It is encouraging to see a number of public utilities starting to embrace the use of twitter to report outages and faults.

Recently I blogged on the use of SMS to report faulty traffic lights in London.Over the past few days I have again chalked up another social media success story, with twitter winning out over traditional methods.

A few days ago I was walking home from running some errands when I saw a river of water gushing from the base of a tree – a major water leak.

I quickly whipped out my mobile and Googled report a water leak and bingo the first result gave me the number to call 0800 714 614.

So I called the number…and waited….and waited, and started to walk home while waiting.  I eventually gave up, so the leak went unreported.

Today I walked back by the same spot (a very busy part of Kensington) and to my amazement the leak was still flowing.

Either no-one else had reported it (hard to believe) or the crew had not had a chance to attend.

So I called the number stored in my dialled call list …and waited….and waited like the previous time – so I gave up.

I then thought to myself – I wonder if Thames Water are on Twitter?

A quick search showed that yes indeed @thameswater was not only on twitter but was actively responding to reports of other leaks and also providing updates on what leaks would be fixed that day.

Surprisingly the website that contained information about which number to call does mention their twitter presence (towards the bottom of the page), but is not mobile optimised so that when I was checking the number to call from my mobile, I missed the twitter reference because it was not obvious in the small window on my phone.

Top tip for Thames Water:  detect the user agent (to see if it is a mobile) and deliver them a mobile experience, with mobile friendly information – a click to call number and the twitter name clearly visible at the top of the (mobile optimised) page.

Mobile+social to the rescue

What happened next was a good example of mobile and social media in action. About 4 minutes after I had tweeted that there was a bust main (with the street address and postcode), I received a tweet in reply

I also had a brief exchange with Amy from the @thameswater #tweetaleak team suggesting that they promote their twitter presence more widely.

Walking home again this afternoon, I saw a crew hard at work fixing the leak! Success!

So using the old methods (call a call centre and wait) still don’t work for me.  As I have blogged previously, as I rule I generally do not call call centres, I tweet.

I will be adding Thames Water to my list of companies to tweet (and also show as a great case study at my next speaking engagement).

It shows the power of Twitter, and also how an asynchronous method of dealing with faults (and not having to wait on the phone paying 5p a minute to be a good Samaritan) is the future – if only everyone living near the leak were aware of this.