Google + Wildfire: Where It Could Go

This week Google acquired Wildfire, a social media management system that helps marketers manage their presence across multiple social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

The move is significant, and it follows recent acquisitions of Vitrue by Oracle and Buddy Media by Salesforce. Involver and Context Optional have been acquired as well. Social media management systems are moving from being standalone start-ups to being part of much larger organizations.

Vitrue and Buddy Media are destined to become more integrated into CRM systems, and you can bet Google has  big plans for Wildfire.

Wildfire + Google—Social AdWords?

Wildfire is a big social play for Google for a number of reasons, but the biggest opportunity may be making Wildfire part of its search and display advertising. Google already offers conventional display ads and is the leader in paid search advertising. Wildfire could lead to social ads integration into a single offering—making a potent combination.

What the Future Holds

The significance of Google’s acquisition is partly because of Google’s emerging focus on social media with Google+. Google isn’t just a social media platform. It aims to be the ultimate social media resource with Wildfire allowing Google tp reach far beyond the Google+ walls.

Wildfire gives Google access to something its social platform competitors don’t have access to—a backdoor to competitors. Twitter no longer allows Google to access its Firehose, and Facebook is aligned with Bing, not Google, meaning Facebook, for the most part, is absent from Google search results. Now, Google has access to social information it couldn’t get to before, which could become part of Google’s social search play. So instead of going after partnerships with each social platform, Google bought a company that already has access.

This acquisition puts Facebook in a difficult situation for a number of reasons, but one of those is the fact that Wildfire is a Facebook Preferred Developer, which means it has more access than most developers and is in use by a large number of brands. Facebook is forced to walk a fine line—revoke access and risk regulatory issues or continue to give Wildfire exclusive access to its platform. It’s a sticky situation for Facebook either way.

Facebook isn’t the only one watching this move closely. Buddy Media, Vitrue, Involver and others may be wary of the acquisition as well. After all, Google’s known for taking platforms, retooling them and making them free, so advertisers leverage their other paid platforms. Google Analytics is a perfect example of a free tool that competes very well with costly tools like Omniture. If Google turns Wildfire into a free competitor with a similar feature set, advertisers will be less likely to go with other options.

A Category in Flux

We’re in a state of extreme change. What was once a start-up community of social media management platforms is now becoming a system of offering suites from larger businesses. This brings the opportunity for better integration for marketers, but it could also mean a stifling of innovation. However, there’s clearly a strong sense of competition out there, which means we’ll be seeing many more changes moving forward. This is only getting started.