The 2009 Rising Stars - Lithium Technologies

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Unless you've been living under a rock or still using a rotary phone, you'll know how obvious it is that the business world is starting to take a serious look at the promise of social media in general, and communities in particular. Forrester Research is tracking more than 90 community-forum providers-all vying for a piece of  he growing pie-and estimates user adoption of social networks and online communities grew from 25 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2008. Amid the hubbub, one vendor keeps popping up: Lithium Technologies.

"Lithium remains one of our leaders because of its platform and technology, but also because of its knowledge and understanding of what makes for a successful community and how that ties back to the business," explains Matthew Lees, vice president and analyst for the Patricia Seybold Group.

Spun out of Gamers.com in 2001, the venture-capital-backed company's first client was Dell-no one's idea of an easy account to land. Since then, the company's added more than 125 customers, including Comcast, Nintendo, and Sprint. Defying the recession, Lithium has exploded to approximately 115 employees and at press time was actively looking to fill 15 open positions. The company also recently acquired Keibi Technologies, a provider of moderation platforms.

All that speed comes at a price, and Lithium gets dinged for lacking a strong long-term vision. Lees believes the hiring of Sanjay Dholakia as chief marketing officer is a huge step in the right direction. "Lithium didn't have a chief marketing person for a while, which, as an analyst, was a concern for me about the company," he  says. "Lithium has always been strong on the product-and-services side, but didn't have that strategic visionary marketing person until Sanjay came on. He has stepped in very well."

In order to compete with other community platforms, including Jive Software and Telligent, Lees says Lithium must continue to expand its partner network, which already includes Omniture and RightNow Technologies. "Lithium will need more business partnerships, so choosing good agencies that have relationships with major brands can get Lithium in the door, whereas the vendor by itself would have had a harder time doing so."

So it'll take a community effort, then? Lithium should be OK with that.

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