5 Elefant, Carolyn 2011 “THE “POWER” OF SOCIAL MEDIA: LEGAL ISSUES & BEST PRACTICES FOR UTILITIES ENGAGING SOCIAL MEDIA

6 Kirk, Andrew September 17, 2012 “4 Social Media Goals Every Business Should Measure

7 Stelzner, Michael February 1, 2013 “Measuring Social Media: How to Determine Your ROI

8 Facebook “Insights”