Google Picks Up Wildfire, Along With Loads of Facebook Data

Startup brings with it potential wealth of social intelligence

When Oracle bought the social marketing management company Vitrue, and Salesforce followed by purchasing Vitrue-rival Buddy Media a few weeks later, most observers considered the moves the beginning of a social media services acquisition spree. They weren’t wrong. Wildfire is the latest social marketing software firm to get snatched up—for a reported $250 million—but arguably the bigger news is who’s doing the acquiring: Google.

The deal hasn’t closed yet, so it remains to be seen what will happen to Wildfire, and how much of the company Google actually ends up owning. In a blog post Wildfire co-founders Victoria Ransom and Alain Chuard wrote that for the time being, “Wildfire will operate as usual, and there will be no changes to our service and support for our customers.” But in Google’s hands, the startup carries with it a lot of interesting possibilities—and more intriguing questions.

One obvious move for Google would be to use Wildfire’s page management expertise to beef up Google+. Right now brands’ Google+ pages aren’t all that different from their Facebook Pages—ahem, their pre-Timeline Facebook Pages. But in a company blog post announcing the acquisition, Google product management director Jason Miller wrote that Wildfire will enable Google to create “new opportunities for our clients to engage with people across all social services.”

Wildfire’s capabilities span Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and—arguably most attractive to Google—Facebook. Unlike Google, Wildfire has access to Facebook data from brands’ fans. It even has a product in beta called Social Audience Database, which would enable brands to build audience profiles based on fans’ likes, comments, interests and other information users have provided permission to access.

Google could use all that social data for ad targeting, among other things, in its end-to-end-and-growing advertising tech stack.

But alas, Facebook probably wouldn’t be stoked about that. In terms of advertising value, Facebook’s social data is its vast untapped gold mine, and thus Facebook actively looks to keep that data within its walls (as demonstrated by how the recently launched Facebook Exchange prevents advertisers from targeting users using both Facebook and non-Facebook data).

Facebook might also take issue with Google being able to sell ads on Facebook. Wildfire doesn’t directly sell Facebook ads, but the company partners with social ad firm Adaptly to let its customers do so. In addition to applauding the Google-Wildfire deal, Adaptly co-founder and CEO Nikhil Sethi said in an email that his company continues “to partner and work with Wildfire; together, we are committed to providing our combined offerings in earned and paid social media for the thousands of clients we serve together and push the envelope in terms of social media creativity and innovation.”

Again the deal hasn’t closed, so all of this is up in the air. Facebook could easily decide to change the way it works with Wildfire before it becomes a Google-owned property. A Wildfire rep referred questions to Google, which declined to comment beyond the company blog post. Facebook also declined to comment.