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The accidental lessons of Twitter monitoring for UPS

Since February 2009, I’ve been watching the waterfall of information flowing from Twitter, perhaps the most popular social media network today. I’m looking for keywords like “UPS” and “ups.com,” hoping to catch our customers as they converse about our company. And believe me, customers talk about us all the time.

In brief, Twitter is like the world’s biggest party line, composed of over 50 million users, each one sending messages to one another, 140 characters at a time. The question that Twitter seeks to answer is simple: “What are you doing right now?” It should come as no surprise that UPS is a part of the everyday activity of many, many Twitter users. Someone just heard the brakes of a package car as it stopped in front of their home. Someone else is in line at The UPS Store®. Another customer just received a birthday present. Not a week goes by without someone saying that our drivers are just like Santa Claus dressed in a brown uniform.

The emergence of Twitter as a powerful means of online communication and conversation has encouraged the development of applications that filter and analyze the constant flow of information. The tool I use most in my day-to-day monitoring is called TweetDeck. It allows me to set up multiple columns of ever-updating data streams, each one based upon search criteria. For the recent launch of Amazon’s Kindle 2, I set up a column to monitor the keywords “kindle” and “ups.” It was great to watch as our customers received their new e-readers, so many of them grateful to UPS for a speedy delivery.

Of course, there are limits to the specificity of such a keyword search. When I search for those three letters we know and admire, I see much more than just comments about Big Brown. And so, I’d like to report a few observations about general Twitter populace:

  • Many Twitter users are going through rough times, accepting such trials as just part of life’s ups and downs
  • Exercise is incredibly popular, as evidenced by users reporting activities such as chin-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups
  • Twitter folk are very encouraging, rarely missing an opportunity to show their support by giving “big ups” to their friends
  • And of course, there is quite a bit of discussion about the importance of using a UPS—an uninterruptible power supply—in an office environment

As Twitter grows in popularity, Twitter-based applications like TweetDeck will grow in functionality. It is just a matter of time before searches become more refined and contextual—meaning that a search for “UPS” (the company) will not produce results for  “ups” (the anything else). This will separate the wheat from the chaff for Twitter monitors like me. Until then, I’ll keep looking for our customers on Twitter by keyword.

Who knows, I might find a customer doing push-ups as a way of dealing with life’s ups and downs. If I can help them receive their UPS shipment of a UPS, maybe they’ll give us all big ups.

Category: UPS News
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    Comments [15]

  1. this is a great post. When I was little, I had a german nanny and I can still here her announced that the “upman” had arrived. It took me decades to realize that what she was announcing was the UPS man. :) maybe you should be searching for “upman” as well ;)

  2. Great lessons, and I can relate. We have lots of accidental lessons monitoring Twitter for software company SAS. They involve airline travel, British military and students in Singapore. Sometimes surfers against sewage and other odd acronyms crop up as well.

  3. There’s a lot of customer talk on The Consumerist (www.consumerist.com) — do you monitor that as well?

  4. Sam – we monitor The Consumerist along with a lot of other sites where our customers mention UPS. Happy to say that we’ve solved a few customer concerns that have appeared at The Consumerist.

  5. Katie, I have very fond memories of being a little kid and looking forward to those occasional deliveries from what I
    called “The Ups-Man.” I guess I thought he was a superhero, much like Batman, Superman or Spider-man. And for a lot of people, our drivers (both UPS-men and UPS-women) are saving the day everyday.

    It’s funny that you mention The Consumerist, Sam. We have them to thank for being among the first to take notice of our Twitter presence and revealing it to the world-at-large.
    (http://consumerist.com/2009/02/ups-gets-a-twitter-monitor-to-solve-your-problems.html)

  6. Ahh! So it’s you monitoring Twitter. As a fellow UPSer, I had to make my twitter private, to keep my personal and work lives unrelated. It would be nice if the company allowed the rest of us access to Twitter from work. Did you know Zappos employees are encouraged to Tweet abouttheir jobs? http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/zappos_twitter.php I find that our company can be severely lacking (read:archaic) in ideas when it comes to social media.

