A Different Take: Why Google Bought Wildfire Interactive

By Tad Miller | Sep 25, 2012
More Articles by Tad


If a tree falls in the forest and no one was around to hear it, did it make a sound?  The same philosophical question could be true of “If I post on Google+ and no one either sees it or reacts to it, does it even matter…”  The answer to the second question is yes, but that’s not the main point of this post.

Google+ is growing as a social network, but getting most brands on Google+ to see the value of it as a social media channel has been difficult for us as a search marketing agency.  The comparisons to Facebook won’t go away, and it can’t live up to those expectations right now.  User engagement with brands on Google+ is very low, and getting brands to treat Google+ as an equal to Facebook in terms of what they do to engage audiences has been extremely difficult.

Convincing brands to even do the bare minimum and “cut and paste” their Facebook status updates into their Google+ for Business pages has been a very difficult sale for us.  We even had to beg one of our former clients, a Social Media Software company, to update their Google Plus page as often as their Facebook page, but to no avail.  The page was void of any status updates for weeks and weeks on end.  That client was Wildfire Interactive, and the irony is that Google actually ended up buying them for a sum rumored to be more than $350 Million (they regularly update their Google+ for Business page now).

Wildfire is a giant, if not the giant in the industry, when it comes to use of its social media tool by total number of users.  There has been a ton of speculation as to why Google would buy a tool that to date has been largely used for competing social networks like Facebook.  No one at Wildfire ever communicated a reason to us for Google’s purchase, and our last day with our engagement was the day the transaction was announced…

Wildfire’s focus with our efforts was largely on driving the enterprise level customer to its social media software suite of tools.  The enterprise level customer is lucrative for any software as a service, but it’s a much smaller “bucket” of customers than the business stream that put Wildfire on the map as a go-to tool for social media promotions.  Over 15,000 clients have used Wildfire to execute sweepstakes, contests, quizzes, group deals and coupons on their Facebook pages.  These promotions have driven incredible growth in “Likes” and other engagement metrics for their clients (it’s been reported that Wildfire has already powered over 150,000 promotions).  They have case study after case study showing the power of promotions to totally transform their clients’ social media presence and following.

This same tool set has been noticeably absent for brands to use on Google+ for any social media management tool for quite a while.  But my theory is that Google didn’t buy Wildfire just to let Wildfire operate as an independent entity to manage social media presences on other social channels.  Instead, I believe Google bought Wildfire to be its tool box for Google+ for Business pages, and did so for what equates to just a little over 3 days of revenue for them.

Brands need to incentivise people to engage with them on Google+.  Google also needs to build scale of registered and engaged users.  Giveaways, contests, and sweepstakes are a great way to get masses of people to register and engage.  Google needs large scale use of Google+ to get it to do what they need from it (it always comes down to generating new ad revenue).

All reports indicate that Wildfire will go on doing what they have always done:

“We remain focused on helping brands run and measure their social engagement and ad campaigns across the entire web and across all social services — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more — and to deliver rich and satisfying experiences for their consumers. To this end, Wildfire will operate as usual, and there will be no changes to our service and support for our customers.

But here’s what I would expect from the Google perspective.  I fully expect that Google+ will get some extra dashboard pages with Wildfire promotion tools within them.  I also expect that there will be integration with Google Adwords pay per click advertising on these promotions.  Wildfire has had incredible success in driving “Likes” and engagement when combining promotions with advertising on Facebook.  The same should absolutely be true with getting companies Google+ for Business pages followed with +1 votes.

Once those brands do get a following on Google+ they can also drive further engagement with continued promotions – which should keep fans coming back again and again to some degree.  The same has been absolutely true on Facebook and I would completely expect it to continue on Google+.

It has recently been reported that there are 400 million people that are registered on Google+, of those, 100 million are “monthly active users”.  But it’s also in question how many of those monthly active users are just using Google Hangout video chats, which apparently count in the monthly active user category.  Even less data is available on how many of those monthly active users are actually engaging with brands on on Google+. Using the Wildfire Social Promotions tools should give brands the tools they need to start changing Google’s monthly active user issues.

Wildfire has the potential to turn the desert of Brand interaction on Google Plus into a thriving Garden.

Why Would An SEO Care About A Little Used Social Channel?

The reality of Google+ as a ranking factor on Google searches is here.  Google has reported that +1 votes are not a ranking signal in their algorithms for those searching while not logged in, or those viewing the non-personalized rankings seen when searchers opt not to use its default setting “Search Plus Your World”.  But the reality is for those that are signed in to a Google service, like G-mail, personalized results from Search Plus Your World are served, with a very heavy mix of results that show up based on Google Plus shares and interactions from people in your online social circles.

Brands that participate on Google+ are at a distinct advantage in getting personalized search results served to their Google+ followers and potentially to another 3 degrees of separation from those followers.

We believe that Google will use Google+ activity as an even greater search ranking in the future, but they need a larger number of Google+ users and more engagement and active use to make their results more accurate. Enter Wildfire.  Google also needs this scale to deliver a greater degree of personalization for its advertisers.  Demographic targeting provided by large scale Google+ profile creation and Google+ activity, paired with its display network and search network, will allow advertisers to spend more effectively on just their targeted demographics with their advertising.

See our webinar “SEO + Google+ = Total SERP Domination” for more information:

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