Q & A with Mike Slone (Vail Resorts) on buzz.snow.com

At travel conferences, during daily meetings and even on the Travel 2.0 Blog, the prevailing conversation has been all about social.  How to integrate, measure and leverage the greatest marketing tool since the phone book.  Unfortunately, examples and best practices from our tourism peers have been lacking.

Sure, we are all on Twitter and Facebook.  Some of us have started a YouTube page and a Flickr account.  But few have adopted a social media marketing campaign that truly takes a holistic approach to the medium.

Fortunately, we stumbled upon (no pun intended) a recent Twitter post from Mike Slone (@mikeslone) at Vail Resorts touting the recently launched buzz.snow.com.  A new site that Mike and the interactive / digital team have put forth to answer the question, at least from the ski / vacation resort perspective, of how to take all of these social pieces, add in content, pull out the noise and produce a compelling site for the consumer.

Obviously, we needed to know more about Buzz and who better to give us the inside story than Mike himself.

Give us the 30 second pitch on buzz.

Buzz.Snow.com is part of the Vail Resorts larger social influence marketing strategy, which falls under: #2 Aggregate and Encourage, and #3 Seed Content/Lead Conversations. We believe that any good social strategy requires creating content and lot of it.

The vision for Buzz is to become one of the leading snow sports lifestyle sites on the web and provide inspirational, informative, and entertaining content to snow sports and mountain enthusiasts.

It is part social aggregation portal, part content portal, and part community. Right now Buzz is in it’s infancy, but we are planning to roll out new features and functionality as well as additional contributors this summer. We have also launched a Buzz podcast which is available on iTunes and several other content projects including www.LindseyIsEpic.com.

How did this idea come about?  Was it from the resort-side or from the ‘corporate-side’ of Vail Resorts?

The idea came from the Corporate side, but only after talking and collaborating with each of our resorts and learning that we were already creating a lot of content individually, but that we didn’t have an aggregated home for it outside of the resort websites.

How was it pitched to the organization?

Rob Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, was approached about the idea when we pitched the entire Social Influence Marketing Plan for 2010/2011. Rob is big believer in social media and without his support, Buzz and much of our social initiatives would not be possible. It is great to have a CEO that is a thought leader not only in the resort and travel industry, but in the social space.

It appears this is a central hub of sorts for all Vail Resort social, video and general content…what was the thought behind grouping this content?

That is the correct. We wanted to pull all of our social accounts and content into one site so that snow sports enthusiasts and existing Vail Resorts customers could view it in one experience. At Vail Resorts Corporate we are in a unique position because we are supporting multiple ski brands and Buzz is one way to pull each of those brands into one interactive content experience.

Content is still king, so where does all of this rich content come from?  Employees, Resort TV, freelancers?

Yes, all of the above. The majority of the content comes from within Vail Resorts- employees within Corporate Marketing and each of our resorts. We’ve built a Social Team at Vail Resorts Corporate Marketing that consists of a Manager, Social Content Coordinator, Social Media Coordinator, and Videographer and they are largely responsible for organizing the content you see on Buzz.Snow.com. We also get content from well known freelancers, employees outside of Marketing, and TV8 in Vail/Beaver Creek. We have several projects going on right now to increase our contributors inside and outside of Vail Resorts. One such example is the Snow Squad: http://buzz.snow.com/snowsquad.

The way we approach content is also very strategic. Ideas for content come from monitoring SEO/SEM popular terms related to our brands, social conversations, and using analytics tools like Omniture. We have an editorial calendar and grid that is currently planned out beyond August at this point.

Just for our techie friends, give us a glimpse of what is powering this site.

Currently the site is built using a .net backend and a Flex front end, but the next version of Buzz (to launch in June) will have an xhtml/ajax front end with some embedded flash. We may keep the flex version of the site for our “social only” dashboard, but for SEO reasons we felt that using xhtml/ajax was a better long term option.

It appears that the site is out of beta…when was it launched and what has the reaction been like from your consumers?

The site was officially launched in January of 2010 and has been live for a little over 3 months now. The reaction from customers has been great and we are starting to build a strong following.

Finally, what is next for buzz and where will it be a year from now?

The next version of Buzz, which will be redesigned and updated with more functionality will launch in June of 2010. We are adding a “social only” dashboard, short url tool, more contributors, ask the experts/local tool, and some other surprises. We will continue to roll out new features and functionality throughout the summer and respond to feature requests from our users. We would also love to expand our reach with Buzz into mobile and other applications before next fall.

We hope that a year from now that Buzz will be a vibrant, fresh snow sports social, content, and community portal that people are bookmarking and checking out at weekly, if not daily.

Our thanks to Mike for graciously giving his time for the interview and kudos to the entire Buzz project team at Vail Resorts.

You can check out Buzz for yourself at buzz.snow.com.  Tell ‘em Troy sent you.

If you have any additional questions, thoughts or reactions on the Buzz project, let us know in the comments.  Great, good or just more social…we want to know.

Finally, if you have a travel industry peer you would like to see interviewed on the Travel 2.0 Blog, just drop us an email.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.