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RightNow buys HiveLive to deliver customer communities integrated with CRM

RightNow became the latest CRM vendor to offer a social CRM component, this time buying HiveLive to help organizations build their own customer communities integrated with CRM.

Amidst a flurry of activity around social networks and CRM vendors this week, RightNow Technologies today said it has acquired Boulder, Colo.-based HiveLive Inc., a social platform provider, for $6 million.

Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow will combine its suite of CRM applications with HiveLive's platform for customer support, engagement and loyalty. The deal is expected to close next week.

The combination of the two entities will allow RightNow to provide its customers with prebuilt community templates for customer support, incorporating blogs, forums, question-and-answer dialogue, and media sharing.

"Tapping into the world of company-built communities is not only an extension of our core mission, but a market opportunity that equals Web self-service in terms of importance," RightNow's CEO Greg Gianforte said on a conference call regarding the acquisition. "By some published estimates, as much as 90% of all conversations about a company are happening externally. The volume of social interactions actually exceeds email. For many companies, this is a real challenge."

RightNow recently released an update to its Cloud Monitor service, an application that lets companies monitor conversations happening online on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and create customer service workflows within the RightNow CRM application. The HiveLive acquisition will allow companies to build communities they can operate and monitor themselves and integrate that feedback into RightNow. Gianforte said he expects to offer integrated HiveLive and RightNow services in the November '09 release of RightNow.

"We looked at a lot of companies and what we concluded is that long-term these social networking communities could not exist in silos," he said. "When you have a healthy community that's up and running, invariably the company wants to participate in that conversation. The most logical organization to participate in that is the support organization."

Those internal communities also need to be tightly integrated with the CRM system, Gianforte continued.

"We've been partnering for some time with companies which offer community solutions," he said, "but we believe we can dramatically improve the value for our customers and their consumers by having the social experience be part of the broader offering of RightNow."

RightNow had been partnering with Lithium Technologies for the past two years but ultimately decided it needed its own offering. Building out the capabilities itself would "have taken years to develop internally," Gianforte said.

It's a smart tactic, according to John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research with the Service and Support Professionals Association.

"Partnering is just not enough," Ragsdale said. "That's what this proves. Buyers want more than a partnership."

In fact, members of the SSPA winning awards for their service operations demonstrate that this approach often works, he said. The companies that have achieved positive results, like a high percentage of forum questions answered by customers versus employees, have done the work of integrating their communities with their CRM and knowledge management systems.

"It's been a best practice," Ragsdale said. "It's been a lot of heavy lifting for early adopters."

The HiveLive platform is available immediately following the acquisition and will operate as a standalone product until the integration is complete.

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