Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp: Make Room For Go Social (Interview)

By Matthew Klickstein , Apr 13, 2013 01:05 AM EDT

There's no question that we are officially now in a truly digital age, where everything — everything — is controlled by or integrated into a cyber reality that only three or four decades ago was the stuff of speculative science fiction.

William Gibson and his ilk have met their match, however, in the way that even today's very social experience has been all but digitized, from (or, for the kids, OkCupid) to the prevalent onslaught of social media a la Facebook, Twitter and beyond.

It is in this world of social networking/media that we find Cape Town, South Africa's Brian Hope and his relatively new Go Social, a company that specializes in social media management. Looking at Hope and hearing about his active lifestyle, it's obvious not everyone involved in social media/networking is stuck in front of a computer terminal all day.

We spoke with Hope about this dichotomy in his own life and in the realm of social media/networking in general — living life to its fullest in the "real" world while also thoroughly engaging in social media — as well as his thoughts on everything from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to what the actual value of social media might be ... and even where it's going (if anywhere at all).    

iTech Post: What is the goal of your company, Go Social?

Brian Hope: I heard an interesting saying a few months ago that you have to "start your company the same way you would like to end it." With the main goals of Go Social in mind, I would say that we want to become the leaders in social media management in South Africa and then move globally.

iTech Post: How did you come up with the idea of creating Go Social?

BH: From the beginning, Go Social started out as a side project of mine in 2010 and has evolved into Phase One of my original vision, a full service social media management company. We recently implemented a full redesign of the website, as well as branding, and I must say that I am very pleased with the results. 

iTech Post: It's interesting that you seem pretty active outdoors and yet you're involved in social media at the same time. Can you tell us a little about your dualistic lifestyle?

BH: [Laughs] I stay in Kommetjie in Cape Town, South Africa. I surf, enjoy a good cup of coffee, a few craft beers and hanging out with my mates. I'm also currently the MD of Go Social, where I focus on social media strategy and original content creation. I am extremely hands-on with all of the clients, so in essence my role is to manage all aspects of the business. What drew me to start the company was that I was the head of the Luxury Brands digital media division and I wanted to specialize in social media management, so I officially launched Go Social.

iTech Post: Do you feel that social media varies from what you may have seen or experienced in South Africa versus that which exists in the international forum?

BH: In international forums such as the U.S., the adoption period of social media is much longer than that of South Africa. The South African audience is a lot smaller, with only 6.8 million Internet users and of that there are 5.6 million Facebook users. This is an adoption rate of over 88 percent of the online population, which is fantastic. The U.S., however, has 313 million Internet users and 168 million Facebook users, of which only 52 percent have Facebook accounts.

I do find that American users are far more likely to engage online faster than South African users. Major issues in South Africa are the Internet speed limitations and the "trust" factor of purchasing online.

iTech Post: So you think social media is still going to grow even in smaller Web communities like South Africa?

BH: If you're a marketer and you don't believe in social media, let's see if your business still exists in three years! You have two choices: firstly adopting social media into your strategy, or being left behind. Social media users are far more likely going to trust a peer's opinion on a product or service than an endorsement from a celebrity.

iTech Post: Can you elaborate on this philosophy?

BH: In today's online environment, users have created relationships with brands and are engaging as "evangelists" or "brand critics." Engagement and original content is the key to success. It's nice to know that over 90 percent of businesses worldwide with a marketing department have adopted social media into their marketing mix.

iTech Post: To what do you attribute the success of these titans of social media like Twitter and Facebook?

BH: If a tree falls in a forest and no one tweets about it, will anyone know it fell? The success of social media plays into everyone's need to have their platform to speak from. The population in general wants to be part of a community. I find that like-minded individuals find comfort interacting with each other on social platforms; everyone has a voice that wants to be heard.

iTech Post: Are you learning anything from the triumphs and failures of companies like Facebook and Twitter that might be helping you further develop Go Social?

BH: As far as following the lead from the platforms, you can take something from each of them. My opinion is that social media is going to go 80 percent visual. I like Twitter's new platform Medium; it seems to be where things are going.

iTech Post: What about Facebook and the Zuck?

BH: Mark Zuckerberg seems to be on a rampage to make money and his new EdgeRank system is making it much harder for content to be shown in newsfeeds. A user will far more likely see a "sponsored story" from a page that they are not connected to than a "non-sponsored story" from a page that they have liked. This in essence is where EdgeRank's Affinity, Weight and Time Decay play a huge role in Facebook marketing. I think Facebook will keep up with the times and not become another Myspace. I do however feel that they need to cull down on the sponsored content.

iTech Post: What do you feel is the value of social media? Is it something our society really needs?

BH: People feel a need to share their opinions about what they experience, whether it be an awesome new gadget or a crappy stay at a resort. People want to share their experiences, whether it be good or bad and this adds great value to consumerism.

iTech Post: But are you worried at all that social media might greatly decrease actual social interaction?

BH: The instant gratification from sharing experiences is potentially making people more social in a strange way because they want to do more fascinating things in order to share things with their friends. On the other end of the spectrum, people are actually not socializing interpersonally as much as they used to, in my opinion.  If you look at this picture, here is Obama during one of the greatest moments of his life and he can't get off of his phone to share it with his family.

iTech Post: It seems like you, as with most of us, are a little conflicted about social media. But it is your industry and as a young guy trying to make it in a tough world economy, I'm curious: would you ever manage social media for a company whose goals aren't exactly the most moral?

BH: I would never do that. Looking back at Kony 2012, it was one of the best social media campaigns ever created, it seemed sound and legit, but it ended up being a massive scam. One has to be mindful of getting roped into self-serving campaigns

iTech Post: Richard Branson recently proclaimed he believes that in the future, we won't be working in offices anymore. With this kind of possible sea change in mind, where do you think social media is going?

BH: I think that social media will go completely visual in the future. Less writing and more video and imagery. It will also become more interactive between brands and people. I also think it is definitely going mobile. Whether it be something like Google Glass or smart phone integration, we'll have to wait and see.

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