Social Media

CDs became mobile music libraries. Boxed cereal became breakfast bars. The mullet became a man bun. What’s next? Photo-forward social media?

Actually, yes.

Social media is changing at a fast and furious pace. Right when you think you’ve mastered your Facebook and Twitter presence, a new platform takes hold. Meet Instagram: the photo and video sharing mobile movement developed in 2010 to shake up the tradition of text-driven social media.

Have no fear. Here are five tips I have gathered from helping our members integrate Instagram into their social outreach.

Instagram ≠ Facebook  ≠ Twitter

First things first, you need to know the purpose of Instagram to truly appreciate it. Instagram is a visual social platform designed for real-time image and video posting on your mobile device. You can log on to Instagram from a desktop computer, but to post content, you need the app.

Management tools and Instagram

So, you have to post directly from your phone. What’s next? Instagram is designed for mobile, so your management tool needs to be mobile friendly. Hootsuite is a popular social media management tool with a specific approach to Instagram. Learn how to use it for Instagram with this helpful video:

Understanding Instagram links

Now that you have your app downloaded, let’s move on to posting content. A link will not work in a direct Instagram post. Yet, you can add a link to Instagram stories. To include a link, state in your post, “Link in bio.” Then navigate to your profile and click “Edit Profile.” There you will see a Bio section. Simply paste the corresponding link. Unless your content has to have a link, I’d stick with your utility website in your profile bio. Here is an example from the American Public Power Association.


Instagram dimensions

Instagram was originally a square platform. Since August, rectangular photos and videos work on the platform, too. The recommended dimensions are 1080×1080 pixels.

Ready, set, post!

Congratulations! You are officially an Instagramer. Share your best photos from your service territory, fun happenings around the office and any other photo or video content you’d share on other platforms. Try out some of these fun apps to elevate your Instagram posts. Also, Facebook content and graphics from the Ruralite Services Social Media Support Program work great for Instagram.

Once you are comfortable posting pictures, explore more Instagram features. You can share 60-second videos, post up to 10 pictures and/or videos, and add stories. Like Facebook, Instagram has a live video feature, too.

Navigating social media tools does not have to be a headache. Contact Victoria Hampton with social media questions.

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Instant Replies and Messenger Greeting options are a great fit for utilities

Do consumers send outage complaints on Facebook Messenger only to be told they need to call an outage hotline to report problems? Facebook offers two easy-to-automate ways to save consumers (and you!) time and frustration.


Messenger Greeting

Facebook’s Messenger Greeting shows important information before a consumer types a message. You can make the message generic, or opt to include the consumer’s name (first, last or both) for a personal touch. For utilities, the most common way to use the tool is to provide an outage reporting number. Be concise; there’s a 160-character limit.

Sample messages from three utilities.


Instant Replies

You can also send an automated response once a message has been received. Facebook Instant Replies offer more space (250-character limit) and the same personalized options as Facebook Messenger Greetings. This is a good way to thank a consumer for reaching out and tell them when to expect a reply.

The downside? The message might be about an outage, and if your reply includes the number for reporting outages, the consumer might feel as if time was wasted typing the initial note.



How to Use the Tools

To add one or both of these options, go to your Facebook utility page. Click on Settings in the top right corner, then Messaging on the left column.

  • Messenger Greeting: Under Response Assistant, turn on Messenger Greeting. Select the edit option to reveal draft text as it would appear on a mobile phone. You have a 160-character limit. Focus on a message to help consumers avoid frustration. If they cannot report an outage by messaging you on Facebook, say so. Then give them the best way to report power issues.
  • Instant Replies: Under Response Assistant, turn on Instant Replies. You will then see an edit option. Click it to write your message. You have 250 characters to work with, but aim for short and simple. This is a good place to tell consumers when your account is monitored. You can also offer other ways to get in touch with your utility if there is an emergency.

Make it Personal

Both tools offer ways to make messages personal. To add a first and/or last name to your message, click the ‘Add Personalization’ button on the bottom left side of the edit box.


What Works for You?

Have a great social media tip you’d like to share with your peers? Add a comment to this post or send ideas for future blog posts to

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Check your bag at NRECA’s CONNECT 2017 for a free tea sampler. The sticker on the boxes highlights our free month promotion for the Social Media Support Program. Photo by Mike Teegarden

Get your first month free through June 10!

