If you’ve been to the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan, you know it’s hip. And it’s the same online. The “Twitter hotel,” as it’s known, has developed a cult following online thanks to social media maven Adam Wallace, director of digital marketing. Wallace recently spoke to Street Fight for its series of conversations with local businesses.
What is your role at the Roger Smith Hotel?
I’m basically running all of our online marketing. I’ve been here for about 4 ½ years. We started with a video-based blog in 2006, which evolved into our full-on social media program pretty quickly. We’re using the Internet to do much more now than just broadcast stuff about our product. I’m helping build interest in the hotel, and I’m also doing a lot of talking with customers and potential customers online, using Twitter, Facebook and location-based check-in tools. I’m really trying to be active in engaging with our audience.
Which platforms have been the most useful in attracting new customers?
Definitely, Twitter has been the most effective tool in connecting with our audience. Twitter is a more open network than Facebook, and it has allowed us to really connect and communicate with potential customers, with people who are currently with us, and with people who have stayed with us in the past. That’s a really powerful tool that changes the way that we handle communication for the business, and it changes the way we market the business. Our blog has also been a really important tool to have, since it serves as a place to bring people [from Twitter or Facebook] back to.
If I use Groupon, I’m basically buying that audience from someone else. But we have an opportunity to build our own community with the tools that we already use online.
How did the Roger Smith Hotel first get started with social media?
We had a great guy working for us named Brian Simpson who came to run our restaurant and had been active on Twitter. He came in with a long background in restaurants and was managing a restaurant that had started using Twitter to really connect with people who were coming into the restaurant. I would say that we then started the Twitter account and became really active because of him.
How do you decide what types of content to post online?
The most effective communication has been communicating one-on-one with individual people we’re actually meeting and people we actually know, rather than trying to get as big a number of people to follow us as possible. From the core of where we started, social media was a way of communicating with people that we were meeting and people that were coming into our bar or restaurant. We communicate with a lot of New York-based people, not just people from out of town. We prefer connecting with people we can see on a regular basis and who will talk about us with their friends on a regular basis.
This method has been really successful in building word of mouth, because all of the people we communicate with online have their own networks of people who come from all over. So we have started seeing a lot of room sales coming from that. A great number of our room sales are coming from that word of mouth – either from people who have been at the hotel or from us speaking with them one-on-one online.
What are your thoughts on location-based services?
I think Foursquare, or all the location-based services, have been very influential for us from a word-of-mouth standpoint. I think they’re great because people have networks from all over, and they can see what kinds of places people like, where they like to go, and where they hang out.
We haven’t used Foursquare much as a deal engine, but I’m actually really excited with the recent updates to Foursquare now that it offers the functionality of being able to see where your friends have been. I think that’s really powerful from a business standpoint.
As a consumer, I’m much more interested in going to a place that’s going to be great and that my friends really liked, as opposed to a place that’s going to give me 50% off of my French fries when I buy a steak. I like the idea that Foursquare is less about coupons and more about the word of mouth. I think Foursquare will continue to be more and more influential for our business based on that word of mouth side, rather than just as a site that offers coupons.
Are daily deal websites like Groupon worthwhile for hotels?
I think there’s potential for those sites to be good for us, but we haven’t done any deals through Groupon or sites like that. If I use Groupon, I’m basically buying that audience from someone else. But the fact that we have an opportunity to build our own community and audience with the tools that we already use online makes the proposition of selling things at really low discounts, plus low commissions, less attractive.
One of the things that has really dominated the hotel industry is online travel agencies like Expedia and Orbitz that take a huge commission. Hotels are paying that commission to buy their big audiences and the exposure they have. Now that we have Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and all these tools, we can really use our own word of mouth and own our own audience. I think that we can actually net the full rate that we deserve for our product, rather than having to undercut it.
That’s not to say that Groupon and things like that aren’t great deals. Groupon is cool, it offers good exposure, and it is a good way for people to know about your business. But I think that small, independent businesses sometimes rely on buying other people’s audiences at an almost 50% discount after commissions, whereas I would much rather own the audience ourselves. We give discounts through all of our channels for rooms, and if we have more inventory left over we’ll offer bigger deals directly to our audience. We’ve would rather do that than offer the group discounts.