Twitter and solar may seem like strange bedfellows, but they both want something very badly: to convince the public that it can’t do with them. That was the gist of Biz Stone’s message from the solar conference Solar Power International in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Stone, the last-minute keynote speaker replacement for Peter Darbee CEO of PG&E Corp., recounted the key points of growth of his social communications tool and how Twitter can help solar businesses reach out to their customers. While the message was no doubt one of self-promotion, it also rings true for a fledgling industry that needs more campaigns to educate consumers.
“From what I’ve heard about the solar industry, is that they are trying to get the equipment to people and explain that over time it will generate a lot of value for them,” Stone said. “Twitter and the solar industry are in the same boat. People have heard about it, but people aren’t sure what to do with it. There is a huge awareness but also a disconnect in ‘What can I do about it.’”
Twitter, which Stone and his co-founders created in 2006 (though the company wasn’t formed until 2007), has 160 million users who broadcast 90 million messages per day. The service has become an avenue for companies such as Dell, Starbucks and Jet Blue to publicize deals and answer questions from their customers. Many solar company executives and advocates already use twitter to trade news, lobby for support and make announcements.
Creating a web of public conversations about solar is certainly an important task for the solar industry, whether it’s through Twitter or any other wireless tools. Stone said his business can both generate good revenues and do social good, and for example the service has been used to coordinate disaster relief effort and the company also is involved in charitable causes. The same tenet can apply to the solar industry, which has a similar message to tell the public.
“You can build on that. You can’t do that if you were running a tobacco company,” Stone said.
Stone also talked about his young company’s foray into politics, a tale that illustrates the importance of government support for young tech companies. Twitter executives did a meet-and-greet with federal lawmakers in recent months because they wanted to establish a good relationship with politicians when the company is in the enviable state of not needing anything from them, Stone said.
“A couple of months ago, our general counsel told me, ‘Look, everyone in Washington thinks Twitter has 30,000 employees who are jerks. So buy a suit and we’ll parade around (in front of) all the senators and you will say hello and how can we help you,’” Stone recalled (Twitter has 300 employees now). Political leaders “are supposed to represent the people, and they need to stay connected to people. Almost all of the senators are on Twitter. The Russian president came to our office to send his first tweet.”
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