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Empowered Participants in a Connected Age

Let me tell you a little story about being empowered in a connected age in order to illustrate how a participation culture is changing communications, grassroots efforts and is undoubtedly putting the fear of God into the hearts and minds of PR and marketing professionals.

For over 10 years, the section of the upscale neighborhood in which my home sits has experienced major and minor power outages. Usually two major and several minor ones per year.

What has made this issue particularly irksome is that my neighbors behind me have never been without power while I have as has the majority of our development (my 50 home-ish section is on another part of the grid). A flooded basement that cost me $6,000 in repairs, hundreds of dollars of food thrown out, and untold irritation and frustration have been just a few of the results.

Our utility, Xcel Energy, has been about as responsive as any monopolistic, regulated and bureaucratic entity is: not very. Then, after two outages within days of one another in August after Xcel implied a fix had been done — I blew a gasket. I had had just about enough and leveraged my squeaky wheel that needs to be greased ability to communicate and ratcheted up my pleas to an atypically responsive (and blogger!) Eden Prairie city manager, Scott Neal.

Neal opened doors for me and pushed to ensure that my voice in the wilderness was helicoptered out and not left in the woods to be devoured by bears. Neal’s blog post succinctly describes the issue and positive outcome.

I’ll take a little credit for being a diplomatic, nice, persistent pain-in-the-ass to everyone. It was clear I was capable of being an effective communicator and would do so in front of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (which I could), to the governor’s office (one degree of separation from Gov. Pawlenty) and all over the Web (which I’ve done). I made certain it was clear to everyone that I’d NEVER let go of this until a permanent solution was planned/budgeted for and implemented. Perhaps that attitude helped move things along.

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