There's a belief (which, for some, has metastasized into a desperate hope) that how you say something online, not so much what you say, directly translates to whether you'll read it. Today, a corporation that's notorious for never changing the way it says anything, announced it's acquiring a company whose business is message adjustment for brands in the social media space.
Prior to Facebook's IPO last week, there was considerable talk about whether its main value proposition - that companies can realize value by approaching their customers as people - would, coupled with six bucks, buy you a cup of coffee. For the last six years, a company called Vitrue has built a business around social relationship management for consumer-facing companies. Not really CRM in the strict sense, its service has evolved around utilizing social media to craft marketing messages that better reach customers through social media. Which seems sensible enough: testing the river before sticking your boat in it.
This morning, for an undisclosed sum of cash, Oracle announced it is purchasing Vitrue and integrating it into its broadening portfolio of cloud-based services, which last February absorbed workforce talent management powerhouse Taleo. With Vitrue comes some unique and sometimes controversial tools, including one that estimates the ROI of your Facebook branding campaign in dollars.
Vitrue made its first public splash in 2007 with a promotion that urged consumers everywhere to produce their own Pringles potato chip commercials, as mashups mixing their own homemade tapes with a stockpile of snack food-related content. At that time, the company was marketing itself as "YouTube for brands." (Vitrue's founder and CEO, Reggie Bradford, has a background in television.) Since that time, the rise of Facebook prompted Vitrue to become an early supporter and advocate of its platform.
In its now widely known September 2010 white paper, "Anatomy of a Facebook Post" (PDF available here), Vitrue makes a compelling case that Facebook users expect a different attitude from what they read there, not just from people but from companies as well.
"As a general rule of thumb, marketers adapt their messages and content to different marketing communication channels," the white paper reads. "The content and format used in direct mail will not necessarily be effective for a direct e-mail. Also, within each marketing tactic, a marketer must determine the best format for that specific channel, i.e. e-mail with HTML or text or variations of subject lines, which results in an extensive 'test and learn' iterative approach to marketing effectiveness for a particular marketing tactic."
That paragraph seemed to imply that as people's attitudes vary with the use of different channels, certain attitudes with social channels will be more colored by individual personalities than by a collective, herd mentality. It's that implication which seemed in stark contrast to the production of its ROI calculator tool, which Google Analytics product marketing manager Adam Singer called out in April 2010, on his blog TheFutureBuzz.com, for cattle-prodding not only individuals but also entire vertical market segments into the same corral, and assuming each unit in that corral is worth the same dollar value.
"The power of Web analytics and data isn’t about coming up with normalized numbers to apply blandly across hordes of consumers, but about segmentation, detailed analysis and accountability," Singer wrote at the time. "It’s about understanding and activating your true fans, and not even treating them all the same. They are not all created equal, after all. These unscientific data points are why companies are blindly chasing bigger numbers for numbers sake – when in reality they are increasing KPI [key performance indicator] metrics and not necessarily objectives."
Vitrue's Bradford appeared to address Singer's argument in an interview with blogger Rob Birgfeld the following month. Said the CEO, "Nothing is an exact science, especially with social media. We developed the Evaluator to help provide a marketer directional and quantifiable information. But increasingly marketers can and should derive their strategies based on solid data, which is what we do here at Vitrue."
One immediately wonders how all that valuable data will be put to use at Oracle, a company notorious for rarely, if ever, modifying the tone or even color (red) of its customer-facing message over the last quarter-century. In early 2010, Oracle explained the motivation behind its acquisition of Sun Microsystems as centering around the creation of a "seamless experience for developers." Later that year, in its acquisition of e-commerce and cell-center platform maker Art Technology Group, Oracle XVP Thomas Kurian stated it was in response to customers needing "a unified commerce and CRM platform to provide a seamless experience across all commerce channels." And earlier this year, after acquiring customer service platform maker RightNow, Oracle assessed the RightNow platform as "help[ing] companies power great customer experiences in a seamless, personalized way across all channels and customer touchpoints: including on the web, in a store, over the phone or via mobile devices."
So it becomes uniquely interesting not just how Singer announced this morning's news on Vitrue's corporate blog, but how he said it. "As you know, marketers have largely led their businesses into social and they are now looking to develop strategies that can help them deliver more meaningful customer engagement. Increasingly, other groups within the enterprise are also utilizing social media to build relationships with today’s socially connected consumer. Enterprises need a more comprehensive social relationship management platform that connects marketing, sales, commerce and customer service together, for a seamless brand experience. Together, Oracle and Vitrue’s comprehensive social relationship management platform will improve companies’ return on investment for social by integrating sales and marketing across paid, owned and earned media; and enhancing customer service through seamless, real-time responsiveness and high touch engagement."
I suppose corporate statements have one way of reaching an audience, and Facebook pages another. Who knows, really? It's not an exact science.