Nearly a quarter of members say they would like their co-op to communicate with them by email, according to the new Touchstone Energy Survey on the Cooperative Difference. (Photo By: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
"What we're seeing is an evolution in their communication channels," said Tom Laing, vice president of research and member insights at TSE Services, which produced the Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives 2016-2017 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference.
When asked how they would prefer their co-op communicate information, 30 percent said direct mail, but the runner-up raised some eyebrows.
"No. 2, surprisingly, is email," cited by 22 percent, said Laing.
And when asked for a preference between printed and electronic communication, while a majority still want paper, 29 percent want online and 6 percent want both.
"There are multi-channel opportunities for communicating with our members, and we need to be leveraging all of them," said Laing, whose team surveyed 13,000 co-op members in 23 states.
That doesn't mean abandoning the old methods, he stressed, but taking a fresh look at "more direct means of communicating with members, and email is something that we really need to keep our eyes on as a very low cost, direct way of communicating with consumers."
In fact, when asked where they recall seeing or hearing communication from their co-op, "We see email being mentioned by 6 percent of our members, which would not have been true five years ago," said Laing.
"Online advertising has taken a significant increase at 8.5 percent, and I think we'll continue to see that grow."
And while large numbers recall seeing information in the statewide magazine and the co-op newsletter, some other traditional forms—including newspapers, TV and radio—have slipped.
As for what members want to hear about from their co-op, 21 percent told researchers that costs and rates are most important. "Directly related to that was how to reduce my bill," cited by 18 percent, said Laing.
Those were followed by renewables at 12 percent and saving energy at 11 percent, which Laing noted are almost one and the same among members.
"Most people are motivated to invest in renewables not because they're green or they're saving the planet, but because there's a perception that they're going to lower their electricity costs," he said.
"Educating members about our low cost goal, what we are doing to mitigate rising costs and our efforts to help our members manage their energy bill are the core messages we need to continually reinforce with our members."
Results and other information about the 2016-2017 Cooperative Difference Survey are available here to registered users of cooperative.com.