Social media that consumers seem to have adopted faster than they originally took to other electronic communications staples -- Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and YouTube -- were added to Xcel Energy's utility tool kit as the utility holding company publicly launched its own social media platform Thursday.

With electric and natural gas utility operations covering millions of customers in eight West and Midwest states, Xcel said it seeks to build a greater one-on-one relationship with its customers. The Minneapolis-based company launched what it is billing as a "comprehensive online customer communications platform" at blog.xcelenergy.com and www.respsonsiblebynature.com, in addition to its regular website, www.xcelenergy.com.

The blog will include information postings from the company, outlining four new platforms for communicating with customers.

Customers who hit the Facebook button can get the latest on storm outages, energy efficiency tips and poll results on energy consumption. There is also a "careers" tab to provide people with job information.

With the Xcel YouTube button customers can see video footage of storms, home makeover videos and samples of employee life at the company. It will attempt to show customers energy-saving devices and measures in action.

The Twitter platform is customized for each of the eight states in which Xcel operates: Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

"Each Twitter feed will provide relevant news and access points for customers to engage with [the utility] real time," said an Xcel spokesperson. "Customer service monitoring of all feeds will be done on a 24-7 basis to respond to any issues/concerns and to answer questions regarding outages, billing, etc."

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