After storm, Pepco PR man tries social networking to calm customer ire

Severe thunderstorms felled trees and power lines across much of the Washington area Sunday afternoon, killing Four people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power.
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The crisis control center of Pepco this week is a repurposed conference room, which smells like ambiguous takeout. Anybody who is in charge of anything has spent the past several days around a giant table at the corporation's downtown headquarters, strategizing how to restore electricity to the thousands of homes that lost it during Sunday's storm. A whiteboard keeps a tally of the powerless: 122,749, as of 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Throughout the building meander the Blue Shirts, the media specialists who all wear cerulean Pepco button-downs in case they are asked to give interviews.

"Do you need a bottle of water?" one Blue Shirt asks another.

"I need a lobotomy."

Tucked away in a nearby cubicle is Andre Francis. Blue Shirt Numero Uno. The first line of defense. He is in charge of monitoring the company's social networking sites. If, at any point this week, you have been compelled to log onto Twitter and rant in the general direction of Pepco, the person you are yelling at is Francis.

He is 25. This is his third day on the job.

How much would you say, Andre, that Twitter activity has gone up this week?

"I would say," Francis says, "it has gone up ridiculously."

Take, for example, this one Twitter user, who goes by "brad_stonegate." "He's written a few times," Francis says, pointing toward his computer screen, which is currently open to the social media browser TweetDeck.

Brad_stonegate has, in fact, written seven Tweets describing how "totally clueless" and "completely incompetent" Pepco is for failing to fix the power in his Silver Spring neighborhood.

Francis pauses, fingers poised over his keyboard, trying to craft a helpful response that will not enrage Mr. Stonegate even further.

"I totally understand your frustration," he finally writes, as PepcoConnect. "If you could send me a link to your listserv I can get it over to Customer Care." To another user, upset about a fallen tree, he provides Pepco's complaint hotline.

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