Case Detail

Case Summary

Commonwealth Edison: The Use of Social Media in Disaster Response

Case Number: 5-212-251, Year Published: 2013

HBS Number: KEL734

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Authors: Daniel Diermeier; Daniel Petrella

Key Concepts

Business Communication, Business Policy, Communication, Crisis Management, Customer Relationship Management, Public Relations, Reputations, Social Media, Society and Business Relations


After a massive storm hit the northern Illinois service area of electric utility Commonwealth Edison on July 11, 2011, more than 900,000 customers were left without power during a hot, humid summer. ComEd crews and reinforcements from more than a dozen other states worked for days afterward to restore service. Meanwhile, the company’s months-old social media strategy faced its first major test. The eChannels social media team, part of ComEd’s customer operations division, worked around the clock to respond to posts from customers on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. At a time when the company faced public debate and criticism over its plan to raise electricity rates, in part to invest in smart-grid upgrades, engaging directly through social media was a way to strengthen relationships with customers and the general public, consistent with an important corporate goal: “Keep the lights on and information flowing.”

Learning Objectives

After discussing the case, students will:

• Develop an appreciation for the role social media can play in shaping a company’s reputation
• Understand how companies can use social media to engage customers directly in order to protect their reputations
• Understand the role these interactions with customers can play during a crisis situation
• Recognize the added reputational risk when a company’s core business is directly impacted by a natural disaster

Number of Pages: 16

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Strategy

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Industry: Electric Utilities

Organization Name: Commonwealth Edison

Organization Department: eChannels

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: Senior Project Manager

Decision Maker Gender: Female

Year of Case: 2011