At a time when we’re having more digital interactions than ever before, Megan McKoy’s new ebook “How to Be Human in a Digital World” provides tips on how your utility staff can maintain that critical human touch.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: What can you do to make sure that you stay human in a digital world? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. I’m your host, Andy Johns, with WordSouth. And my guest today is Megan McCoy-Noe, who is a public power storyteller for Pioneer Utility Resources, WordSouth’s new parent company. Megan, thank you for joining me.
Megan McCoy-Noe: Well, it’s great to be here, Andy.
Andy Johns: So I asked you to be on because of two reasons, really. (1) You’ve got an e-book that’s out, which we’ll talk about in a minute. (2) You’ve got a presentation coming up that I’m sure folks out in the Pacific Northwest will want to attend virtually if they can. But the e-book is called “How to Be Human in a Digital World.” Tell us a little bit about the e-book and the idea behind it.
Megan McCoy-Noe: Sure. You know, a lot of us are spending so much more time online now. Being human in a digital world isn’t a new concept, but it is something that’s more important than ever before, especially in 2020. So we tried to put together a list of tips for folks, things to think about when you’re working on your messages — either for your website or your social channels — to help humanize your content and really connect with your consumer members.
Andy Johns: Excellent. We had talked about the presentation a little bit and kind of broke it down into six points. A couple of ones that I wanted to focus on, you talk about (1) getting personal and (2) being helpful, as two key points there in order to stay human. And it all sounds — like you say in the presentation — it all sounds kind of like, well, sure, everybody is a human. This should be easy, but that’s not always the case.
Megan McCoy-Noe: It’s not the case, Andy. I have a bit of a problem. I follow and watch a lot of utilities on social media. I see this happen sometimes where you’re in a rush, you’re told, “Hey, we’ve got this press release. We need to get it out there.” And I will see folks take a picture of a press release and put it on their social channels. And it makes me very sad because I love cooperatives. I love what we can do and how we can connect with our folks. But sometimes we’re just in a rush, and we forget to take a moment and think that this is not something we’re reaching out to and just sending out into the void. You shouldn’t use digital channels as a copying machine for your message. You just have to take a moment and think, what would I want to hear? What would help me connect? And there are certain things that you can do to get those messages out there to be personal and help folks really connect with you. And then sometimes we just need to take a moment before we get a message out there and don’t push messages out. Sometimes I see utilities do that and instead, think about conversations and what a successful conversation in real life — which is what my daughter affectionately calls the “old times” before March — so what would a conversation there entail? And it would be getting to know someone, seeing their face, knowing their tone. Are they friendly? Sometimes, folks, the language that they’re using in their posts is very professional and like tons of syllables and words, sometimes you use business-speak and you don’t need that. You wouldn’t use that with a friend that you’re talking to casually. And I just think we need to consider our language, consider the tone and try to be as personal as possible. Because if someone thinks that you have this faceless utility that they get a bill, they don’t understand something, they tend to get a little more upset. And it’s just a name for a utility, right? But we’re co-ops.
Andy Johns: They’re not going to give you that benefit of the doubt.
Megan McCoy-Noe: Yeah, no, they won’t. But if they see your faces that helps so much. Jeff Davis Electric Cooperative in Louisiana is a great example of this. They lost all of their power with Hurricane Laura, and they have done an amazing job of showing the faces, even — I love this — they showed the baby bumps of two of their members’ service reps, who are answering calls. And these women are 7-8 months pregnant, answering phone calls from folks who’ve lost their power, wanting to know when the power is going to be restored. And it’s harder to get upset and yell at someone when you see what they’re going through personally and you realize they’re a person just like me. This is hard for them too. And instead of being a combative relationship when there is a problem, it becomes a cooperative relationship. We’re all in this together and that comes from being personal on digital media.
Andy Johns: And we’ve seen that over and over again, how much more patient people are, whether it’s restoring after an outage for electricity or there’s an Internet outage. Or if you’re building your broadband network, showing a picture of real people working on a bucket truck on the side of the road where it’s hot and sweaty, that makes everybody a little bit more patient and give everybody a little bit more grace there for sure. So I like the idea. One of the things that you mentioned in the presentation in terms of being helpful was to actually go to the call center or to the CSRs and ask what they’re hearing. And I love that idea.
Megan McCoy-Noe: Yeah, I’ve seen some folks do this. Gracetown Power in Georgia did this in March, and they were getting a lot of questions on their social feeds. And they said you know what, let’s just go directly to the source, find out what questions are being asked. And then they turned around and answered all of those questions through stories on Facebook and Instagram and also through posts that will stay after 24 hours on those feeds. And it’s such a good idea. We know what messages we’re being told to put out there, but you’ve got to be helpful, right? So start by not going by what you’re being told to push out to your consumer members, but instead flip it and find out what your consumer members are asking, what do they need, and then respond to those needs. It’s what you would do in a conversation like between the two of us. So why not do that with your consumer members?
