Did you know that New York City offers more opportunities than the standard tourist attractions? Did you know that there are other hotels beyond the Hyatts, the Hiltons, the Omnis, the Sheratons, and the Marriotts of the world in NYC? I know when my parents come to NYC, they go to what’s familiar. When you go to a conference in Manhattan, you probably seek out hotels that you’ve also heard of. Face it, it’s a competitive landscape out there, especially for tourists who flock to familiar names but perhaps do not realize that there are other options in the city. How does one small hotel possibly compete with these hotel franchises? Is it even possible?
We can say that it is. In fact, the Roger Smith Hotel did it quite successfully. Now known as the “social media hotel” of NYC, Roger Smith is attracting a really incredible bunch of people who have raved about the ambiance and the company’s approachability online. I spoke with Brian Simpson, Director of Social Hospitality, for more insights into how social media became an asset for Roger Smith, and I learned some great things. Brian Simpson is a cancer survivor and discovered Twitter in the spring of 2008 when he endured the grueling process of chemotherapy for a period of 7 months. Twitter, he says, “became my way of talking with a community of people.” He explains that “Twitter allowed me to be social without having to be IRL.” After he joined the Roger Smith staff (as Assistant Director of Food & Beverage), he helped spread Roger Smith Hotel’s amazing stories, including three years of archived video, across the social media space.
Thus, Roger Smith Hotel has made an impression on us through social media, particularly Twitter. Brian explains that he initially built up followers by searching for interests that were relevant to him as the individual performing outreach on behalf of Roger Smith. Once connected, he looked at their friends and followers to see if there was an opportunity to branch out and make new friends. He says, “The use of Twitter was mainly for the brevity and ability to drive traffic to our blog and booking site rogersmith.com. I really found the genuine ability to connect with people valuable and we have continued to use this as just one of many pieces of the funnel hopefully driving people to be more involved with us outside of just booking a room.”
Brian explains that “conversations are happening and it is up to me to either be part of them or not.” Part of this, for him, revolves around being approachable and building up relationships privately via direct messages or on the Twitter stream. He explains, “I listen and try to contribute where it matters most – I never sell… its about people and stories.”
Indeed. But Roger Smith’s story is only part of what we’ve seen in the social media space. Therefore, I asked some people for their impressions of the hotel. Joseph Jaffe, Chief Interrupter of Powered, Inc., said that without social media, there was “not a chance” that he’d have heard of Roger Smith Hotel. Similarly, my good friend Jonathan Fields, who is a NYC neighbor, said that it is “doubtful” that he’d have heard of Roger Smith Hotel if not for Twitter. I personally learned about Roger Smith Hotel at a social media conference and was told that it’s the place to be. The word of mouth has traveled, because Pamela Slim learned about the hotel from Jonathan.
Has it been a success? We think so! Pam says “I think their efforts are fantastically smart from a business perspective. Targeting an audience of social media heavyweights that frequently visit New York City is a really useful marketing strategy. It feels really good that they “get” the social media world and go out of their way to make you feel good for staying at their hotel. I was very motivated to tweet about the hotel when I was staying there, which can only help spur business from my followers.” Jaffe agrees, saying “I think their efforts are great; it’s almost a backchannel in of itself. Today, it appears every retail or business concern says ‘follow us on Twitter’ or ‘be our friend on Facebook.’ Roger Smith Hotel, through their bevy of ‘humans,’ actually participates. They go out of their way to welcome any social media-initiated guests in person. When I want to book, I just DM them and ask for the ‘social media rate.’ I’m not even sure if this exists or not, but it makes me feel special. More importantly, they’ve created a go-to place or space for community. When I was there a couple of weeks ago, Amber Naslund and Chris Brogan were both there at the same time. This isn’t by coincidence.”
While I haven’t really gone for a night on the town, social media has given me a taste of what I’m missing. I’ve learned that Roger Smith Hotel is a boutique hotel with event rooms suitable for parties and workshops. It’s located central to Midtown Manhattan (Grand Central Terminal, perfect for out-of-towners!) and is a “homey and cutesy” hotel with “lots of character,” according to Jaffe. Pam says that she’s experienced great service and low prices (especially with their Twitter discounted rate) — and the “rooms were spacious” too. Apparently, according to Jonathan and Pam, they have great bacon. Jaffe plans to keep coming back and continues to recommend it to others.
Roger Smith has really penetrated a heavily saturated market, and they’ve done so with grace. Pam says it quite well, “Many businesses can learn from the RS Hotel to not just wait for business to come from regular channels, but to reach out to ideal clients who are also heavy social media users. If you court the right kind of people, you can bring waves of great business through your door, and make it really hard for someone else to break up a great business relationship. I have no reason to stay anywhere else when I come to New York, because it feels like my right place.”
That’s a great takeaway. Social media affords you a platform to reach out to people who, by virtue of being “connected online,” can help spread your message virally. As it stands, though, that platform is saturated. Taking advantage not only connecting with people but building relationships with them before selling. Selling should not even be a big part of the picture. At the end of the day, we know most people are active on social networks because they have some reason for being there (be it to make a sale or to establish authority, for example), but through your regular interactions, you need to recognize that these are byproducts of your genuine and authentic involvement. If you’re constantly broadcasting and not building bridges, your social media engagement will only travel so far.
Roger Smith Hotel also teaches us another thing: you should take advantage of your market by giving them opportunities exclusive to their communications channel. Both Pam and Joe talk about the social media/Twitter discount. It’s an “exclusive” opportunity to make members of a specific community feel valued by giving them discounts specific to this channel. Dell has been employing this tactic for years with much success. Add general relationship building to the mix — and aggressively work at it — and you have a recipe for success.
Brian explains that you really need to work at it and have the right mindset, and while you can continue to grow your follower base, having one true follower is really what’s most important. It’s not always about the quantity but about the quality. “Day 1 was all it took. Once we had one follower, I was happy. It has never been about the numbers but more about the people.” Of course, business is a result of that: “Our goal is not to drive sales; it’s to build a channel of people that believe in us as people first. The business tends to follow as people want to trust the people they do business with, and especially in challenging ecomonic times, the relationships become even more important.”
With so many advocates of the hotel, the Roger Smith Hotel way has really paid off. Building strong relationships is worthwhile to their business’s bottom line, but you need to jump in with your entire body. Brian says, “Be real and be patient. These are long term relationships that do not happen overnight. Respect and trust is earned. You cannot force or fake followerships. They will fail if you do.”
It’s true. Be real, be social, and be involved. If you are and if you work at it, the rest will follow.