On Saturday, 27-year-old Kate Frasca was manning Con Edison’s Twitter account, @ConEdison, responding to customers’ frustrations, questions, praise and criticism at an average clip of one tweet every six minutes.
“What is the status of steam service below 14th street, East of Broadway?” one Twitter user asked. “Still working to restore appx 500 steam customers. We're focused on the process of steam restoration over the nxt week,” Frasca as @ConEdison tweeted back. Another user warned there was an uprooted tree “leaning toward wires & a home.” “Pls call 1-800-75-ConEd and local police immediately to report the situation. Be careful and do not go near the tree #ConEdison,” advised Frasca, a public affairs manager at Con Edison.
By 6 p.m. on Saturday, @ConEdison had tweeted 109 times that day. Con Edison posted more tweets on Nov. 2 -- 236 in total, according to Xefer.com -- than in the months of July, August and September combined.
Con Edison’s Twitter account, which has gone from 800 followers to more than 22,300 in less than a week, has made itself an indispensable resource for New Yorkers desperate to know when they expect a return to normalcy -- and powered, heated homes -- in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
For the last six days, Frasca and her colleague Amber Sisson, a fellow member of Con Edison’s public affairs team, have been alternating 12- to 14-hour shifts handling the @ConEdison account to ensure the company is tweeting day and night. Before last Sunday, the day before Sandy made landfall in New York, Frasca had never posted a single tweet to the Con Edison account.
At 11:05 Friday night, while other 20-somethings in Manhattan were drinking by candlelight or enjoying their first evening in a heated apartment in nearly a week, Frasca was tweeting from her iPhone in her bedroom on the Upper West Side as she got ready to go to sleep. She says she’s even been tweeting to @ConEdison from bed.
“We really aren’t taking breaks. We're getting so many questions so quickly and we’re really just trying to put everyone at ease and trying to bring some information to them,” Frasca said. “Everyone is so scared and they just want to know what’s going on.”
The account not only offers safety tips and updates on the energy company’s progress restoring electricity, but has also been a source of comfort for annoyed New Yorkers short on patience, power and information. While most companies seem to get quieter in times of trouble, the volume of tweets sent daily from Con Edison’s Twitter account, now more than double what they were five days ago, sends the message to customers that the giant utility is aware and responding to their problems. Instead of “trust us,” @ConEdison says “we hear you” -- and here’s what we’re doing about it.
".@ConEdison is the best PR a utility could never buy," tweeted @Cenedella. "Truly superb use of Twitter for accurate, timely, informative updates in emergency."
Of course, not all tweets are so complimentary, and for every customer praising @ConEdison, there's another lambasting the company for still not having restored power in their area.
"i lost my patience along time ago. Sleeping in a 49 degree home for a week and possibly another week is not okay," @Jackie_Corco wrote.
"I know they're not mad at me," Frasca says to such tweets. "They're just taking their frustrations out."
The speed and personalized nature of the tweets has helped attract New Yorkers to the feed, Frasca notes.
“We’re trying to answer as many people’s questions as specifically as we possibly can and we’re trying to keep up with everyone asking us questions,” Frasca explained. “It’s impossible for us to get back to every question, but honestly we do try to do it as much as we can.”
When they’re not tweeting from their iPhones, Frasca and Sisson are working out of a “situation room” in Con Edison’s Union Square headquarters in Manhattan, where they sit with members of the company’s communications and operations teams to ensure the information that’s shared is on-message and accurate. If they don’t know the answer to a Twitterer’s query, they’ll check in with the operations team, which is in direct contact with Con Edison workers on location in New York neighborhoods.
Frasca divides her time between Twitter and Facebook, but updates Twitter much more frequently, noting it’s more conducive to customers asking and answering individual questions. In the past week, @ConEdison has been mentioned 100 to 150 times a minute on Twitter, according to Frasca, who uses Radian6 and HootSuite to manage the company’s social media accounts.
She said she’s able to answer about 80 percent of queries, and if multiple users ask the same question, she posts a reply to the main feed, rather than sending numerous tweets directed at individuals.
Con Edison spokeswoman Sara Banda noted that Con Edison has used Twitter to become its own media organization, collecting and disseminating information straight from the source.
Social media “allows companies like us to be part of the media,” said Banda. “We can get information out directly to our customers, and that’s a great thing.”
So how did Frasca hone her social media chops? In addition to the training and “social media boot camps” the company has provided, Frasca notes she’s personally an avid tweeter and became an “instant Facebook stalker” when the social network launched during her freshman year of college.
“In my interview with ConEd, they asked me about my social media skills,” she said. “I told them I can find an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend in seconds.”
The Huffington Post is eager for insights from our community, especially people with experience in power, infrastructure and engineering, on the adequacy of emergency preparation in advance of Hurricane Sandy, and the degree to which past disasters have informed adequate planning and construction. Please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with insights and suggestions for the important questions that need to be asked of relevant private sector and government officials, and point us toward stories that need to be pursued.
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