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A Usability Study of a Social Media Prototype for Building Energy Feedback and Operations


This study explored the potential for using a web-based social network to promote energy awareness and influence energy-conserving behavior in the workplace. The research team developed a social media application prototype and conducted usability testing with 128 subjects as proxies for typical office building occupants. The key findings presented are: 1) the influence of highly personalized energy information; (2) the influence of normative energy information; (3) the potential for sharing personal energy goals and energy data; (4) the effects of incentives such as self-selected goals or reward “badges,” and (5) the implications of using social media for improving communications between building occupants and operators.

Findings suggest that highly personalized energy information, at the level of individual workstations or offices, offers benefits for engaging and informing people about their energy use. The cost of energy was found to be the most useful energy metric, a finding supported by previous research. Social aspects of sharing energy use information and personal energy goals were also viewed favorably by the usability test participants. Although a laboratory study may not account for the many complexities of the workplace context, results show considerable promise for using social media to engage commercial building occupants in energy conservation, and to improve communications between occupants and building management around issues related to building operations. The findings conclude with recommendations for the design of energy feedback interfaces, and for incorporating social media characteristics into such systems.

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