  7. Dustin, not sure if you’re aware of the variety of social media channels where UPS is engaged. On Twitter, Thomas and Mike (@MikeAtUPS) answer customer questions and assist with service problems. You’ll also find a number of other UPS company accounts on Twitter that provide news and job postings. We offer help at blogs and discussion forums where customers mention UPS. If you look us up on Facebook, you’ll find fan pages for customer tools, jobs, sponsorships and community programs. Our goal with social media communications is to offer helpful information that people appreciate while providing awareness about the great work our company delivers.

  8. I work for the UPS Solutions Group. I’m very happy to see how we are embracing social media albeit in our usual cautious way. I’ve been with UPS for 32 years. That is a very long time for someone in the IT profession. It is normal for us to be dissatisfied with the progress and performance of UPS. The minute we get satisfied with ourselves we will be in trouble. I’ve found UPS a place where an individual can bring about change by learning about and becoming involved with the evolution of UPS policy.

    Don’t forget that UPS was started by a couple of people that had an idea about making a profit from a brand new information technology…. the telephone. If you take the time to learn our story you may find that we as a group are very good at reading the future and responding to what we see. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some of the most determined and creative people in the world.

  9. Twitter can be helpful in sales too. I’m an Account Mgr for UPS and often use Twitter to gain insights into my customers business. It gives one another perspective and helps bring light to problems UPS may be able to help solve. I’m just getting started with this “research” but curious about ways UPS can leverage the new social media.

  10. Thanks Thomas for your BlogInput and the views shared – main reason for a Blog. Its good were geting PR feedback to help us keep focus on what UPSers and the World outside thinks about our company. An external social monitoring presence as well as internal ones are important. For internal UPSers I find that the BrownBook is
    a good Enterprise Social Networking tool UPS has implemented; its like a mini-tweeter. Blogs are normally one-to-many controlled social means, while Tweets are more many-to-many interactive information scoops. In the UPS Brown Book (access via inside.ups then click on “ETH” and then click on “Brown Book”) ALL internal-UPSpeoples can read, comment, and setup local communities (areas of interest) plus the sharing of WhiteBoard ideas. I find it a great productivity and motivational tool. With the mergence of these community access points, and the building of our UPS internal and external Clouds, we become more REalWorld and in RealTime on a global scale. Great for business and great for we the UPSers who make it happen. Just hope we do not lose this bubble as we hold onto our traditional values yet allow the automation flexibility to run and bind in our work and home lives.

  11. I’m a UPSer. Can we tweet from work? I think from a personal opinion, no. It will create distractions from the number one task at hand — your commitment to deliver on the promise. You can tweet outside of work but the moment you time in, you adhere to the policies and do, not try, your best to give 100% all the time.

  12. Hi Benjie,

    what if our customers are well automated and enjoy and benefit/use the new automation social tools that will soon replace Email? They want to tweet to us about UPS things; what do we say and/or do if they, for example, only have a tweet @ address and no email address??? Or when our drivers are trying to deliver a package and a customer wants to tweet to say that he is not home or at a 2nd business address and the package is critical to receive it ASAP.

    I think we should be able to handle any and all forms of requests from our customers; internal or external… Tweeting maybe appropriate nowdays; just asking not to cast it off quite yet and for us not be too slow to change or take to long to evaluate a potential business tool.

    • Hi David,

      You got a point there man. I’m inclined to agree with
      you.

      Twitter has become a good source of realtime
      information and I think it makes sense for it to be an
      alternative tool for communications to and from our
      customers.

      But I guess there are still gray areas where twitter
      access will be allowed — say for a specific team or
      department.Personally, I think UPS won’t allow twitter
      access for all its employees only a select deparment.

      I maybe wrong but who knows right?

      I would like to have it opened though..

      Cheers!

  13. Hi David.
    Good points. Thanks to your earlier post I was able to discover Brown Book;
    something I was completely unaware of. I work in employee communications and
    believe we have to keep up to speed with new communications opportunities. Not all
    will be appropriate to our corporate culture, but many will be.

    Unfortunatley, it’s easy to look at any new technology and see its weakness or
    vulnerabiltiy. Thanks to you folks in IS for exploring the possibilities and opportunities.

    I hope you’ll keep us all in the loop as these develop.

  14. learned a lot

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