This month's question: How are you adjusting your member engagement strategy to reach more young adults?

Answer: Capturing an audience’s attention is one of the most important aspects of delivering a strong message. With the abundance of social media platforms and apps, receiving that attention from our young adult members requires new approaches and strategies. Starting with the schools within MEC’s service territory, we focus on education about the cooperative and future career opportunities. The most tried-and-true method of reaching our members continues to be meeting them where they are—through our Youth Tour program, attending community events, school presentations and supporting youth programs. Additionally, one of the many strategies we utilize to engage with the younger membership takes place during our annual meeting. As our pinnacle member event, the annual member meeting provides us the opportunity to meet with our members, share our successes and receive input from the people we serve. In rural northwest North Dakota, the agricultural industry has always had a strong influence on the success of our cooperative. Fortunately for our membership, local 4-H clubs are active, thriving and often looking for ways to promote civic engagement within their clubs. For the past few years, local 4-H clubs have prepared and served our meal to annual meeting attendees. Most of the 4-H participants are members, resulting in a partnership that encourages member participation and allows our younger members a behind-the-scenes look at how a cooperative operates.

Answer: Our co-op history is a beautiful narrative, but Polk-Burnett's member engagement strategy has transitioned to a more modern story that focuses on WIIFM (What's in it for me?). In 2013, we adopted Touchstone Energy's Strategy Execution System with a balanced scorecard and action plans to build trusted relationships with members where they are. This includes a strong focus on community relations, member-facing technology and digital engagement. We also use NRECA's Lexicon Project to update communication with language (and action) that resonates with members, such as being community focused, environmentally friendly and helping members save energy and money. We moved our Member Appreciation Day from Co-op Month to summer with a fair-style event that has food trucks, a selfie station, bucket rides for kids and a DJ and Solar Sam. In 2020, we transitioned to an online annual meeting, and engagement during the Q&A hit an all-time high. Future annual meetings will now include an online component. We still value print communications, but more co-op resources are moving to electronic. About 99% of new member applications are online, and we no longer mail our new member welcome packets. Half our members have enrolled in SmartHub for easy account access. Members rely on our website and social media for outage communication, and our website goal is 24/7 self-service. Much of what we've adjusted with young members in mind is valued by members of all ages. Many of these efforts are also more cost-effective, helping us hold rates down.

Answer: In January 2020, our cooperative launched a Workplace Simulation project with Charlestown High School. We asked students to plan how they could bring power to an unserved village in Guatemala, inspired by our own linemen’s participation in Project Indiana, where they did exactly that: bring power to a rural Guatemalan village. Once a week, approximately 80 students would come to the REMC Lab, a shop class converted for our exclusive use, and work on scale models of a village. The geometry class designed the line paths. Two engineering classes built village models and tested power generation methods. A computer science class even worked on a SCADA-style notification system for when the power went out. At the outset, we were concerned staff would resist giving four hours a week from their already busy schedules. By project’s end, every single department, from linemen to operations to IT to marketing, was volunteering to participate and offering suggestions for the year to come. While the COVID-19 pandemic cut the initial project short, much was learned and accomplished. In the winter of 2022 we relaunched, focusing more on electrical safety, having students dig deeper into renewable energy sources, and taking a full-day field trip to explore the REMC office and several field sites. We will begin our third project in January 2023 and could not be happier with the community connections we have made.

Answer: As part of our overall communications strategy, Southern Pine Electric continuously seeks to reach all segments of our membership, especially the young adults we serve. We recognize that young adults receive vast amounts of information, but due to work and personal constraints, they only sometimes have the time to engage fully. In 2022, we developed new communication and member service programs to reach the members quickly, efficiently and with minimal effort on their part. We kept our messages concise and the delivery methods digital. Our focus has been on increasing our digital presence to create more avenues of communication with members. We implemented a yearlong email series to new members to welcome them to the co-op, review the services available and give a brief overview of the cooperative difference. We launched texting for outages, redesigned the website and included chat features, added payment kiosks and launched our new MyPower app. In addition, we have increased our presence on social media by adding TikTok to the mix. To reach young families, we created a new mascot, Lightnin’ Jack, and developed animated safety messages and a coloring book featuring our new star. We can develop new and fresh material for schools and families with children with Lightnin’ Jack. Of course, we still employ all the traditional advertising methods, but we increased digital advertising to better reach this segment.