When it comes to social media content, your cup may be half empty. Never fear. Ruralite Services’ Social Media Support Program is here. Let us fill your cup with our specialTEA blend of efficiency, safety and holiday content.

The Social Media Support Program was designed for utilities that want help delivering timely, industry-driven social media content to consumers several times a week. This program helps you reach that challenging new member demographic and begins to give you a strong online presence.

Whether you have an established social media presence or are just launching your utility social media platforms, we have the content to meet your needs.

Why should you give the program a try? Here are some of the many program features.

We reinforce your social media efforts.

Ruralite Services can never replace the feel of local social content. But we can provide tools to streamline and reinforce social media channels.

We offer planning tools for you to stay ahead of social opportunities and robust monthly content featuring original artwork. Want a quick overview? Check out this video.

Planning tools include:

  • Quarterly planning calendar (includes ideas for local social messages)
  • Best practices guide (policy pointers, frequency tips, staff response chart)
  • Custom Facebook and Twitter cover images (one per quarter)
  • Graphics library (templates for scholarship, outage and rebate messages)

Monthly content includes:

  • Social media planning spreadsheet (helps with frequency and lets subscribers plan for multiple social platforms)
  • Weekly energy-efficiency and safety posts. See samples here.
  • Branded federal holiday graphics
  • Branded industry graphics (National Cooperative Month, Public Power Week, National Lineman Appreciation Day, Electrical Safety Month)
  • Quarterly original video and/or gifs
  • Quarterly SPOTLIGHT opportunities (custom utility graphics)

BONUS: Original holiday, energy-efficiency and electrical safety illustrations (.ai) are available for subscribers to repurpose on local magazine pages, in newsletters, as office signs and more.

Subscribe month-to-month or pay for a year in advance (no price difference).

  • Magazine members: $200 a month ($2,400/year)
  • Non-magazine members: $250 a month ($3,000/year)

 Customized training is available on request.

Try the program for free

New subscribers get a free one-month program trial. To qualify, utilities must sign up before June 10, 2017. Utilities who got a free month in 2015 are not eligible for this promotion.

Look for Ruralite Services at NRECA’s CONNECT 2017 conference in Tampa next week!

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Lineman Party Prep!

Lineman Party Prep!

Posted By on Mar 29, 2017

Are you ready to gif… we mean give, your linemen some love in April? Here’s how to #thankalineman in style.

When’s the Party?

We like to celebrate linemen every day—they’re awesome!—but it’s also nice to pick a date every year to highlight the men and women who keep our lights on. This is when industry leaders celebrate in 2017:

  • March 31: Edison Electric Institute (investor-owned utility association), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • April 10: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
  • April 18: American Public Power Association

Let’s GIF this Party Started!

We love brainstorming creative ways to recognize holidays on social media. To celebrate linemen this year, we created a looping gif. It’s not as time-intensive as a video, but the moving images stand out and get noticed on social media news feeds.

In addition to the gif, Ruralite Social Media Support Program subscribers get a custom cover image and National Lineman Appreciation Day graphic with their utility logo.

Love this idea? Talk to me if you want to add your logo to this year’s social media design. Prices for a custom graphic are determined on a one-hour minimum project basis.


Party (and Press!) Ideas

No matter which day you pick, here are three great ways to #thankalineman and get the community and your staff involved.

