How social media could raise British Gas’s sustainability drive to another level
Once in a while you come across a company initiative that makes you think: “Here’s a firm that’s putting sustainability into action.” That was my reaction (and that of many others) this week when British Gas announced a new incentive to help the most vulnerable members of society cut their energy bills through free loft and cavity wall insulation.
British Gas isn’t appealing directly to the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged. It’s done that in the past with only limited success. Instead, the company is offering £50 to “anyone who refers vulnerable family, friends or neighbours to us for free insulation. We’ll also pay the vulnerable customer £50 for having the free insulation installed,” it declares in a press release.
There’s a compelling reason for vulnerable households to accept largesse from British Gas. First, home insulation takes only a day to install and, once completed, can save households as much as £175 on annual heating bills, while cavity wall insulation can bring savings of £135. Indeed, British Gas estimates that “£1 in every £4 spent on heating is wasted due to poor insulation, so energy efficiency can have a massive impact”.
The British Gas plan has generated a lot of chatter on news sites, including the BBC, the Guardian and the Telegraph. The company has also cranked up its not insubstantial social media machine – including a new British Gas News website, Facebook page (8,100 likes) and Twitter account (8,900 followers) to highlight the story.
So how exactly will British Gas be building this movement of caring friends and family members? “If you are interested in referring someone,” the company says, “tell someone you know who qualifies, remembering to give them your address and phone number [and] get them to ring us on 0800 975 1195.”
Is that it?
Now, it may well be that a lot of market research went into evaluating the most appropriate technologies for this umbrella group of vulnerable folk to use when contacting British Gas. It may also be that using the phone was deemed the most discreet and secure way of protecting the privacy of the recipients. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that the company is missing a trick or three in how it is communicating and facilitating the insulation campaign. This is 2012 after all. British Gas has proven perfectly adept at using online and social media to send out its press release; it doesn’t take a massive leap of tech faith to see how social media technologies could also be used to build awareness and interest in what is obviously a laudable but also a challenging goal.
At the time of writing, British Gas hadn’t taken any major sustainability marketing steps for the insulation incentive apart from issuing the release. There may be a microsite in the offing (the company seems to have prepared the domain name www.sharethewarmth.co.uk), but it isn’t active at the moment. By the time you read this, British Gas may well have surprised me with a really smart social media strategy for this project … but just in case they haven’t, here’s a few thoughts on how a good scheme like this could be “sold” to the public in a way that is authentic, interesting and useful – the keys to successful social media communication.
Explain and motivate using YouTube and Facebook It’s not like British Gas doesn’t understand the potential of video. Its corporate YouTube channel is packed with brand and instruction videos – there’s even one about home insulation installation (although it’s not exactly a viral hit), and another showing how one pensioner saves energy with a smart meter (ditto on the viral). Smart video storytelling can help illustrate an idea better than any press release and also motivate social media communities to share the information. Facebook, after all, is the biggest video-sharing site in the world.
Harness the connectivity of Twitter Back in 2011, Thames Water came up with a simple but ingenious way to prevent water leaks that were draining resources during the winter. Using the hashtag #tweetaleak, Thames encouraged customers to report leaks. The company then dispatched repair teams to fix them. The leaks British Gas is trying to plug aren’t so obvious, but tapping into the power of Twitter could help mobilise its referral campaign.
Map the crowd OK, this one is a bit trickier given the need to protect the privacy of potential claimants. However, as the crisis mapping organisation Ushahidi has demonstrated with its Crowdmap open source technology, the ability to geolocate and map a social cause or sustainability issue offers great benefits for both understanding the scale of the problem and provides a guide for where best to divert resources to tackle it. London’s pilot crime prevention mapping service streetviolence.org is just one example of how mapping is being used to identify social problems and empower vulnerable people (in this case, victims of crime).
Social games Imagine if just some of the energy you devoted to playing Farmville and Angry Birds could be shifted into an opinion-shifting and motivating game for better home insulation.
Sounds ridiculous? Hardly. Today “gamification”, the application of game theory into work processes and marketing is a hot topic for all brands. Volkswagens’ Speed Camera Lottery – an experiment to make motorists drive slower by rewarding them via a lottery for staying below the speed limit – is just one quirky example of gamification being applied to social good and sustainability projects.
It’s not too much of a stretch to see how British Gas could create an energy-saving home insulation game for distribution on Facebook that could boost awareness for its scheme.
Admittedly, all these strategies cost a bit more in marketing terms than a press release. But sometimes investing a little more upfront pays dividends in raising awareness for your social initiative … especially one that could help British Gas win over new customers in the long run. Whether the vulnerable referral scheme is a true sustainability statement or just a piece of corporate social responsibility window dressing may yet depend on how well British Gas explains and tells this particular story.