How does a utility company placate approximately 2.2 million angry customers who have been without electricity for as long as 24 hours in the Karachi summer? For the Karachi Electric Supply Company, at least part of the answer appears to be in the use of social media, especially Twitter.
During a massive power outage in Karachi on Saturday night, the KESC Twitter account – @KESC_Ltd – geared up its activity. The account is manned singlehanded by one public relations employee, who kept responding remarkably politely to complaints from several customers who had lost power.
Through the Twitter account, for instance, customers came to know that the fault started with the tripping of two of the utility’s main 220 kilo-Volt (kV) extra-high tension circuits. A press release on Sunday later explained that “this caused a domino effect, tripping three of its 132kV transmission lines. This unprecedented complex tripping had a cascading effect, which in turn led to automatic tripping of approximately 40% of the grid stations supplying power to the city. The unexpected tripping on the circuits was brought about by the consistently high levels of stagnant humidity on the outskirts of the city where these transmission lines are located.”
The shutdowns had to be manually restored, a process that took over 24 hours in some cases. Meanwhile, the KESC Twitter account kept providing updates on the repair work, telling complainants from each area at what time power in their area was expected to be restored. It did not always get the timing right; but to their credit, they quickly provided revised estimates and explained the delay.
Customers were understandably irate at first, but when they realised they could engage with the company via Twitter (invariably through their smartphones), many of them began to praise KESC for its social media engagement efforts.
For instance, Najeeb Anwar, after tweeting to KESC twice to ask for the status of his neighbourhood, initially said: “@KESC_Ltd you seem to be sleeping. Asked u twice already. Clfton bl 7 and defence ph 6. How much time till power restoration?” The KESC account responded saying that they had sent him a direct message. Following that reply, Anwar said: “@KESC_Ltd sorry for the taunt. U know u are the best”.
It was not just customers that praised KESC. Twitter users from India compared the effectiveness of KESC’s social media response to that of India’s power companies, which faced similar blackouts recently, albeit on a wider scale.
Naina Redhu, a Delhi-based photographer, tweeted: “Karachi has a power break down & their utility company @KESC_Ltd tweets steady stream of updates. Any company in India does it?”
Responses like this are exactly what KESC, the country’s only privately owned utility company, would have been hoping for.
“The Twitter account is part of KESC’s effort to keep customers engaged. We feel that as long as customers are in the loop, they will be understanding, even if there is a major problem, like the systemic outage over the weekend,” said Rehman, the company spokesperson.
Yet while the weekend efforts of KESC’s one-man social media team won praise from many, some feel that the company can do better. Danish Ejaz, a Karachi-based advertising executive and social media expert, for instance, pointed out that the company should integrate its social media efforts across platforms.
“There are almost three times as many Facebook users in Pakistan as there are Twitter users. KESC should not just rely on Twitter, they should also use Facebook,” he said.
He added that the company should also take into consideration the fact that a majority of its customers still do not have smartphones, and start providing updates via text messages. “I did not follow KESC on Twitter,” said Ejaz, even though he uses an Android. “I got a text message from a friend who knew somebody at KESC. They should try to provide this service to a wider audience on text messages.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2012.