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Vocus Users Conference focuses on social media

June 10: President and CEO of Vocus, Rick Rudman (pictured right), announced at the annual Vocus Users Conference that the company has acquired HARO, Help a Reporter Out, a Web service connecting public relations professionals with journalists on deadline. HARO founder Peter Shankman (pictured left) was on hand to celebrate the announcement. Additionally, keynote speaker, Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post and host of “Reliable Sources,” entertained a packed ballroom with social media war stories. The conference, which lasts through Friday, covers topics about integrating traditional and social media, as well as SM measurement and grassroots campaigns.

Just outside the main ballroom where the announcement and keynote took place, two large flat panel television screens are posting live tweets from the conference and pictures of the event as it happens. This real time communication reveals just how quickly things are changing. Even statistics about social media are outdated as soon as they are spoken, explained Rudman in his opening speech.

As Howard Kurtz began his foray into the brave new online world, he showed a clip from CNN’s news coverage during the Iranian election protests when even veteran reporter Christiana Amanpour’s visa was revoked. Without any media outlets on the ground in Iran, the chaos in the streets was broadcast over Twitter and Facebook despite the country’s best efforts to black out all outbound communication.

Much like the fast-paced media on which he reports, Kurtz did not draw any all-encompassing conclusions or viewpoints, only to warn that those who engage online should remember not to say anything they can’t defend. That, he says, is the policy of the Washington Post to its employees. But this doesn’t stop Kurtz from telling it like it is. His tweets are not pre-approved, and he says the only thing stopping him from tweeting is his job – things like writing a story for the print edition about Helen Thomas take up too much time to allow him to post regularly before his story goes to bed.

When Kurtz asked the rabbi who shot the video of Helen Thomas’ now infamous gaffe why it took him 10 days to get it online, the rabbi replied that his son was taking final exams and could not upload it until they were done. His son, he explained, is his Webmaster.

One of the key questions from the audience, which echoed a similar concern from last year’s conference, dealt with false information spreading rapidly across the Internet. Kurtz had interviewed Lindsay Lohan’s father about a tweet that was attributed to him regarding Lohan’s testing positive for HIV. The tweet had not come from her father. Her father had no idea who posted the comment, but employed a lawyer to contact the major media outlets to correct the false information they had spread.

Many public relations professionals are concerned with getting out ahead of situations similar to this one. “I don’t have a magic bullet,” Kurtz replied. “Journalists are expected to give the accused ‘a reasonable amount of time’ to respond to such accusations,” he said. “Putting something online is publishing every bit as much as putting it in print.”

– Rebecca Bredholt

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