The B2B social media space seems like a land grab these days. Oracle’s acquisition of Vitrue for $300m was swiftly followed by Salesforce.com’s acquisition of Buddy Media for $750m. A few days later, Oracle was at it again – this time acquiring Involver. The smaller end of the spectrum saw Syncapse acquiring Clickable, a social ads platform for a paltry $33m in comparison. And now Google has joined the party by buying Wildfire (for a rumored $250m).
Google’s acquisition of Wildfire is probably the most interesting of the lot because the reasons behind this acquisition don’t hit you in the face like they do with the others. Vitrue and Buddy Media will be baked into Oracle’s and Salesforce’s CRM platform respectively (fairly obvious, duh!!), further fuelling the shift towards social CRM. But what about Google and Wildfire?
TL; DR: Google desperately needs ‘behind-the-wall’ access to Facebook and Twitter, and Wildfire could give them just that. Or, if Facebook and Twitter decide to play hard to get, Google could use Wildfire to pimp up Google+ for brands and marketers.
Before attempting to dig deep into what the Google Wildfire combine is capable of doing, let’s start off by looking at what Wildfire did, and did well!
Wildfire is a competent social media marketing platform, not just a social ads platform: In terms of capabilities, Wildfire’s social media marketing platform is fairly comprehensive. The platform enables brands to (a) create and manage their social media pages and apps; (b) better engage with their audience across social media channels; (c) serve ads and promotions and (d) monitor, analyze and optimize their social media campaigns. They do all of this this across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest.
Wildfire has a strong installed base: Wildfire is probably as big as Buddy Media (if not bigger) in terms of headcount and installed base. Victoria Ransom and Alain Chuard’s company have over 16,000 paying customers including 30 of the world’s 50 most valuable brands.
Last, but not least, Wildfire has a stellar team!
With regards to how the Google Wildfire team-up could play out, there are two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Google enters the cross-platform social ads business
We’ve already said that Wildfire isn’t just a social ads company. They do some cool stuff around page creation and management, as well as analytics and optimization. According to most online reports, Wildfire will be baked into Google’s existing display advertising stack, which already includes DoubleClick, AdMob, and AdMeld. What does this mean? Marketing folks will have more options going forward. Instead of serving up conventional display ads on Google, they will be able to push ads through to competing platforms including Facebook. Sounds like a fair assumption to make. But if you scratch the surface, things get just a wee bit more complicated.
Facebook has something called a Preferred Marketing Developer (PMD) program. This is what the social networking giant has to say about it:
“The PMD Badge is awarded to developers that have demonstrated value-added capabilities in one or more of the following qualification areas: Pages, Ads, Apps, and Insights. These companies are not directly endorsed by Facebook, but have clearly demonstrated unique capabilities that help marketers scale and achieve efficiency, and extend measurably beyond the functionality of Facebook’s native tools. Companies that hold the PMD Badge are reviewed periodically by Facebook, and must demonstrate an ongoing high-standard of excellence.”
Wildfire is part of Facebook’s PMD program and so are 333 others. However, Wildfire doesn’t have access to Facebook’s ad API. They rely on their partner Adaptly – another Facebook PMD badge holder for ads API access. If marketers are to leverage Google Wildfire combine to push ads through to multiple social networks, Google will have to continue partnering with Adaptly. Or, they could simply buy Adaptly right? At least that’s what this TechCrunch article suggests.
In fact, Buddy Media bought Brighter Option, a Facebook ads management software vendor just one month before being sold to Salesforce.com. Surely this isn’t just ‘coincidence’?
Let’s assume that Google indeed buys Adaptly, or one of the companies that has access to Facebook’s ad API. This still doesn’t give Google the ammunition to reign supreme in the cross platform social ads space because nothing prevents Facebook from revoking ad API access to Google, or at the least, restricting it. After all they explicitly mention that “Companies that hold the PMD Badge are reviewed periodically by Facebook”. Given the not so hunky-dory history between Google and Facebook, nothing prevents the social networking giant from doing what Twitter did to Instagram post its acquisition by Facebook.
Although Google have had some high profile failures on the acquisition front (remember that social gaming company?), Google probably isn’t stupid enough to bet it all on the hope that they can get into bed with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
This leads us to our second scenario.
Scenario 2: Google pimps up Google+
Yup! Forget Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter. Although Google would love to have access to their content, Google can still play the social marketing and social ads game without them. They are, after all, in the advertising business and they have a social platform of their own.
Irrespective of whether or not the other social networking heavyweights decide to alienate Google/Wildfire over the coming months, Wildfire could very well play a dual role in (a) giving DoubleClick and AdMeld a social flavor and (b) pimping up Google+ and making it more attractive to brands to manage their pages, serve up ads, sweepstakes, and promotions, monitor, analyze and optimize their campaigns.
This is a far-fetched prediction, but I won’t be surprised if Google gives away all of Wildfire’s page management, analytics and promotions capabilities for Google+ for free! If you track back 7 years, they did precisely this with Urchin Software Corp, a web analytics company. After acquisition, the search giant loaded the hosted version of Urchin’s web analytics tool with a bunch of features, rebranded it as Google Analytics and gave it away for free, causing panic in the boardrooms of Webtrends, Omniture and Coremetrics.
I head research and analysis at Credii, a startup that offers an interactive, web-based software recommendation platform. Credii offers software selection tools across many categories including social media monitoring. Sign up at www.credii.com for free, unbiased recommendations on business software selection.