September 6, 2012 By BJ Cook,

wildfire for free

Let's face it… if you're doing any kind of marketing, you've probably explored some type of social media strategy. If you've spent at least ten minutes thinking about social, you've probably asked yourself whether or not you need a social media management tool like Wildfire or Involver.

And shortly thereafter you've probably said to yourself (or heard your boss exclaim), "Holy shit that's expensive! Why do we really need that?" To which you respond by sharpening your pencil – or what's more likely, rapidly banging away at your keyboard – to try and justify the ROI impact of your nacent social channel. Okay, that might be a little bleak, but it's not too far off the battle marketers and executives face when trying to justify software that's several thousands of dollars per month when it doesn't need to be.

Google's acquisition of Wildfire late last month was smart for several reasons. Wildfire powers social media applications for more than half of the world's most valuable brands. They've got major inroads into the Facebook ecosystem and it would make a lot of sense that Google would want to better understand those interactions. It also makes Google a partner in Facebook success… and like the old adage states, "if you can't beat 'em"… well you know.

So here we are…  Google and Facebook sitting in a tree. End of story right? I don't think so. This is where things will get interesting.

No one doubted the acumen of Google when they made this decision to purchase Wildfire. It was an obvious move for both companies. Now the question remains, what's going to happen to Wildfire?

I sat down and spoke with a rep from Wildfire and mums the word. The official party line is, they are operating as a separate business under Google and nothing will change.

I'm not buying it.

I profess Google is going to turn Wildfire into a free social media management application, much like the rise of free analytics (a la the Urchin acquisition).

Here's why.

Remember 8-10 years ago when analytics was expensive. You needed to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each month for a simple analytics package. In hindsight, it was a little ridiculous.

The economics of new technologies (both hardware and software) dictate you get the highest price from your consumers early on and the cost dwindles over time. It's a proven fact, demonstrated time and time again. Well the same principal held true for analytics. Originally Urchin cost nearly $10k, then it was $3k, until ultimately Google bought it and started giving it away. Shortly thereafter, Yahoo bought a company called Indextools and also made that free – and the battle of freemium analytics began. Although there is still a big market for paid analytics, free is now the industry standard. The same thing is going to happen in social media management.

There's simply no good reason for this software to cost as much as it does, other than the fact big companies are willing to pay for it - albeit begrudgingly. If software as complicated as analytics, or blogging (WordPress) is free… then this is not that far off. What's the benefit for Google to make it free, you ask? Well… simply put, data. Lots of it. Google desperately wants to get their spiders behind Facebook's walled garden and this is the perfect play to do so. Because Facebook can't deny these applications entry, Google can learn a tremendous amount about users and brands that would benefit their business as a whole.

Another obviously play for Wildfire is to speed up the integration and adoption of Google Plus. Many of these management applications don't yet include Google Plus. By fast tracking the development of G+ into Wildfire, this will have a ripple affect amongst all of the other big publishers.

Despite what the team at Wildfire says, their world will be permanently changed by this acquisition. Marketers are soon going to find a bevy of social media tools at their disposal, and will no longer have to defend that line item for social media management software much longer. It's just the way the tech world works. When a big company has a big data play and the stakes are this high… there's nothing that will stop them from maximizing their collection.

I give it 12 months before Wildfire is free at the enterprise level.

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