power-lines

When power lines go down in Windsor, customers struggle to find out information from EnWin because the service provider lacks a social media strategy.

When power goes off and the lines go down in Windsor, EnWin customers have few options available to get up-to-the minute information about how long they'll be without electricity.

The situation played out once again Monday, when the first storm of the winter season knocked out power to more than 5,200 customers. On that night, EnWin Utilities provided little information to its customers.

Other energy providers in the region, which have had social media strategies for years, published regular updates Monday on websites or through social media throughout the storm.

Trying to improve it's communication with customers, EnWin has been working on a strategy for years, knowing it's well behind its counterparts, explained John Wladarski, vice-president asset management.

"The ability to communicate differently, more effectively and on a more timely basis with our customers remains an outstanding issue," he told CBC News.

EnWin planned to roll out a social media strategy in 2015, according to a report submitted to the board of directors back in August 2014, but that strategy has yet to be implemented.

"There's no doubt about it. We were late (then); we continue to be late," Wladarski said.

Hydro One offers apps and maps

Other energy providers have been on top of social media for years, including Hydro One, which has customers in most corners of Essex County.

For at least five years, Hydro One has been using an online map that lets people see how many customers are experiencing outages in their area. Recognizing this tool is difficult to use when the power is out, Hydro One launched a similar map feature on a phone app about two years ago.

In December, the energy provider launched a new feature that will text or email customers details about how long a particular outage will last.

Spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa boasted about how easy customers can access the latest updates about outages.

"You don't even need to look for this information anymore, we're going to send it to you," she said.

EnWin strategy coming in June

EnWin's latest proposal for a social media strategy is included in an overall revamp of the energy provider's communications operations. A detailed plan was endorsed at a board meeting in December, but formal approval was put off until incoming CEO Helga Reidel arrives early in 2016.

The board doesn't anticipate many changes, but they want to give Reidel the opportunity to look at the latest plan, Wladarski explained.

A robust social media strategy, which includes creating Facebook and Twitter accounts, will be rolled out with the launch of a revamped website some time in June. EnWin may consider launching social media accounts sooner, but so far that is not included in the plan.

"We wanted to launch the website and social media at the same time, so that's why we haven't gone off on a separate path with Twitter and Facebook alone," he said. "We probably should have a look at that and when we get back into the swing of things in the new year, we'll consider what our other options may be."

Publishing information in as many ways possible is a high priority for Hydro One and most energy providers.

"Ultimately, customers need to be able to make decisions that are right for them and their families during these outages," Baccega Rosa said. "Being able to stay connected and get that information is really important."