Open all hours

If Postman Pat filmed a new series today, it could well show him popping into the local branch of his Post Office on a Sunday to buy some foreign currency, post a parcel and chat with an old colleague. It is more than three years since the Post Office started to open branches across the country on a Sunday to allow customers to shop at their convenience and avoid the dreaded lunchtime queues.

But when customer surveys indicated that awareness of its Sunday opening times was low, the Post Office decided to launch a nationwide, integrated campaign to change this while simultaneously repositioning the organisation as a modern, relevant competitor in the mail industry.

‘People see us as difficult to do business with. They see us as a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday business and we needed something to go out there to change those perceptions of us as a brand,’ says Darren Jones, social media manager at Post Office. ‘A lot of people rush out to us at lunchtime and actually what we’re trying to say here is Chill out, you can take your lunchbreaks back and instead visit us on a Sunday on your way to get the paper or whatever else.

‘It was also to attack the trading challenge at the time, which was to protect our mails business. We needed a campaign that shouted about us as the Post Office, as being a destination for your parcels and also a convenient destination that’s open around you.’

As a result, the #LoveSundays campaign was born. Forming the social media strand of a wider operation called We’re Changing, #LoveSundays worked alongside traditional broadcast channels educating people about Post Office’s opening hours, supporting newspaper adverts and billboards that were positioned either side of dual carriageways saying We’re open around you.

‘We really tried to take up space where people would be enjoying their Sunday, just to interrupt them with our message,’ explains Jones. ‘We took an advert in the Mail on Sunday, for example, where we did quite a funny play on words Mail. On Sunday. We also took some ad space in shopping centres because we knew people would be there on a Sunday. It was very aligned to the customer.’

#LoveSundays used Twitter, Facebook and Vine to encourage engagement and conversation around the Post Office and its new Sunday offering. The channels were chosen for their existing follower base, whilst the hashtag was chosen as an existing conversation-starter.

‘It’s an easy win. Why reinvent the wheel when you can get your messaging amongst an existing conversation?’ says Jones. ‘It’s also quite simple, celebratory and feel-good. It’s just nice and simple and people can type it. Too often you can have such long handles that people get lost.’

Having decided to launch the campaign, which culminated in a 13 hour Tweetathon on Sunday 20 June, last year the Post Office team spent two weeks planning content around research related to traditional Sunday activities and topical events, such as the upcoming Open Championship and Prince George’s first birthday. This content was posted on social media during the course of the Tweetathon, while the team also responded to real-time tweets and queries.

‘We had all this broadcast messaging which talked at people, but we used social really as an opportunity to talk with people and to engage around that campaign, not necessarily to replicate what we were doing with other channels,’ says Jones.

‘It’s seeing social media as unique in its own right, and creating messaging that works well to the channel and the audience.’

When the Church of England spotted the campaign, it tweeted to say Hey there @ PostOffice. Really pleased you #LoveSundays too. We’ve been open Sundays for a few centuries. Welcome to the party. The Post Office responded @c_of_e We take inspiration from the best. Thanks for having us at the party. You’ve got the wine right? #LoveSundays.

‘We had to react to moments that we couldn’t predict, like the Church of England tweeting us. Because we had prepared so much in advance, when those real-time moments came up, we were already free to respond to them,’ Jones adds.

While Facebook was used to post planned content, Twitter, where the Post Office has more than 31,000 followers, and Vine remained the highest priority for the Post Office team. The channels were used in conjunction with one another to form eye-catching tweets, with specially created stop-motion Vines made ‘with great patience’, according to Jones. Each Vine illustrated a popular Sunday activity, such as waking up to a cup of coffee or taking a Sunday stroll with a loved one.

The team also created a Wheel of Fortune-style spinning wheel, which enabled people to decide what to do with their Sundays based on what activity the pointer landed on when they stopped the Vine.

‘It was really good, because people shared what it landed on,’ says Jones. ‘[Vine is] good for demonstrating modernity. It shows we’re willing to try new things. It fits effortlessly with Twitter, because they’re owned by the same company.

‘[The animations] are quite good at getting people’s attention on Twitter, because when you see these, you’re naturally curious.’

