In October 2017, Manager of Social Listening and Insights Mary Beth Levin joined USPS to spearhead their new social listening and insights group — an effort that had been long in the making for Digital Communications Manager Nick Sucich.
In the year and a half since, the program has become an integral component of their social media strategy.
According to Mary Beth, they think of social media as a three-legged stool — with the first two being owned media and customer response. “Those encapsulate what we say about ourselves and what people are saying to us,” she said. “Then the third leg is business intelligence — which is what people are saying about us.”
Mary Beth explained that they listen to that information through traditional and social media on the various platforms, and it’s having massive impact across the organization.
Mary Beth and Nick said one area of particular impact is in their crisis mitigation capabilities.
From a leadership perspective, Nick added that they wanted to provide a broader view of the conversation around USPS — in both the social and traditional space. “We needed to take action — and make sure we were taking the right action — based on data we could verify,” he said. “So we focused on the listening and insight piece of this that help us better do that work.”
Mary Beth said, thanks to this program, they’re able to make more informed decisions on whether a negative press piece or crisis on their media channels merits a response — and, if so, what that response should be.
According to Nick, their second priority was improving the customer experience through listening around new products and services.
He said they focus a lot of their monitoring on current and emerging services. “We monitor things like informed delivery — which allows our customers to see the mail delivered via email — in social and traditional spaces,” he explained. “That helps us get a get a read on the customer. It’s almost like a focus group.”
Then, he said, they can make an intelligent decision about what resources they’re going to use to improve the service.
With her growing team of five, Mary Beth develops daily reports so their listening insights can be shared across the organization.
“Our reports are very long because we know different people want different things,” said Mary Beth. “And we include both top-level and detailed notes in them.”
They also develop various topical reports. “We put these together for new product launches — like our new informed delivery program that lets people see the mail they receive by email — to look at what’s being said about it on traditional and social media,” she explained.
According to Nick and Mary Beth, they also use the information from their listening program for natural disaster responses.
“People tend to go to social media to express their concerns during natural disasters, and we’ve been able to use that to inform operations,” said Mary Beth. “We recognize certain patterns of responses so we can anticipate those concerns and be preemptive with our editorial programming.”
For example, Nick said during natural disasters, there are a large amount of people who want to hold their mail or change their address and the team gets a lot of questions about how to deal with it through their listening channels, so they program their editorial pages with that in mind — in multiple languages.
“It’s important to pay attention to that information so we can send it back to our operations team and make sure we’re getting the right messaging to people during those difficult times,” he explained.
Nick and Mary Beth said the program is an important investment for them because it gives them visibility into customer and employee minds.
“We put together another daily social media insights report for our executive leadership team that looks at competitors and industry trends,” he said. “It gives our leadership insight into what the industry is talking about and also gives a high-level view of what we, as an organization, are posting.”
So far, Mary Beth said the internal response to the listening program has been overwhelmingly positive.
She said that can be seen in the number of people who request being put on the list for the daily report and the number of topical report requests. “Last year we did 172 topical reports that people in their various departments wanted us to look into,” she said. “I think that speaks volumes for how valuable people find the information.”
Nick added that, at the executive and leadership level, this work has provided insights that have allowed them to make changes with greater urgency than before. “We’re able to make quicker adjustments to serve the customer better,” he explained. “At the end of the day, that’s the whole premise to improve the customer service and be able to change rapidly and adjust to new products and services — we’re using data to be more nimble.”
As they move forward, they’re looking to focus more on product and service development. “Right now we’re looking at existing products and services and doing a little bit more market research and identify gaps in services that need to be filled,” said Mary Beth.
For Nick, who started this program from nothing, one of the most integral components to their success was looking at the big picture and having the right people involved from the beginning.
He emphasized that building alliances with other departments and effectively communicating how the three legs of their stool coexist has made all the difference to developing this program successfully.
Mary Beth added it’s important to make clear to your internal partners that a listening program isn’t their competition. “We’re there to make their lives easier,” she said. “We will never replace PR, but what we can do is help better inform their decisions in their responses.”
Then, Nick said, it’s important to make sure you have the right people leading the charge once the program is ready to get off the ground.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of putting the right team together,” he said. “We were looking for people who understood how to solve problems — like if a customer loses a package, we can’t just say ‘we’re sorry, email this person or call this number,’ we needed team members who would actually go investigate and try to solve those problems.”
He said it’s the people who are working those platforms in each of your individual business units within social media that really make the difference in a successful listening program. “Without those behind it, who are able to bring these things to life, you don’t have a social media program with great leaders,” said Nick. “You just have a bunch of computers with software on them.”