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  1. Florida Politics

Social media takes center stage at RNC

A digital media “green room” will be near the convention stage inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum to allow speakers to post to Twitter or Facebook, conduct interviews on Skype, take photos or conduct Google hangouts before, during or after speeches.
A digital media “green room” will be near the convention stage inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum to allow speakers to post to Twitter or Facebook, conduct interviews on Skype, take photos or conduct Google hangouts before, during or after speeches.
Published Aug. 26, 2012

For CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, the promise of social media's impact on coverage of the Republican National Convention is simple:

It can turn reporting the news into a conversation.

"Very often, I'll get a tweet from somebody who (notes a mistake) ... and I'll correct it right away," said Blitzer, who wasn't even on Twitter during the 2008 RNC and now has 540,000 followers. "I know it will change our coverage in Tampa."

That's the kind of interaction a host of technology companies, media outlets and even convention organizers expect at the RNC; leveraging a host of social media platforms to place huge chunks of what happens here online.

Yahoo! has teamed with ABC News on live convention coverage streamed online. Facebook has a team roaming the convention to help people upload content, releasing a voting app developed with CNN.

As the official social media platform for the RNC, Google will livestream all podium speeches in prime time and organize "hangouts" on its Google+ service where analysts, politicians and journalist can talk to the public.

And every media outlet here has its own array of platforms, raising the question: How will the first political convention of the social media age be different than what came before?

"It's just not sufficient for most users to passively take in material anymore," said David Chalian, Washington bureau chief for Yahoo! "They want to participate."

The RNC itself set the tone, dubbing its gathering a "convention without walls," using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Linkedin, Foursquare and more to bring well-managed content outside of the event halls, receptions and panel discussions.

But for a political party bent on delivering a single, powerful message, it could be a nightmare; 50,000 attendees and 15,000 journalists each carrying a smartphone, ready for the slightest gaffe.

"In the Olympics, we saw the #NBCfail hashtag created right after the opening ceremonies," said Lou Ferrara, managing editor at the Associated Press.

Could there be an #RNCfail created here? "Probably not ... but we can't predict what the masses will say," Ferrara said.

In an RNC first, convention organizers have created a social media "war room" of sorts staffed by 16 people in the Tampa Convention Center, examining social media platforms and providing content.

There's also a digital media "green room" planned near the convention stage, where speakers can post to Twitter or Facebook, conduct interviews on Skype, take photos or conduct Google hangouts before, during or after speeches.

"We wanted to leverage the technologies so every American anywhere could be a part of this," said James Davis, director of communications for the RNC. "We're building a community online that allows us to amplify the convention."

Still, despite the risks, some experts say the GOP will remain firmly in control of their message.

"I think we'll hear a lot about certain moments that light up the social media space," Yahoo!'s Chalian said. "But I don't think it will alter the news of the convention, unless something seriously goes awry ... like a hurricane."

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