Google’s Wildfire Buy Could Enhance Social Data Capabilities

Google has purchased Facebook-centric social media campaign management firm Wildfire. Google has struggled in the social media realm, and if a blog post from the firm is any indication, the deal is all about social media advertising and the social data that fuels it.

“Google Analytics helps businesses measure the contribution of hundreds of social sites; our Admeld service has helped to serve ads in Facebook developers’ social apps; and our DoubleClick platform enables clients to run and measure ads across social websites,” wrote Google Product Management Director Jason Miller on the official Google Blog when announcing the acquisition. “For example…On Google+, brands use services like Vitrue, Buddy Media and others to manage their pages, with many more to come.”

The Google+ platform is a direct attack on Facebook, yet Google until now has failed to propel it to anywhere near the popularity heights that Facebook has achieved. Also, search advertising – Google’s strong suit – is increasingly aligned with social media marketing, so it’s no surprise Google wants more social data.

Indeed, some speculate Wildfire could serve as Google’s Trojan horse into Facebook. Google Analytics currently cannot connect to Facebook’s, Twitter’s, or LinkedIn’s APIs, so it can’t provide nuanced information on social interactions such as likes or shares. The Wildfire acquisition could help Google gather more of that valuable intelligence from those and other social interaction data beasts.

Just how Google might employ the data that Wildfire gleans from social networks to help inform ads on its own sites or in its expansive ad network is not known. A Google spokesperson stressed the company’s commitment to user privacy, noting that it’s too early to know how Wildfire’s data might enhance Google’s capabilities.

Already, in the couple hours since the deal was publicized, questions as to how the acquisition might affect Wildfire’s relationship with Facebook have arisen. Wildfire’s software is employed to manage Facebook ads, promotions, pages, and other formats used by brands to market on the site. Though Wildfire also manages efforts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere, a quick glance at its website or recent research it has published reveals Wildfire’s business model is particularly intertwined with Facebook.

Though Google expects Wildfire to continue to serve its clients in managing efforts on Facebook and elsewhere, some wonder whether Facebook could prevent Wildfire from connecting to its platform in the future, or simply make it more difficult to do so.

Digital agencies with social media marketing practices may also feel some heat from the Google buy, as it helps Google compete in the social marketing campaign management space. Many social agencies use tools like Wildfire, suggested the Google spokesperson, so it may not have much of an impact.

Wildfire is currently a sponsor of ClickZ. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

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