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Social media management stalwart Hootsuite has acquired Sparkcentral, a messaging app-focused customer engagement platform that offers virtual agents and automated message distribution. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition comes as more companies seek tools that will help them support customers online while working collaboratively with team members based in any number of locations.

Hootsuite was one of the early pioneers in social media marketing and management, enabling businesses to manage multiple accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and more through a single dashboard. The Sparkcentral deal gives Hootsuite a direct artery into a range of messaging apps, including WhatsApp, WeChat, Google Business Messages, Apple Business Chat, Telegram, and SMS.

Sparkcentral, which operates a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model, had raised nearly $38 million since it was founded in Belgium in 2011.

Automation

Gartner had predicted that 15% of all customer service interactions would be handled entirely by AI by 2021, up 400% from 2017. It’s all about scalability — handling simple questions so human agents can focus on more complex inquiries.

The most interesting facet of this deal is that Sparkcentral will bring Hootsuite a number of AI and automated tools via its message distribution engine. This engine synchronizes inbound messages with a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, giving agents a more rounded view of the customer. Sparkcentral also offers virtual agents — or chatbots — that can work alongside human personnel.

Hootsuite has previously offered some automated messaging capabilities via third-party integrations, but only for Facebook Messenger. “This acquisition brings essential virtual agent capabilities in-house and provides the integration capabilities to connect to more advanced AI-driven solutions across all social and digital channels,” Hootsuite CTO Ryan Donovan told VentureBeat.

Hootsuite said this deal will help it “unify social marketing, social listening, and social customer care” under one platform. “The Sparkcentral technology is complementary to Hootsuite,” Donovan said, adding that Sparkcentral will initially operate as an independent company under the Hootsuite brand. “The goal is for Sparkcentral and Hootsuite to build the social media marketing and social customer care digital customer journey platform of the future, beginning later this year.”

The pandemic has seen a number of big deals and new products in this space. Cloud-based call center platforms like Aircall and Dialpad have raised significant rounds of funding, while Twilio rival MessageBird launched a new AI-powered contact center. And RingCentral, which creates communication and collaboration tools for the enterprise, last month acquired conversational AI intelligence startup DeepAffects.

That Hootsuite is now bolstering its position in the social customer service space is not surprising. While Hootsuite already targeted customer service teams, it lacked many of the features and functionality modern enterprises expect, and the Sparkcentral acquisition will go some way toward filling that gap.

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