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For many people the term "New Media" is one of the most abused and over-hyped buzzwords around. So when I met the owner of the Roxy theatre in Los Angeles, and saw how he used new media techniques to turn around his 35-year old nightclub, I had to get the scoop. Here’s how he did it.

Barring an unprecedented swing in votes, on July 17th VH1 will give its Rock Honors award for best rock venue website to the old Roxy theatre on LA’s Sunset Strip. What makes this an interesting story is that a year ago the Roxy, which first opened its doors in 1973, had a website that looked like it came from the same era (of course I know there was no Internet in 1973). Nic Adler, the Roxy’s manager, whose family has owned the club since its inception, admits to both arrogance and ignorance. He admitted, "I didn’t even know what a blog was, and I didn’t really care. We were an L.A. landmark. I didn’t think I needed the Internet." Meanwhile the Roxy was being eviscerated in reviews and blogs as being out of touch and unfriendly, and Nic was losing customers and bands to newer venues.

One day, new media consultant Kyra Reed asked Nic what the club was doing online. Considering they had an event calendar that was still showing 2004, it was quite obvious the answer was "absolutely nothing." So began Nic’s education in social media. Without any fancy high dollar website investments (the Roxy uses a basic Wordpress template) Kyra showed Nic that tapping into the world of social media meant looking at the Internet as a community instead of as an advertising tool. Nic dove in headfirst, blogging daily, adding pictures, creating band pages, and putting his club on MySpace and Twitter. This also meant finding out what people were saying and taking the initiative to respond. Nic decided he needed to fight the bad buzz that had been brewing online for years.

For ten months, things moved slowly. Website traffic increased slightly, but Nic and his right hand assistant Annie didn’t give up. They set up different online alerts like Tweet Beeps so they would know when people talked about their club. One day, Nic saw someone blogging about visiting the Roxy and he left her two VIP tickets at the door. Coincidentally, and unknown to Nic at the time, this patron ran a popular music blog and wrote a rave review. The online community, which had been so hostile, began to turn. I asked Nic if there was a magic moment when things really came together and he said, "At ten months everything just hit. Before we did this we were averaging about 400 unique visitors a day, now we’re getting 3200 uniques a day and 500,000 page views a month."

For the vast majority of people, "social media" means joining Facebook or LinkedIn and wondering why they joined. I asked Nic what he thought was the secret to his success. He said, "I got on board with this plan. Annie and I are each online 3-4 hours a day talking to customers and the community. This isn’t something we paid money for and farmed out." He added, "We were really stuck in a rut for so long. Reaching out to our customers like this makes us more honest about who we are, where we stand, and what we need to do to change."

A year ago, the Roxy had an increasingly bad reputation online and a website with a three year old calendar. On July 17th, VH1 fans will give them the vote for having the best rock venue website. By taking the time to learn and embrace the tools of social media and Web 2.0, Nic and his club went from zero to VH1 in 12 months flat.

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