Why virtual comms in the energy sector is not only possible, it's necessary 01 April 2020
By Liz Fletcher
Before we entered a world of lockdowns and quarantines, our energy sector was trying to recover after the bushfires and get ready for change. COAG Energy Council walked out of the March meeting with a laundry list of actions. We're navigating a transition from a series of big generators who predictably deliver to customers, to a world where every house, car, office and person is both a source and user of energy. And if you thought that was tough - add in the immediate challenge of recovering from the bushfires and preparing for next summer.
However, the news of COVID-19 saw many energy organisations halt their stakeholder activities. But we can’t just wait for this to all blow over and we don’t need to.
I’m not sure about you, but the constant stream of news has had me oscillating between sheer determination and utter desperation. The news of these programs being paused made it even worse.
In one of those moments of determination, last week I ran an online event as part of the etc, with experts from across the virtual comms spectrum. And I came to the conclusion (as the title hints) this is not only possible, it's necessary.
By embracing the virtual world, we will find new audiences, fresh eyes and probably most importantly - help us all get through this.
News websites, podcasts, video on demand services and more have seen enormous spikes in demand as audiences look for ways to fill their days. People are stuck behind a laptop in a spare bedroom and are building new habits for collaboration. Check out the boom of COVID-19 memes if you have any hesitations.
The energy sector has always struggled to bring new people into our world. But being conscious of this can mean virtual comms are a true leveller. It can deliver more inclusive solutions as can be seen by recent work in translating medical updates and how the CDC is proactively working with homeless communities.
For whatever reason, the energy sector has stuck to traditional channels but now its time to shift to virtual - and not just because we have to. Virtual technology provides a platform for low cost, data driven, democratic engagement. We can tap into people's time because they now have it. Whether you are training, engaging or promoting, people now have time to get involved and we have tools to find them.
Late last year the Energy Security Board hosted academics from around the world at a conference on the future of energy markets. One senior Australian energy regulator made the comment -
"We are trying to design a market for participants that aren't even in the room."
Don't get me wrong, the way the energy sector works with stakeholders is improving. Initiatives like The Energy Charter show that customers are now being heard. However, the rise of new (very successful) businesses shows that there's more to come and the system needs to be willing to embrace it. Now that we're forced to redesign how we work together, we can reframe how we bring voices together to embrace event more voices.
Going virtual eradicates barriers of distance and time. These times breed innovation. Breweries are making sanitiser and Dyson is making ventilators. The challenge was set and opened up to those who wanted to rise to it- virtually.
Humans need to communicate and interact. We also need direction. Luke Menzel wrote last week about the ramifications of the pandemic on our mental health. Our energy community is a small world. Before social distancing, we would bump into people at events and get the chance to catch up. Now we don’t have that, we’re at risk of losing some we’ve spent years creating. Half of the solution is the technology and that's not too hard. LinkedIn, Slack, Teams create space for communities. House Party, Facetime, WhatsApp mean you can communicate more than ever. Miro, Mural and StormBoard shift all those sticky notes onto your screen.
The other half is how we do it. The transactional nature of virtual platforms can remove humanity if you aren’t purposeful. When transitioning to virtual comms, the key is understanding what you are trying to achieve. From information sharing or networking through to consultation, match the need with the technology and the intent with a sense of purpose.
Tomorrow’s challenges can't be navigated with yesterday's communication strategies and now we're forced to do it differently, there may be even more opportunities
Engevity has developed a new model that accounts for the who, what, why and when’s of virtual comms. We want to help energy get into the virtual world as soon as possible.
So if you’re sitting behind your laptop in your spare room, trying to figure this out - reach out and let’s grab a virtual coffee.
It would be great to connect. Virtually.
Liz Fletcher is Associate Director at Engevity; Co-founder of the etc.; and Board member - Marketing and Communications Expert at the Energy Efficiency Council. This article originally appeared as a post on Liz Fletcher's LinkedIn account.