For three days, Cairo’s own tech valley, the Greek Campus, was transformed into a bustling, overflowing convention center, as nearly 5,000 entrepreneurs, creative professionals, students and marketers crowded their way into the campus to hear almost a hundred experts speak at Mashable’s Social Media Day event.

One of these faces would stand out in any crowd. Meet Alexandra Maia, the blue-haired media entrepreneur who flew in from Dubai to speak and teach social media strategy at the event. She’s hard to miss in person, but she’s even more visible online. One of the Middle East’s most formidable social media specialists, the maverick - who is Portuguese by birth, a former New Yorker, but globally-bound - has spent almost 10 years cultivating a career in social media, an industry still in its youth. Last year, she launched House of Social in Dubai, a hybrid media solutions platform combining education, consultancy and insights. As she now plans to launch the Middle East’s very first social media school for marketers, Maia sat down with the Startup Scene team, to explain how podcasting, geolocation, and augmented reality are going to pick up speed over the coming year. 

What can you tell me about the Middle East’s relationship with audio marketing?

Obviously, we’re always much slower to catch up on trends here. Many in the West, especially the US, are podcasting; audio is starting to be big, but here in the Middle East we’re nowhere near that. But instead of being negative, I think we as marketers need to start game-changing things. For example, if nobody is talking about podcasting in the Middle East yet, then let’s start. We need to start pushing in new things, we need to change and rewire our thinking. If podcasting is not popular then brands may not see a reason to do it because no one is there, but I challenge that.

I’m tired of this excuse that we’re behind. We’re only behind because we want to be. 

If you can go into a space where it’s not yet hugely popular, if you get in there earlier, then you have a much better chance to really make it in that space. Because then when everyone in the Middle East arrives and catches up, then you’ve already secured your property space in that app or social media platform. I just think marketers need to help the whole region start to move a little faster and accelerate a little more. We need to change it up so we’re not always so behind and this doesn’t become the constant cliché. I’m tired of this excuse that we’re behind. We’re only behind because we want to be.

Was Snapchat a fad? Does augmented reality have a future in social media?

Snapchat has taught us amazing and interesting things when it comes to augmented reality – it has taught us that we have the appetite as consumers. Otherwise we wouldn’t bother standing around doing weird things with our phones in front of our faces or playing with crazy filters. There was a millennial target audience and now we’ve seen it goes beyond the millennials. They’re getting into a space where they’re going to have TV shows and content that you will only watch on Snapchat, so there’s an interesting conversation to be had around that; they have things up their sleeves.

Hopefully we’ll go from "filters in my face" to world lenses filters.

Snapchat gave people little tastes of what AR is – consumers are lazy and we take time to adapt, so we can’t go full crazy with AR yet, we need to go small, like with these face filters. And look at Facebook now, it has these cameras everywhere on the app. There’s a reason for that, because they’re building their AR and VR backend; they even have it made so people can prototype. So hopefully we’ll go from "filters in my face" to world lenses filters. And look at what Pokémon is doing, with the point and shoot to unlock Easter eggs or being able to capture something from the sky.

What’s the deal with geolocation services becoming more relevant to marketers? Snapchat Map is becoming popular with regular users, but how can brands leverage the technology?

You can see where all your friends are; if you’re a brand, it lets you see where you are as a brand, and it also shows all the content that’s being snapchatted in specific places. There’s been so much drama around privacy – first of all, there’s a ghost mode, so you can turn it off – but if you think about it, for brands, it’s awesome. If you just opened a coffee shop next door, and you get a social media influencer to do a ton of content on snapchat for a whole month, that content’s going to be discoverable by the people who are hanging out on Snapchat. Geolocation-targeted content for brands is awesome. As a marketer, I just care that I have more ways to tell my story with my content, so we all should be pretty excited about that.

Photo credit: @MO4 Network's #MO4 Productions.

Photographers: Seif Mansour and Agraf.