Andy Johns: Makes plenty of sense if you take the time to think about it. The next thing I wanted to cover, it’s always tricky and it’s always a little risky to work humor in because online there’s not always the tone and you do with a little bit better with the video. But I like some of the examples that you mentioned. And just taking that extra effort, maybe take a little bit of a calculated risk just to work in a little bit of humor to the piece to kind of help drive home the fact that there are humans on both sides of the conversation.
Megan McCoy-Noe: Yes. I mean, you cannot use humor all the time. Please, please don’t. But you can find moments and celebrate moments that are fun. I saw some utilities that had their offices closed, but there was one utility in Colorado, LPEA, and they had a deer come visit the office and was looking in the windows while they were inside. And they took pictures of that and shared that. And it was fantastic. Animals are an easy way to have fun with some of your content. We can’t always convince wildlife to enter our photos, but that’s a great way to do it.
Megan McCoy-Noe: But also having fun, even with explanations that you’re doing for weather coming through. At Mason PUD 3 — they are a public utility district in Washington state — and they have some fantastic videos where they say, you know, we’ve got this weather front coming through. It’s not normal weather for this time of year, but they have a fun way of approaching it. They use a lot of emojis. They had snow come through, and they were throwing snowballs at the video camera. It’s serious information, but they present it in a way that is approachable and kind of lets you know they’re in the same boat as you. And let’s all figure this out together and understand how changing weather patterns will impact your bill. But, hey, we’ve got these tools to help you make sense of this, and we can all rest easy at night. So there are lots of ways you can work that in. Some things won’t work, but some things you’d be surprised at what could. We have a lot of hydropower in the northwest and the Portland Army Corps of Engineers — their page is fantastic — but the gentleman that runs our social media panel decided, you know, I’m going to have fun with this. We’re going to have instead of elves on shelves, he put yams on dams. It was hilarious. Now, some people got upset and said that’s disrespectful to the hydroelectric system in the northwest, but it was fun and people responded to that. And then he was able to get his message out as more people engaged with his channel. So it’s all a balancing act but show that your human. Show that you’re real and personable and folks will be able to connect with you for other messages as well. You are kind of building trust. It’s the same with get personal. I think we do a lot of that through outages. We know we’ve got to show folks what’s happening here, but I would also encourage you to get pictures of your staff, highlight your staff, highlight your consumer members throughout the year, not just when you have trouble. Because you’re building up that level of trust in the relationship, and that takes time.
Andy Johns: One of the ways to do that — and this is the last thing for you — one of the ways to do that you mentioned in the presentation and in the book is asking questions and kind of using them as conversation starters, which we know is a big key on social media. But what are some ways that you have found that asking questions helps folks be human online?
Megan McCoy-Noe: Well, again, you’re not just pushing a message out there. These open-ended questions can let folks know that you care about what they have to say. Some big businesses, folks feel, like they don’t care. So just asking a question sets the right tone for a relationship.
Megan McCoy-Noe: You’d be surprised what kind of questions can spark really good conversations. There was a post that I saw where they asked, hey, what’s the best energy efficiency upgrade you’ve ever made? And people went nuts sharing. Oh, we did this once, and it was great. And maybe they just asked the question at the right time, but it really started some engagement with the community folks going back and forth. And it was a great conversation. It was on topic for the utility, and the utility was able to help folks if they wanted to make them upgrade to. But maybe they didn’t have the means to do it. They could talk about their rebate programs, but really it was a way to foster that conversation. So I think just having questions, finding out what folks are curious about, and then tailoring your messages to that and helping them. It’s just the human thing to do.
Andy Johns: Absolutely, and I think that’s what the whole conversation kind of comes down to, is do the human thing to do. Sounds good.
Andy Johns: She is Megan McCoy-Noe. She is a public power storyteller for Pioneer Utility Resources. You can get to her e-book that we were just talking about “How to be Human in a Digital World” at pioneerutilityresources.com/ebooks. I’ll go ahead and put the link in the show notes for this episode. But I think that as WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources work more closely together, I think podcast listeners are going to hear more from Megan in the future. So we appreciate this first one together and look forward to doing more in the future.
Andy Johns: Thanks, Megan.
Megan McCoy-Noe: Thanks, Andy. It’s fun to be here.
Andy Johns: I’m your host, Andy Johns with WordSouth. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.