Private Networks May Be the Next Frontier for Social Media

Chris Vary

Sure, the "Big 3" social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest—have emerged as the top social channels of the moment. But each of these companies is constantly evolving and acquiring startups to make them even more powerful, what with Facebook and Twitter buying visual platforms Instagram and Vine, respectively.

All of these social networks have plenty of room for improvement, says Chris Vary, executive VP of digital program innovation at Weber Shandwick. In the following Q&A, Vary, who will lead "The Big Picture on the Big 3" session at PR News' Big 3 Digital PR Conference on April 18 in New York, discusses the future of social media and which platforms have the brightest future.

PR News: How has social media changed the way communicators engage with audiences?

Chris Vary: The change in PR has been immense in the last few years with the addition of new social channels. These social channels have not driven the change but the consumer has. As consumers flocked to social media channels, [companies] realized that there were actual brand conversations and comments. [At first], most brands merely listened in to better understand the platform and how their consumers were talking about their brands. The top brands went first and began to engage with these tweets and consumers.

Today, brands have social media at the core of their PR strategy. Every press release, product launch, brand message or a deal to be shared has a Twitter component. Not only a social media plan or messaging, or announcements, but reactionary statements to consumers and the media after the announcement [has been posted on social channels].

PR News: You'll be speaking about  Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter at the conference—what other social platforms should PR pros keep an eye on and possibly experiment with?

Vary: At SXSW 2013, my mission was to find out what is next. SXSW [has been] a launching platform for such brands as Twitter, Foursquare and GroupMe. This year did not yield many new platforms but new innovative ways to use them. I recently discovered that the advent of the private social network may be the next frontier for social media.

Now that we have connected to our friends globally, it's time to think locally. Neither Facebook nor Twitter have really cracked this space. So, along comes Nextdoor, which geolocates you to your address and neighborhood. They have features like find new neighbors, share content, crime updates and events. Since many neighborhoods are the best places for social conversation and word-of-mouth brand topics, Nextdoor has a unique angle and could corner this niche hyper-local market.

PR News: Which platform has the brightest future in terms of its own business model?

Vary: I have my eyes on Google+ for two major reasons. Since Google and YouTube have secured the #1 and #2 spots on the search engine rankings, Google+ plays very well with brands' SEO rankings. Secondly, every Android phone requires a Google account when accessing a Google Play store, which means that new Android users automatically have a Google+ account. With 343 million users and growing, the Google+ business model is growing indeed.

PR News: What is one tip you'll impart to Big 3 Conference attendees on April 18?

Vary: One of the big tips will be to listen, listen and listen. The Internet is the largest university of knowledge and sharing. The best thing we can do is listen for our clients even when they are not funding the listening. Opportunities are in the conversations. Not only to protect and reward consumers via our brands we represent, but also for digital ideas from what the consumers are asking for. Social conversation data is—and should be—a focus for brands and agencies when dealing with media and public relations.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg; Follow Chris Vary: @chrisvary

Register now for PR News' Big 3 Conference on April 18 in New York City to hear more from digital media experts like Chris Vary.