Connecting with Bill Sobel

Two years ago, Esteban Contreras sold most of his earthly possessions on Craigslist, walked away from a city he loved – New York – and moved to Canada. He happily resettled about 30 minutes from Vancouver, British Columbia but stayed connected with his adopted hometown by by advising and working with NYC based Sprinklr, a provider of social media management tools.

We told you about Sprinklr last month when it bought Austin, Texas-based Dachis Group, a social analytics company, and formed the largest independent end-to-end social relationship platform in the market. Contreras is director of strategy at Sprinklr.

He's a native of Guatemala, but he has little concern for geography — and said he's "glad we live in a day and age in which it is possible to work from virtually anywhere."

And he's probably just as glad we live in an age when it's possible for one person to do so many interesting things. Before moving to Canada, Contreras was the first social media marketing manager at Samsung USA.

He's also the author of the book "Social State," founder of Social Nerdia Consulting, which focuses on the convergence of technology, marketing and social, and an advisor to multiple tech startups.

Anything but Socially Awkward

esteban contreras

You just have to look at the title of his book to know Contreras knows a lot about the state of social media, social business and emerging digital technologies. So I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say.

Sobel: You taught yourself how to use number of blogging platforms, created a show on BlogTalk Radio and impressed the guests you interviewed from Samsung so much that they offered you a job. Now you devote your time to Sprinklr as well as Social Nerdia. What am I missing?

Contreras: Before Samsung, I was a technology consultant for Amdocs, a software company that creates solutions for the telecom industry. That's where I became passionate about social networks and first discussed topics like "Social CRM" with executives at companies like AT&T. While at Amdocs, I started a blog and podcast about the convergence of technology, marketing and social media. I called it Social Nerdia, inspired by a typo someone made on Twitter. I never thought the name would stick, but I'm glad it did. The podcast interview with Samsung certainly led to a big career move for me.

These days I'm very focused on helping the world's best brands leverage social media, digital technologies and Sprinklr's powerful software to enhance the customer experience and drive business goals. Whether it's providing strategic services or re-imagining solutions — such as Sprinklr's brand new Command Center, which was soft launched at SXSW recently — I'm excited about what Sprinklr is doing and the role our company has in the highly connected world we live in.

Sobel: In the opening of your book, Social State, you quote Charles Dickens.  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness." Can you explain what you meant?

Contreras: I heard those words in a web video from the early 2000s called "Epic 2014." The video imagined the future and how people would leverage a highly personalized web, for better (to learn and educate ourselves) or worse (to only explore the superficial and vain). While that video did not predict the rise of social networks and what we've come to know as "social media," these services have transformed our lives and will continue to do so, for better or worse. As I wrote "Social State," that Epic 2014 video was top of mind as I considered the influence of the web and its evolution. It is up to each of us to decide how we will leverage these technologies, and we vote for the future of the web with our daily clicks and interactions online.

Sobel: When I read the book, I was impressed that you mentioned Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web. You note that Berners-Lee, hailed by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest minds of this century, created something that changed the way people do business, entertain themselves, exchange ideas and socialize with one another. With new online businesses and communities forming every day, the full impact of Berners-Lee's grand scheme has yet to unfold. What are your thoughts on that?

Contreras: We've had the personal computer for over three decades, television for nearly a century and the automobile for over a century. The World Wide Web is only getting started as it has barely been around for two decades. We've only been using social media for half of that time! We almost take it for granted, but the web has transformed our lives. Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter have transformed our society into a deeply connected one that is highly reliant on digital technologies. It is hard to imagine what new inventions we will see in the next 50 years, but it is clear that the web will be an integral part of how humans communicate and collaborate.

Sobel: Tell me a bit about Sprinklr's acquisition of Dachis Group.

Contreras: The acquisition accelerates Sprinklr's product roadmap by 12 months by adding world-class brand analytics, content optimization and employee advocacy to the most powerful and largest independent end-to-end social relationship platform in the market. Dachis Group's five years of enterprise strategy consulting experience also complements and enhances Sprinklr's service offerings.

Sobel: In a 2011 story on Fox News story called "How Latinos Will Use Social Media to Change the World," Louis Pagan, managing partner of social media company Hispanicize and co-founder of Latino focused non-profit LATISM was quoted as saying "Despite Hispanics being a minority population in the US, they are embracing technology faster than any other group here … and because of this, Latinos will have an enormous influence on social media, technology and the brands that do business on the Internet." Can you talk a bit about that?

Contreras: Hispanics in the US are a growing demographic, and their influence is more than evident in major cities all over the nation. Hispanics as a whole have embraced social media, but there are sensibilities that are widely misunderstood by those marketing and tailoring services to this population. Companies, organizations and politicians must understand how to communicate with this diverse group if they want to be relevant in the long-term. Beyond those in the US, the Latin American market is also growing in influence and importance. While Latin Americans with access to the web tend to be quite social online, most of Latin America is not yet connected. There is much work to be done before we can make claims about ending the "digital divide." The true divide in Latin America is a social and economic one.

Sobel: How can CIOs, CMOs and marketing and information managers optimize their company's use of digital information?

Contreras: Executives across all industries should be concerned with how their companies will communicate with consumers over the next decade. As social media, big data and customer relationship management converge, it is important for organizations to speak to consumers in a contextual manner while being sensitive and respectful of their privacy concerns. It is also essential for organizations to stop thinking (and managing data) in silos, so they can start delivering exceptional experiences consistently across business units, divisions, regions and languages.