Roger Smith Hotel: Social Media Takeaway – Hire Wisely

Were you online yesterday for Brian Simpson’s presentation about how he and his employer, the Roger Smith Hotel, are using social media? Simpson is the hotel’s Director of Social Hospitality.

“People Make Businesses Better, not Social Media.”

That title might seem a little snarky at first, but Simpson proved it true.
Collage screenshots - social media channels

People & their Stories = the Best Content

“The (social media) tools don’t make it social,” said Simpson during the webinar, in a way that made it clear it’s not the first time he’s said it. “The stories do.”

Obvious on so many levels. And yet – why do so many forget?

The webinar itself was essentially a storytelling event. Very engaging — authentic and honest.

I listen to a lot of webinars. In the categories of interesting and information not available on other webinars, this one ranked pretty high.

When there’s an archive link I’ll add it here. For now, you’ll have to bear with my synopsis:

The Roger Smith social media story doesn’t start at the hotel. It starts in Simpson’s apartment. Simpson is a cancer survivor. Back when he was going through Chemo, he looked for a way to interact with friends (local and otherwise) without actually having to be with them.

Enter Twitter.

When he felt well enough to resume his career, Simpson took his growing passion for social media and merged it with his expertise in the hotel and food industry, taking a job with the Roger Smith Hotel, a family owned hotel in New York City.

The hotel taps the top of mind social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. Four Square is a big thing for them. There’s also a Flickr account, and more.

Social Media ROI, the Roger Smith Hotel version

Simpson shared compelling early ROI stats:

  • Food and Beverage Sales, up 32%
  • Event revenues, up 37%
  • Estimated 75 – 175 rooms per month filled directly due to social media efforts. Yes — small compared to the 3 – 4000 usual room bookings, but these 75-175 tend to be social media enthusiasts who then talk about the hotel to their audience — either on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, photo sharing platforms, Youtube, or other channels. Even when they aren’t comped.

Every Customer Matters — at the hotel and online

Everyone matters, said Simpson. Thanks to the internet, many of their customers have audiences of their own — blog readers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and more.

Take a look at this video tour a guest made of one of the suites. Posted on Youtube on July 20, 2010, it’s only had 24 views as I embed it into this blog post. But even if no one else clicks it, that’s 24 more sets of eyes on the Roger Smith Hotel. Word is spreading… without a hit to the hotel’s expense line.

And then there’s the unintended branding as “the social media hotel,” complete with industry meet-ups and smaller conferences. That has led to new social media savvy friends and better online marketing and social media advice. Not to mention food and beverage revenues from people who aren’t staying at the hotel. All good.

Social Media Success = Intersection of Complementary Passions

Listening to Simpson speak about the importance of beds, food and events to the Roger Smith’s business model, it’s clear that he’s passionate about more than social media. He’s passionate about his industry and company, too. He explains that they’ve been educating the rest of the staff about these efforts, makin sure they know how what those staff members do is in the comments people write online, whether it’s the bacon the chef cooks or the rooms that sparkle, thanks to the cleaning staff.

Everything matters.

You can’t run a hotel alone, and it’s clear Simpson knows it. Just like hospitality shouldn’t end at the check-in desk.

What the Roger Smith Hotel does online, said Simpson, is just an extension of what they hope happens when a customer walks through the door.

Other businesses focus on finding far-reaching prospects. Simpson said the Roger Smith watches for guests who check in on Foursquare, and welcomes them, looking for ways to make the hotel experience more than just a place they rest after a day spent exploring the city.

So there it is: The real reason I think that the Roger Smith Hotel’s social media strategy succeeds where others might fail.

It’s the intersection of Simpson’s two passions — social media & the hotel industry.

So why do so many others rush to hire outsiders to handle social media from a distance?

My regular readers know — I’m the one who thinks its a mistake to outsource day-to-day social media engagement, no matter how compelling it is check off that box on your business and marketing strategy to-do list.

Settings are easy to learn. Strategy is something you can seek help understanding.

Most real world social media learning comes from experience and experimentation. Efforts that work better when you know what resonates with the  customers you’re hoping the reach, the people behind the clicks, posts and comments.

What matters most is what you already know — everything about your company, customers, competition and industry.

Social Media is not an Either/Or Decision

There is growing noise in the social media space. Salesman selling “social media solutions” and expanded online reach seem to be knocking on everyone’s door. Some want a retainer. Others sell by the module. Let me do this for you, they say. No need for you to do it yourself.

Or is there?

Beware of falling into the door-to-door vacuum salesman trap. Consider the story my uncle told me about his start in sales:

man with vacuum cleanerIt was 1956, and my uncle was a young salesman, peddling Compact vacuum cleaners door-to-door in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Making a sale wasn’t that hard, he said, because he didn’t have to compete with all the brands in the market. It was just the super-de-dooper new vacuum cleaner in his hand versus the clunker in the customer’s broom closet.

“This new one, or that old thing,” he’s ask. “Doesn’t your family deserve the best?”

Social Media Salesmen seem to use the same technique today.

Social Media buzz is growing. So are the number of people logging on.

It’s easy to convince yourself that doing anything on line is better than ignoring these new online communication channels to reach your customers. Particularly since more traditional “push” ways of reaching customers and prospects aren’t working as well as they used to.

Don’t be fooled. Social Media is not an Either/Or Decision. These are strategic decisions. What you do where matters.

Tap company or industry expertise first. Offer social media training, if necessary.

Stories are better told if you’ve lived them. That’s true on site and online.

Business strategies are better conceived by people who understand your business, even if they need help understanding how those strategies might play out in the social media space. Those strategies are better executed by those that will recognize shifting company and industry realities.

So try to give the social media job to employees who will. It’s your brand. How can someone tell your company’s stories if they aren’t really part of it?

No obvious choices? Still focus on business expertise.

“Hire people who are passionate about your industry” to do this kind of work, Simpson said. “The rest comes easily.”

Still not certain? Better to invest in social media training if that’s the missing piece.

Weigh in — what do you think?

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