The tone of the campaign was already well-established by the adverts, which poked fun at other organisations. One said: Like banks. But open. When it came to #LoveSundays, this ‘cheeky’ tone was maintained through both planned and reactive tweets.

‘It was much more confident,’ Jones asserts. ‘That was to align with our new brand promise that the Post Office ‘helps make the most important things happen’ and this was really the first campaign that we launched with that. Rather than just launching with the promise, we decided to bring it to life and give customers a real proof point. We saw Sunday as being the strongest proof point. For the Post Office to go out there and say very confidently that we’re open Sunday, it’s quite a big step change. We had to be brave. The campaign deserved it.’

Jones is clear, however, that however successful the social strand of the campaign was, it would not work without a budget.

‘We did it because it was an integrated campaign,’ he says. ‘We knew from the media spend that it would get the nation talking and we wanted to be there talking with them when they did so. If you’re just sponsoring an everyday TV ad, then you probably don’t need to go this big. I don’t think we would have done this if we hadn’t had any paid activity, because what it helped us to do was to give us a kick start.’

Paid ‘promoted tweets’ led to a reach of two million people, whilst the organic reach of the campaign surpassed eight million. A high level of engagement meant that the team of 15 chosen to run the online campaign on the day were kept busy, while all the tweets and engagements were projected onto a wall in the Tweetathon’s ‘war room’.

The team behind the Tweetathon spanned several departments, including the Post Office’s creative and media agencies, its public relations team and its customer services department.

‘Most of us worked in shifts,’ says Jones. ‘But to be honest, when you see that wall, and you see the volume of conversation, it’s very easy to be motivated. We had such good, positive sentiment as well. When you spend ages working on something, preparing content, and you get such positivity from the public, you naturally feel motivated.

‘You’ve just got to make sure everyone is there for the right reasons. I always think you should be able to write two tweets a minute, in order to get through volume. We had 300 tweets an hour at our peak. If you’re not replying quickly, you’re not contributing much.’

Jones knew it was vital to get customer services on board. ‘If you can’t respond to John with a credit card issue, then John can be quite vocal and then could actually really damage the campaign,’ Jones explains.

‘I always prioritise customer services above everything. If you can’t get customer services involved, then there’s no campaign.

‘The team was split into three bubbles, within which there were two groups. The bubbles comprised a monitoring team, a response team and an activate team,’ he explains. ‘Monitoring was all about identifying real-time moments and optimising paid activity, not just for social but for pay-per-click as well. Response was very much We’ve got this idea, now let’s think of something clever to say, and that included producing the graphics too. And the final one was activate, which was just that final approval, so actually posting the content and making sure that there’s paid behind it.’

With such a high volume of tweets, many of which required a response, Jones used technology to enable him to monitor the content that was being posted. ‘We use Lithium, which basically doesn’t allow anyone to post anything, whether it’s broadcast or a reply, unless it goes through moderation. I had Lithium loaded up and a queue of posts, which I opened up, approved or rejected. And then it just went back to the original person if it was rejected with a reason why. Because we had good technology, it just saved the stress.’

Technology was also important to #LoveSundays in the way it provided data. The Post Office was able to send out targeted emails to the mobiles of people who were near certain branches, and the creative team turned around personalised graphics within 20 to 30 minutes, advising tweeters who had some amount of influence on the platform about the opening times of their local branch.

They also monitored sentiment and conversations using Tweetdeck and kept abreast of current affairs simply by having the BBC news on in the background and checking the Met Office weather. ‘We didn’t want to talk about going for a walk if it was going to be stormy,’ explains Jones.

‘Be close to the data,’ he adds. ‘Be prepared to adjust your plans at least hourly. We had that freedom on the day to take those moments. Don’t stick to the plans you had three hours before because social is so fast moving and especially with paid media, you pay by engagement so if something’s not working, you are going to end up paying an arm and a leg for it.’

According to Jones, the Tweetathon has ultimately changed the way the Post Office thinks about social media altogether. ‘It really brought home the opportunities of real-time social and how important it is to be in the moment.’