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US Postal Service Tries Tweeting and Pinning Its Way to Success

Social media owes its current day phenomenon of acceptance to the most basic need for communication that people have. Communication has taken many forms over the centuries, with the works of the United States Postal Service being one chapter among many in human history.

As the Post Office grapples with continuing to be relevant in a world where businesses promote paperless billing options for businesses, and texting presents a more attractive communication option than even email (let alone handwritten or typed letters – on paper), we find in a new report from the Postal Service that social media figures prominently in their plans.

Like, Share, Tweet: Social Media and the Postal Service, based upon research by the organization’s Office of Inspector General, offers a look at what new ways of keeping in touch mean to the venerable letter carrying and mail sorting business. For example, the Postal Service maintains a presence on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest among these.

The Postal Service sees opportunity here, a long way from the days of transporting letters by horseback across miles of land. There is data to mine and a customer base to serve. The Postal Service report found 70 percent of global businesses and organizations have a presence in social media, and possibly as much as $1.3 trillion in annual economic value represented by social media too.

To better serve customers, improve marketing, and perhaps develop new products derived from a social media presence, the report contends the Postal Service will need more of an internal commitment of resources to accomplish this. “The resources the Postal Service currently allocates to social media do not seem to be sufficient to ensure an engaging online presence with appropriate cross-company coordination,” the report said.

The Postal Service currently dedicates one full-time and two part-time staffers to its social media works. But as the report noted, shipping competitor UPS backs its social media campaign with a senior manager and “a staff of 5 to 10 employees whose primary responsibilities involve social media activity.”

Among what the Postal Service could accomplish includes tying in more to ecommerce. The organization has been working to lift itself into the package delivery conversation dominated by shippers UPS and Fedex. But the report’s researchers envision a deeper, and presumably more lucrative, kind of relationship.

“Social e-commerce services, for example, could facilitate the use of social platforms as storefronts, similar to online shops on Etsy or Amazon. The Postal Service could manage necessary back-end services such as microwarehousing, fulfillment, and delivery,” the report said.

We have seen a recent example of how the Postal Service can become more intertwined with a brand. The recent exclusive deal with Poshmark brought forth PoshPost, a program that brands US Postal Service shipping labels with the Poshmark name.

Engagement through social media backed with a sufficient dedication of resources has proven itself for other companies. The report cited the example of Nilla Wafers, where that cookie company decided to invest an entire ad budget in social media. The strategy’s result for Nilla found a 9 percent increase in sales, with much lower costs compared to a conventional ad approach.

One possible way the Postal Service could expand its social media influence would be to “go local.” Emphasizing a local approach is something being engaged by some of the biggest and most modern companies.

Amazon.com has been expanding its Amazon Local to more cities, offering customers the opportunity to receive emails featuring nearby deals. Likewise, online advertisers are experimenting with delivering ads to mobile phones toted by shoppers who enter a store.

By establishing local Postal Service presences that market to specific geographical areas, the organization can introduce and receive feedback on products like Metro Post, a same day delivery service being beta-tested in New York. Marketing this and similar products only to relevant local geographies could help improve the perceived value of following the Postal Service on social media.

The report covers a lot of ground and features case studies of how other organizations are using social media. Acknowledging that the Postal Service has begun to develop a social media strategy, the OIG advises it to consider taking additional actions to “fully harness the power of social media and reap the potential benefits,” steps that may be of interest to online sellers as well.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.