Centrica uses web chat to create more dialogueJuly 2009
The British energy company Centrica has taken the unusual step of holding a live ‘web chat’ to discuss issues in its latest corporate responsibility report.
Centrica invited stakeholders to participate in the question-and-answer session with the promise that all exchanges would be published online in an area linked to its annual CSR report.
The questions, all unprompted, were answered by Simon Henderson, director of corporate reputation, and Centrica’s two corporate reputation managers, Jeff Oatha and Amelia Knott.
The company promoted the idea via through its website, but also advertized it through social media networks. Having encouraged people to email questions, it created a system to remind interested parties by email when the chat was taking place. The session ran for 90 minutes, during which there was a mixture of live questions plus answers to queries received earlier.
The topics raised by questioners included Centrica’s decision to enter the nuclear industry, its policy on paying tax, and the effect of a new US government on its climate change plans.
Henderson told EP: ‘We answered every question and just managed to fit them all in within the 90 minutes. Happily, all the questions were great. There were no time-wasters and there was no abusive stuff, although we did have a system in place to prepare for that eventuality.’
He said the exercise was set up ‘to engage external stakeholders with our CSR messages and to differentiate our report launch from others’. However, it also ‘helped us demonstrate both transparency and stakeholder engagement as well as getting a good indication of the issues that are important to people. The range and stretch of the questions were encouraging’.
Henderson said the exercise, costing about £2000 ($3300) to host through an agency, may be repeated for next year’s report ‘or maybe for a more specific topic within the CSR agenda’.
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