Lithium buys partner Social Dynamx for social support

Contact: Martin Schneider, Ben Kolada

Social marketing and customer support vendor Lithium Technologies announced on Tuesday the acquisition of its young partner, Social Dynamx. In January, Lithium secured a $53m series D funding round (bringing total funding to $101m) and said it planned to use the funds for product development and hiring. Apparently, this acquisition serves a bit of both of those goals.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, though we suspect the consideration was a small amount of cash and stock. Austin, Texas-based Social Dynamx employs about 25 people, and all regular employees are expected to join Lithium. The companies had been tightlipped about their partnership, though we did uncover the relationship and provide more detail in a report we published in May.

Lithium is doing a couple of things here with its pickup of Social Dynamx. First, the company has been looking to move from internal, community-based support models for some time. While Lithium did partner with Social Dynamx, and the Social Dynamx offering powers the Lithium Response social support tool, owning the product outright can lead to deeper, more process-driven integrations around externally sourced support requests. For example, a deeper integration can allow the tool to identify ‘calls for help’ in social channels outside of Lithium’s communities, such as Twitter, and pull that individual (and his question or issue) into either a structured agent-assisted channel or a community-based support network. The notion is to deeply embed the ability to identify and scale cross-platform support requests into the Lithium platform.

Secondly, the move to acquire seems somewhat defensive. As competitors like Jive Software look to move from internal social collaboration into other areas like marketing and support (like Lithium has been doing over the past several quarters), this acquisition knocks out a potential agnostic partner for other social players. Lithium not only adds features, but also takes an easier route to wresting them away from other enterprise social vendors.

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Google’s admission of failure?

Contact: Ben Kolada

Google has finally found a way to monetize Facebook’s platform. After failing to acquire Facebook when it had the chance several years ago, and now with its own attempts at social networking a bit spotty, official word came on Tuesday that Google is acquiring social marketing startup Wildfire Interactive. Google is reportedly paying $250m for Wildfire, a respectable price tag that likely values the target at 7-10x revenue.

Google’s own ‘Insights for Search’ search analysis engine shows interest in Orkut, its attempt at a social network that found most of its popularity outside the US, and its Google+ social network trending downward over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, interest in Facebook has remained remarkably high.

In acquiring Wildfire, Google is recognizing its social shortcomings, and not a moment too soon. There has been rapid consolidation of social marketing startups in just the past three months.

Sector stalwarts Vitrue and Buddy Media have already been acquired by Oracle and, respectively, leaving only a few hot startups left. Beyond Wildfire, we’d point to GraphEffect, Hearsay Social, Syncapse and Lithium Technologies as the next to go. And there will likely be bidding competition for these firms. Large CRM vendors SAP and Microsoft could make a play here, as well as Teradata, which could buy into social to build on top of its recent purchases of marketing specialists Aprimo and eCircle.

Recent select M&A in social marketing

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value
July 31, 2012 Google Wildfire Interactive Not disclosed
July 10, 2012 Oracle Involver Not disclosed
June 4, 2012 Buddy Media $689m
May 23, 2012 Oracle Vitrue $325m*
April 18, 2012 Marketo Crowd Factory Not disclosed

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Research estimate

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @MAKnowledgebase.

Social CRM: haves and have-nots

Contact: Brenon Daly, China Martens

Even though social CRM is still an emerging market, the deals have been flowing. And it isn’t just one-off, conventional activity, but just about every conceivable type of transaction: public-to-private deals, private-to-private deals, a private equity-backed rollup and even (apparently) a wind-down. Among the more notable deals in this broadly defined space has been RightNow reaching for tiny startup HiveLive last September to add a community offering to its core CRM product and Attensity cobbling together the parts of three companies to form a European giant about a year ago. Attensity was back in the market last month, adding Biz360 to bolster its voice-of-consumer product.

Activity picked up again earlier this week, as Lithium Technologies confirmed that it had acquired Scout Labs for a reported $20-25m. As my colleague China Martens reports, the purchase adds Scout Labs’ social-media monitoring and analytics capabilities to Lithium’s management platform for customer communities. We would highlight the fact that Lithium’s buy comes just four months after the company raised its third round of funding, an $18m tranche that brought total funding to $39m.

While Lithium was raising fresh money – and putting it to work on an acquisition – it appears that another social CRM startup was coming up empty in its effort to get more cash and has pulled the plug. Helpstream, which apparently raised about $10m in two funding rounds from Mohr Davidow Ventures (MDV) and Foundation Capital, has shut its doors, the former CEO has written in a blog post. Helpstream’s website no longer works and MDV has erased Helpstream as a portfolio company, despite leading the vendor’s second round. (Calls to the VCs went unreturned.)

If indeed Helpstream has dried up (as it were), we might point to two reasons why the company struggled. For starters, it was basically a SaaS helpdesk provider that then tried to get into the online customer service community-building game. And if its customers were confused by that, they would have been additionally puzzled by Helpstream’s ‘freemium’ business model. In the end, Helpstream managed to land just 40 paying customers, compared to 200 customers using the free version of its product.