  1. Surprise Snacks:
    Have volunteers pack up snacks for linemen to take on the road. Ask member services representatives, a class of students at a nearby school or consumers visiting the office to sign thank you cards, and add a card to each bag. Place the surprise snacks either in each utility truck EARLY in the morning or place them in your utility’s linemen office/meeting space. Supplies: Thank you cards, small brown paper lunch bags, snack variety packs, candy bars, and either bottled water or an energy drink. Tip: Although an apple might be healthy, bear in mind linemen often eat on the run.
  2. Biscuits and Banners:
    Nothing says ‘Thank You’ quite like a warm biscuit. Treat your linemen to breakfast and hang a ‘Thank You’ banner on your warehouse dock. Keep the banner up for at least a week. No time for a banner? Post 8.5×11 flyers around the office and dock (download flyer). Supplies: Call ahead to your local biscuit supplier (or a chain such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box). Order a biscuit for each of your linemen. You may want to order enough to feed other operations and engineering staff, too. Tip: Get a picture of your CEO/General Manager hanging up the banner to use in your newsletter.
  3. Lemonade for Linemen:
    As the linemen return to the docks, have either member service representatives and/or senior staff hand out lemonade to crews. Supplies: Buy in bulk from your local grocery store or buy sugar, water and lemon juice and make it from scratch. Serve from a large thermos or other container; have a stack of plastic cups handy. Tip: Invite local press to snap pictures. If the afternoon time doesn’t work, consider having staff fill thermos for the linemen to take with them in the morning (some crews attach a thermos to their bucket trucks).


Other Party Resources:

NRECA put together a planning guide with sample social media posts and celebration ideas. NRECA members can download all of the support materials (press release, print ad, social media images).


Have an idea to share?

We’d love to let other utility communicators see how you celebrate your linemen. Share pictures/ideas below or send them to Thanks for spreading the lineman love!

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Where should you put your message: online or in print?

Both, says Ruralite Services CEO Michael Shepard. He joined the utility communications cooperative in 2016 after a career in newspapers and magazine publishing.

“One of the things we struggle with as communicators is the transition to digital and online messaging while still understanding what works in print,” says Michael. “Do not look at digital as a complete transition from print. It is more complicated than that.”

Consider each message your utility wants to share. Some work best in print, while other messages should also be shared on social media or a website.


Science of Print

“Print remains extremely valuable as a place to tell stories,” says Michael. “Print is great for a message people aren’t necessarily looking for—a message you’re bringing to them. Make it as compelling as possible; tell a fascinating story readers were not expecting to learn.”

Science backs up the power of print. A 2015 study by the Canadian neuromarketing firm TrueImpact used eye-tracking, brain wave measurement and questionnaires to compare the impact of print messages with email and online messaging.

The report found direct mail—materials you hold in your hands—are easier to understand than digital messages.

“Direct mail requires 21 percent less cognitive effort to process than digital media, suggesting it is both easier to understand and more memorable,” the report states. “When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70 percent higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece than a digital ad.”


Questions Drive Digital Content

Websites and social media are ideal for question-driven messages. Outage updates, high-bill questions, immediate safety concerns—these are questions consumers seek answers to online.

“Folks are turning increasingly to digital sources (and away from radio and TV) for instant information,” says Michael.

Digital platforms (website, social media, videos) help utilities provide succinct information to consumers quickly.

More than half of the average website’s traffic comes from mobile devices. Utilities need to make sure their websites use responsive design for easy mobile-device viewing. Content should be geared toward answering the common questions driving consumers to the website.


Social Steps

Print helps readers discover stories. Websites answer questions. How does social media fit into a communicator’s toolbox?

“You can use social media to get out a serious message about something but in a more lighthearted way,” says Michael.

Social media can be used to help followers discover stories about their community, much as you see in print. It can also be a key communication channel during an outage. Share pictures of damage, restoration efforts and expected time to restore power.


Remember Reach

Keep digital messages simple. A 2015 study by Chartbeat, a media analytics partner,  found 55 percent of website visitors spend less than 15 seconds actively reading a web page.

Think social media results are better? Think again. A 2012 PNM Resources survey of utility social media accounts found the best of the best—utility accounts with high engagement—attract only about 12 percent of a utility’s customer base.

Compare digital reach to Ruralite magazine’s last reader profile study. Fifty-eight percent of readers surveyed in 2013 read the magazine for 30 minutes or more. And when asked how many of the last four issues these people had read, 76.4 percent reported they had read all four issues. Since an average of 1.9 people read each issue, that means 477,286 out of 624,720 potential household readers open and read every issue of Ruralite magazine.

“The reality is that—at least for our industry—digital has an extremely modest impact. There is very little website, app and social media traffic, especially when you compare it to how many utility consumers read the print version of their statewide publication or utility newsletter,” says Ruralite Managing Editor Curtis Condon. “Digital and print are not equal in terms of their effectiveness or value.”

