These days there is a lot of emphasis on social media, including here at American Express OPEN, where we continue to look for more ways for business owners like you to make those connections that may be important to you for growing your companies. Recently, when we met with our OPEN Forum contributors at Meet at the Apartment in New York City, I couldn’t help but think about how Sara and Marc Schiller are defining social media a bit differently.
Sara and Marc own Meet, a two-story SoHo loft where they have reinvented the concept of meeting space. They have thrown out the beige walls, stiff chairs, and pull-down screens, and created a highly stylized living room, with additional breakout rooms like a library filled with art and design books and a kitchen stocked with beverages and snacks. This – plus giant flat-screen TVs, full-service concierge, and more – make Meet an ideal setting for creative brainstorming, pitches, and other private events.
But Sara and Marc have been just as inventive with their marketing. As they were opening Meet in late 2008, they realized that with the recession they were facing not only a reduction in the number of potential clients – but in the number of marketing outlets, as well.
“We didn’t want to invest in advertising or PR because it seemed like many magazines were folding. Even if we got to pitch a reporter, they could soon be either unemployed or overwhelmed because others around them were laid off,” Sara told me. “We couldn’t rely on them to get our story out.”
So Sara and Marc invested in creating word-of-mouth marketing through their Salons. They had been hosting creative-centered events in their home as part of another project, The Wooster Collective, and decided to expand on them. Instead of inviting just their friends and artists, they opened up the guest list to include potential clients, and they started hosting the events at Meet. “This way, they get to see how the space works.”
Their Salons bring 50 to 75 people together to meet and participate in a discussion with that evening’s speaker. They held their first Salon soon after opening and noticed that a lot of people were tweeting about the event – and the space. Soon bloggers started writing about them. “When Daily Candy wrote about us, we got about four hundred calls.”
What has it meant for their business?
“It’s hard to put an actual number against it, as people don’t actually book until they need a space, which could be months after they attend an event. But this is more about brand building. We want to create an experience they’ll remember. After our first Salon, someone emailed me and said, ‘In New York City, people always ask you what do you do and where do you live…at the Salon, people asked me, what are you interested in?’ That’s the kind of emotional response we want.”
Based on the responses they’ve gotten, they’ve recently added “First Mondays at Meet” to their event program. Guests spend the day working in Meet’s space, with breaks throughout the day for discussion with three to four speakers.
“They’re like all-day Salons. We invite the speakers, who then tweet or blog that they are going to be here, and then their readers contact us to see how they can attend. Our last event had around 90 people. And it’s been through personal connections – word-of-mouth and social media.”
What does it cost attendees? Nothing. And for Sara and Marc, it costs far less than they might have otherwise spent with other forms of marketing. Though the economy has slowed their initial plans for growth, they are thinking about next opening a Meet in London.
I asked Sara what else they’ve learned that they plan to incorporate into future expansion, and she shared with me her two “mantras.”
- Create a vision and move quickly. “We opened Meet in eight weeks. I think too many people try to get everything perfect before launching. Try to get 80% right and then tweak along the way. Don’t over analyze.”
- Always think about building a brand and making it distinctive. “I think some people get stalled trying to create a brand that appeals to everyone – or worse, by creating something for everyone, they create nothing special. Don’t try to please everyone. Any reaction is better than none.”
They also plan to continue using the combination of social interaction and social media that has proven so successful for them here. Having experienced one of their Salons firsthand, I know that Sara and Marc have created something very distinctive and memorable, and I thank them for sharing their insights and for reminding us of how powerful making connections – online and offline – can be to building our brands.
Please continue to share your stories about your businesses with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your insights could help to inspire other business owners.
For more tips and helpful information on using online marketing including social media, you can download our OPEN Book: A Practical Guide to Online Marketing.