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Vocus Users Conference with Arianna Huffington: Less stress, more living

Despite missing two flights from London and arriving in Washington, D.C., at 4 a.m., Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of Huffington Post Media Group, spoke on the changing landscape of new media and human interaction this morning at the Demand Success 2013 Vocus Conference.

Huffington, one of the keynote speakers for the conference, immediately brought energy into the room when she took the stage in front of 725 attendees in the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center at the National Harbor. After joking about her travel troubles and the perils of her Greek accent, Huffington dove into the “mega-trends” affecting marketing and communication today.

First, she highlighted how the landscape of communication has changed to involve people by providing them a voice. In particular, she said success in media today is about overall reader engagement, an aspect of the Huffington Post that she attributes to the website’s success.

Since the Huffington Post’s launch in May 2005, there have been 260 million comments posted by readers—comments heavily monitored by tech-savvy site moderators to ensure that trolls can’t derail the experience for readers. As a result of increased reader and customer engagement, companies now have to try harder to present themselves and their products or services with more authenticity, Huffington noted. “You can’t just hide behind a press release and disappear,” she said. “You can’t hide behind an advertisement and disappear.”

Huffington went on to cite a situation that arose when the Huffington Post first instituted native advertising in 2006. A hotel brand that was advertising on the site was called out in a comment by a reader who had a bad experience at one of the brand’s locations. The hotel brand wanted to go into damage control, but Huffington said they encouraged the brand to engage and enter the arena instead of attempting to muffle the reader’s voice and opinion. “You might as well be in the arena to respond because you are not going to be able to silence [customers],” she said.

In this particular instance, the company engaged the reader and it ultimately yielded a positive result for both parties, leading into another major theme of Huffington’s keynote address: Companies must be able to act in real time and be able to do so with relatable connectedness and authenticity. “We all communicate with stories,” she said, highlighting that it is not just about story telling, but “story moving.”

She explained that story moving is all about getting readers to care and be involved with the story. Huffington stressed that the most important thing about the Huffington Post is not just that they operate as a journalistic entity, but that they are also a platform for communication, which encourages story moving.

To show how dedicated she is to the idea of engagement and serving as a platform for communication, Huffington gave the audience her personal email and encouraged everyone to reach out to her and let their voice be heard as a blogger for the site.

However, the biggest point she made was not about new media or the changing landscape, it was about what she refereed to as the “stress epidemic” in today’s working environment. She believes people working in today’s culture are too stressed; sleep deprived and are going to burn out.

Inspired by her own personal experience with exhaustion that caused her to faint and badly injure her face, Huffington has developed a focus on health and wellness at the Huffington Post to combat the stress epidemic. She described the level of stress among U.S. workers as being unsustainable and unhealthy for employees, as well as a company’s bottom line.

“There is such power in being present 100 percent,” she said, stating that reaching this level of 100 percent and effectiveness can only be gained by unplugging from technology, taking breaks and tapping into your own wisdom. As a result, the Huffington Post has created nap rooms and a work culture that encourages people to use them.

Huffington noted that she has focused on creating an environment concentrated on doing work with substance and meaning, as well as promoting a high quality of life for employees. To her, concentrating on human capital first will ultimately benefit a company’s financial capital. Meanwhile, Huffington also aims to empower women and truly believes that they can do anything. “Our goal should not be to be at the top of every profession the way men designed it,” said Huffington. “It should be to go in and change the design.”

After her planned remarks, Huffington turned to the audience for questions. The final audience question asked what main traits she looks for in employees and friends. She summed it up in three words: passion, directness and empathy.

–Brooks Welsh

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