​​​​Outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, electric cooperative communicators expect that retirements and job turnover will be some of the biggest changes facing their organizations over the next five years, according to results of a recent NRECA survey.

In the second NRECA survey​ of communicators from distribution co-ops, generation and transmission co-ops and statewide associations on current communications practices and trends, respondents also said they expect to contend with providing broadband services and changes in rates and technology.

Respondents also said workload pressure and staffing, effective communication and internal communications would be among their co-ops’ top challenges over the next few years.

Engagement for the 2022 State of Electric Cooperative Communications Survey increased by almost 11% from 2020. Of the 299 respondents, 263 were distribution co-op communicators, 21 were from statewide associations and 15 were from G&Ts. The survey was conducted by NRECA Market Research.

“The pandemic brought many changes to the way co-ops engage with consumer-members as well as with employees. This biennial survey provides meaningful perspective on the changes impacting communicators and the challenges they face,” said Scott Peterson, NRECA’s senior vice president for communications and marketing.

Those multiple challenges and organizational changes also spell opportunities for communicators, he said.

“You could argue that it’s never been more important for communicators to be part of a co-op’s leadership team,” said Peterson. “Moreover, more than half of the survey respondents say their communications team is involved in shaping their organizational culture and strategy.”

The 2022 survey also showed that co-op communicators have a lot of demands on their time due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressures, but they are shouldering those responsibilities successfully, often with limited resources.

“The past two years have certainly brought new challenges, but that never stopped co-op communicators,” said NRECA’s Abby Berry, a senior communication resources manager. “But that's how they've always been. ‘We can't have an in-person annual meeting? Ok, then we'll make it virtual.’”

Other key takeaways from the survey include:

More communicators agree they “have a seat at the table.” More than 61% of statewide and G&T communicators strongly agree they have a seat at the leadership table at their organization, a 13 percentage-point increase from 2020. Among distribution co-ops, 67% “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement, compared to 63% in 2020.

More co-ops have a crisis plan than a strategic communications plan. As in 2020, more distribution co-ops have crisis communications plans (72%) than general strategic communications plans (44%). However, 21% of respondents are currently drafting a communications roadmap, and 59% want to develop one.

Communicators are shapers of organizational culture. When asked whether their teams help shape their organizational culture and strategy, more than half of respondents agreed, with those from statewides and G&Ts more likely to “strongly agree.”

“A strong culture at the co-op is so important and it greatly influences employees,” said Berry. “We need informed, engaged employees to successfully meet consumer-members’ evolving expectations.”

• Co-ops are leveraging social media. Slightly more communicators at distribution co-ops are using Instagram (46% in 2022 vs. 39% in 2020) and LinkedIn (38% in 2022 vs. 25% in 2020).