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Social Media Rock Star:
An Interview with the Roger Smith Hotel


By Daniel Edward Craig, October 6, 2010

The Roger Smith Hotel in New York was an early adopter of social media, having launched a video-based blog way back in 2006, the equivalent of the swinging sixties in internet years. 

Today the 132-room independent hotel has achieved rock star status in the realm of social media, and its lead evangelists receive frequent invitations to speak at industry events. The RSH is fully engaged in social media, constantly churning out original content and always true to its refreshingly humble positioning as “a positive, open and friendly spot in Midtown Manhattan … committed to great ideas, creative and entertaining interaction with the city”.

I think the hotel industry can learn from the Roger Smith’s social media experience, so I caught up with Adam Wallace, New Media Marketing Manager, to find out what he and his team are up to these days. Here’s a condensed version of my interview. 

Dan: Some would say you have the best job in the hotel business. 

Adam: We have been lucky to have management and ownership that is very open to trying new and innovative marketing strategies. Our approach to online marketing has been different from most hotels for many years in that we focus on stories, people and relationships rather than just talking about our product. This makes my position much more fun, more interesting and in many ways more effective than a traditional marketing position.
Dan: How is the social media function managed in your hotel?
Adam: We have a lot of people that contribute to our online presence both in terms of content and engagement. Our social media efforts are integrated with our online marketing, so our internal team is really an online marketing team, not a social media team. By having an internal team we have been able to strengthen a lot of our online marketing.

Twitter is our most successful venue for engagement and relationship building, and is managed virtually all hours of the day by Brian Simpson, our Director of Social Hospitality (The constant attention is important!). We also have many personal Twitter accounts, which give us all a venue for active engagement. Facebook is also very important; our page has many contributors as well as everyone’s individual accounts. 

Our blog (rogersmithlife.com) is the core of our online content as it hosts all of our media and stories (from YouTube and Flickr) and is where we send people to from Twitter and Facebook. Roger Smith Life has stories from all over the hotel, from the LAB Gallery and the arts program to our popup store, RS Pop, our restaurant, Lily’s, and the people and community around RSH. Many of these programs also have their own blog and Twitter and Facebook accounts; you can see all of our accounts at rogersmithnews.com (some are more active than others).

Dan: Where do you get your ideas? Which marketing functions do you outsource?
Adam: Our marketing is unique largely due to the innovative approach of our CEO and Artist-in-Residence, James Knowles. He encourages experimentation and fresh ideas and does not try control the messages that go out. We also have a very creative team at the hotel and lots of interesting things happening, which gives us a lot to talk about. We work with a production team, Panman Productions, that creates great videos and live broadcasts of events. 
Dan: The Roger Smith Hotel was an early adopter of social media, but since then most hotels have jumped on the bandwagon. How do you stay ahead of the pack?
Adam: We have never been too focused on pushing our product; we are more interested in telling stories that engage people while building relationships and relevant communities. Many hotels are putting so much weight initially on ROI and how many rooms they are selling. People are not interested in advertisements and are not going to share a post that is just selling product. We have found that by connecting with great networks of people and creating good content we are selling lots of hotel rooms and events. 
Dan: Tell us about three of your most successful social media campaigns.
Adam:
1. Meetups / Events. Hosting meetups and events at the hotel with people that we are connected with online (and connecting with people that we meet at events online). Having a lot of people hang out “on our turf” brings a large amount of word-of-mouth exposure and also gives us great networking opportunities to meet people in person who we can then maintain a relationship with online.

2. Roger’s Rooms. Each day in January we gave away one room through a different competition on social media channels. One competition was “pick a number between 1 and 500, closest number wins”. We had over 400 people retweet the post and enter the competition. In another competition we partnered with @Matisyahu on a giveaway related to one of his new songs, which got to his network of over a million people. In many of the competitions we partnered with other people to do giveaways that would be beneficial to both of us.

3. SMartCamp. In March the hotel’s artistic director Matt Semler organized a conference on social media in the arts called SMartCamp. The two-day event brought a great lineup of speakers and panelists who spoke about how social media is influencing the art world. Because we are very involved with the arts, this was a great event that brought a lot of online exposure for the hotel. 

Dan: How do you measure success in social media and ensure that your general manager doesn’t reassign you to bussing tables?
Adam: We submit a monthly report on exposure and revenue generated through social media. While we are happy with the numbers, we realize that this is only a fraction of the revenue that is influenced by our online marketing. We generate the most revenue to rooms, events and our restaurant. For rooms we have a promo code (10% off) on Facebook, Twitter and our blog and we also track any direct reservations that mention a social media discount. 

We have seen a large increase in events business through social media. This revenue is easy to track because we know if we’ve connected with the organizer online. We do not currently have any systems in place to measure bar and restaurant business from social media, but we are looking into implementing a loyalty program.

For exposure numbers we use Google Analytics to track all stats on our blog and website, but the main stats that we report on are unique visits and pages views. We also report basic stats on Facebook and Twitter. We are using Revinate as a reputation management tool to monitor reviews and are trying out Radian 6 for more in-depth social media metrics and analysis. We also use Google Alerts for basic tracking of web and blog mentions.

Dan: Are there any hotels whose work in social media you admire?
Adam: Hotel Max in Seattle is very engaging on Twitter and Jen (their social media manager) does a great job at making their stream lively and fun. The Drake Hotel in Toronto always seems to have interesting things going on that they post on Facebook and Twitter. We have also made friends with the Colonnade Hotel in Boston, whose director of sales Christopher Lynn has done a great job of engaging both online and through social media meetups and events.
Dan: Going forward, where are your priorities?
Adam: The great thing about social media is that there is no limit to how many relevant people and communities we can connect with, which makes the possibilities seem endless. One of our goals moving forward is to have more of our team active online both in content generation and engagement.
Dan: Anything else you’d like to add?
Adam: I think many businesses starting out in social media look at it in a much too isolated way, just thinking about Twitter and Facebook. I think it is much more effective to take an integrated approach, to look at all of your online marketing together, rather than looking at your website (and booking engine as the primary function) and engagement on social sites as two separate things.
For more information visit www.rogersmith.com. Does your hotel do a great job with social media? Share it at www.danieledwardcraig.com

Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel consultant and the author of the Murder at the Universe. His articles and blog about issues in the hotel industry are considered essential reading for hoteliers, travelers and students alike. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com or email dec@danieledwardcraig.com. Twitter: dcraig.

Copyright © 2010 Daniel Edward Craig
 

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Contact: 

Daniel Edward Craig
dec@danieledwardcraig.com
 

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Also See: Does Social Media Make Your Head Hurt? Here Are a Few Helpful Resources for Hotels / Daniel Craig / January 2010
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