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Cloud computing-based customer relationship management software is particularly suitable for integrating with social networking sites. and RightNow, two companies that specialize in customer relationship management software, are taking big steps to incorporate social networking into their products. They're also the leaders in cloud computing-based CRM, which is particularly suitable for integrating with social networking sites.

Both CRM providers recognize that their customers' customers are increasingly going to the Web to air gripes and get questions answered, rather than pick up of the phone to call a customer support center.

Their new offerings are intended to let customer service agents track chatter about products and services at social sites, offer to help when appropriate, and even feed good customer suggestions back into their companies' knowledge bases. Integrating with Web-based social sites could be a complicated feat with on-premise customer service software, but for Salesforce and RightNow customers, everything will reside in the cloud. on Wednesday upgraded its customer-service product suite and is now calling it Service Cloud 2. last year acquired Instranet, software that customer service agents use to find answers for customers by tapping into "knowledge articles." For Service Cloud 2, rewrote parts of the software, called Salesforce Knowledge, to run natively on its own cloud computing platform.

Salesforce Knowledge is now multi-tenant, will be automatically upgraded at the same time for all customers, and is available as a subscription at $50 a month per agent.

With the version of the software, companies can also make those knowledge articles available to their customers. Answers may be sought on social sites, through search engines such as Google, and at customer self-help Web sites, including those hosted by via its Sites service, said Kraig Swensrud, VP of product marketing.

Users of Salesforce Knowledge can also use Salesforce for Twitter, a new free app on the Salesforce AppExchange, which lets customer agents monitor tweets about their companies' products and services, set up customer service channels on Twitter, and post helpful links to knowledge articles residing in Salesforce Knowledge. Dell, Cisco, Comcast, and Starbucks are among the customers already using that product. said it's also testing a service called Salesforce Answers, which would let companies create Web sites where customers can ask questions that community members can answer, and also rate the quality of others' answers (similar to Ask Yahoo).

Companies would be able to set up the service on their Facebook fan pages. This product, scheduled for release in 2011, would integrate with Salesforce Knowledge, so that good information coming in from an online community could be incorporated into the knowledge base for use by customer service reps, for example.

RightNow, meanwhile, announced late Tuesday that it has acquired HighLive for $6 million. HighLive is a provider of software for creating online communities that incorporate forums, blogs, and question-and-answer sites.

It is available immediately as a software service to RightNow customers, and will be integrated in the November upgrade of its subscription software service. Earlier this year, RightNow began offering RightNow Cloud Monitor, which customer service agents use to monitor and respond to customer comments and issues being aired on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the public cloud, digging into the gritty details of cloud computing services from a dozen vendors. Download the report here (registration required).

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