The new socialites

July 22, 2014

social_mediaIndependent energy suppliers beat the big six when it comes to social media. Derek Eccleston, Commercial Director at eDigitalResearch, explains why as he analyses the results of its latest Utility Social Media Benchmark.

Emerging independent energy suppliers have been keen to make a lot of noise in recent years as they ramp up their cage rattling and encroach on the domain of the big six.

Often, social media platforms have proven the most effective weapons in the arsenals of these market disruptors as they try to break the hold of traditional market dominators and spread the word about their alternative energy propositions.

eDigitalResearch has tracked the use of social media sites by utility providers since 2012 and largely found that alternative energy providers seem to attract a wider audience on social media than their big six counterparts.

But there’s one energy provider – Ovo Energy – which has well and truly stamped its arrival on the online utility social space within the last twelve months.

Since Ovo Energy’s Stephen Fitzpatrick’s public display of defiance against the big six energy groups at a parliamentary select committee at the end of last year, Ovo has seen an impressive rise in customer numbers – some 20,000 in just the three months immediately after the appearance.

And its new customers, combined with welcome publicity, seem to have had a positive impact on its social media presence. Ovo is now top of the Facebook league table in eDigitalResearch‘s latest Utility Social Media Benchmark report, firmly cementing its position as a leading social utility brand.

Ovo Energy has jumped six places up the league in just a year and now sits on top and well above the competition. At the time of research, Ovo had almost 50,000 likes on its Facebook page alone.

While that number doesn’t sound overly impressive (especially when compared to retailers and travel brands who manage to engage with almost 100 times that many social media users), it has climbed above British Gas, eDF Energy and e.on as well as direct competitors Ecotricity and Good Energy.

In just twelve months, Ovo Energy has managed to attract an additional 38,500 new followers. They’re now a long way ahead of second placed British Gas with almost double the amount of page likes.

And that figure is all the more impressive when you compare customer numbers. Ovo currently supplies an estimated 1 million UK households and, in theory, has managed to engage with almost 5% of their customer base via Facebook alone.

In comparison, British Gas has reached out to less than 0.5% of its customer base.

How does Ovo Energy do it?

There’s no denying that public sentiment towards energy suppliers has worsened in recent times – especially towards the big six suppliers – with overcomplicated and confusing bills, and price hikes to blame.

Ovo Energy, Ecotricity and Good Energy are attempting to offer something different, with simple price plans and cheaper energy. They hope, thereby, to capitalise on widespread discontent with the old guard.

Ovo’s Facebook page strongly reflects its key marketing messages – there’s even a clear and simple page app where users can compare Ovo’s tariffs as well as watch videos ‘behind the door’ at its offices to help better understand what makes the company different. It’s putting a face to the brand and creating a more personal experience.

Ovo attempts to capture people’s attention, putting its own spin on current affairs and public events, pushing its USP’s without cluttering people’s timelines with overt sales or marketing messages.

Compared to some of the big six, Ovo posts content that will appeal to avid social media users – i.e. younger demographics – on a much regular basis. Its ‘Life Hacks’ posts, with tips and tricks on populist topics like how to keep your beer cold, play right into the hands of devoted social media fans. The odds are fair that they will see the post, like it, share it with their online friends and inadvertently spread the word about Ovo Energy.

Facebook v Twitter

However, when it comes to Twitter, it’s British Gas, Good Energy and Ecotricity who reign supreme, with Ovo Energy failing to make the top 10 league table.

Analysis of the top three performing brands shows that they deploy a similar strategy as Ovo does on Facebook.

Unlike on their Facebook page, British Gas is using Twitter to promote stories about environmental causes, community activity and hints and tips, such as other uses for plastic bottles. Like Ovo on Facebook, it even put its own British Gas spin on news and events, such as energy use at the World Cup.

On both platforms, it’s also worth noting that British Gas, Ecotricity, Good Energy and Ovo Energy let their customers do the talking.

Instead of posting any messages that could be deemed as ‘selling’, they all simply re-tweet posts from satisfied customers covering everything from their website experience to customer service.

There’s nothing more powerful than a glowing recommendation from a friend – and nothing more powerful in social media than 100’s of people all publically singing your praises.

Strategy significance

eDigitalResearch‘s latest benchmark proves that goings-on outside the social media sphere can and will affect social media performance and should be taken into account when formulating a social media strategy.

By cleverly capturing events in the public eye and combining them with ‘Life Hacks’ posts, Ovo Energy is creating a buzz around its brand. This encourages people to get involved, share posts and, ultimately, appeal to people to switch their supply.

Clearly, however, it’s not all about pushing content, but also about listening to and reusing customer-generated content. The top social media performers on eDigitalResearch’s benchmark all let their customers do a significant amount of the talking.

It’s clear from customer posts that Good Energy, Ecotricity and Ovo Energy have invested heavily in their customer experience – with everything from their call centre and customer service to overall website experience receiving praise on social media.

This means that these brands don’t need to invest heavily in their social media strategy – instead they’re able to capitalise on their superior customer experience.

British Gas also plays this game. It has consistently been one of the least complained about big six energy providers over the past twelve months according to the latest results from Citizens Advice and it’s using its customers to spread the word about its admirable customer service.

This yet again proves how important overall customer experience is.

Experience to customers really is everything these days – it’s often the key differentiator between your brand and a competitor. Investing in and improving the customer experience means that, not only are you likely to see a rise in customer satisfaction and retention, but also a more positive message about your brand spread around the social media sphere.

Social media tips for utilities providers:

  • Keep it current: take events that are in the public eye, such as the World Cup or Father’s Day, to appeal to core users, show the ‘human side’ of the brand and tap into conversations that are already happening across social media sites
  • Straight from the horse’s mouth: let customers do the talking and sing your praises. This avoid cluttering social media with messages that will just be seen as sales to many

Download the full version of eDigitalResearch‘s Utility Social Media Benchmark at

*Citizens Advice Energy Complaints league table, May 2014