Michael agrees, encouraging utility communicators to use many—not just one or two—communication avenues to get the word out.

“Do not look at is as, ‘This goes here now,’” says Michael. “You may need to include five or six elements across different platforms to have a full communications plan.”

Print vs Digital: Which is Right for Your Message? from Ruralite Services on Vimeo.


This is a story from the Winter 2017 issue of OnLine, our quarterly newsletter. Get more great ideas here.

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Do you know what you’re posting on Facebook next month?

While a hefty part of your social media activity will be outage restoration updates and highlighting local faces and events, long-range planning is the backbone of a successful social media plan.

We recommend sitting down once a quarter to jot down upcoming events, think about which utility programs you need to profile and plan for graphics to celebrate national holidays. Think about when you want to promote scholarships, rebates and other important messages. Tie these priorities to industry events or relevant holidays when possible to boost awareness.

Sketch of events throughout the year

Take time to jot down important events throughout the year. Planning ahead gives you time to develop strong graphics and posts.

To help get 2017 off to a great start, here’s a list of energy-related events throughout the year. And if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to find ways to work more efficiently, try Ruralite’s Social Media Support Program. Subscribers get weekly energy efficiency and electrical safety posts with graphics, branded industry-themed graphics for federal holidays, a quarterly content planning calendar and—most importantly—peace of mind.


Blood Donor Month, Mentoring Month       

  • Jan. 10: Cut Your Energy Costs Day. Share a list of ways your consumers can save. Consider making an infographic. has infographic templates, or share one of Touchstone Energy’s videos. #CutYourEnergyCostsDay
  • Jan. 19: Get To Know Your Customers Day. Invite your consumers to stop by your office for a treat and coffee. Post a live video from your event and take photos. #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay

Black History Month, American Heart Month

Credit Education Month, Women’s History Month, Nutrition Month

  • March 3: Employee Appreciation Day
  • March 3-4: Day of Unplugging. Use this day to raise awareness of how much energy different appliances use.

National Poetry Month, National Stress Awareness Month

  • April 10: National Lineman Appreciation Day. Looking for ideas to celebrate? We came up with a fun list last year. Supporting graphics are also provided by NRECA.
  • April 18: Tax Day. What energy tax credits can your customers count on? Let them know with a reminder post, sharing Energy Star’s list. This is the last year for many residential energy efficiency tax credits.
  • April 22: Earth Day. Highlight renewable energy supplied by your utility and/or recycling efforts.
  • April 24: Safe Kids Day. Share five electrical safety tips for kids using #MyHigh5.
  • April 29: National Arbor Day. Spotlight tree-trimming practices and right-of-way program/guides.

National Electrical Safety Month

National Electrical Safety Month: Share electrical safety messages all month. Supporting graphics and social media posts provided by the Electrical Safety Foundation International, and NRECA.

National Safety Month, Great Outdoors Month, National Dairy Month

  • June 9-16: NRECA’s Electric Cooperative Youth Tour #YouthTour #YTDC
  • National Safety Month: Look for opportunities to highlight safety training and share electrical safety tips. #SafetyJourney #Safe4Life

Independent Retailer Month, National Park and Recreation Month

Independent Retailer Month: Touchstone Energy members can profile local shops with Co-op Connections Card offers. #ShopLocal #Indie.

National Water Quality Month

National Wilderness Month

National Cooperative Month, Energy Action Month

National Child Safety Protection Month, Native American Heritage Month 

  • Nov. 15: National Philanthropy Day. Does your utility have Operation Round-Up or a similar grant program? Thank members who give, highlighting the amount invested in the community to-date.
  • National Child Safety Protection Month: Partner with your local school district to share electrical safety tips for all grade levels. Plan safety demonstrations and use materials from the Electrical Safety Foundation International kids’ corner.

Human Rights Month

#12DaysofEnergySavings: Tap into the holiday spirit by developing energy efficiency posts using #12DaysofEnergySavings. Here’s an example from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Next Steps

Knowing what’s coming is the first step. Creating posts and graphics to talk about these industry events is next. Let us help.

Our social media support program does the legwork for you. New subscribers get the first month free (up to $250 value) by joining before March 31, 2017.

Sign up for your free trial

This list is always evolving. Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below!

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