Oracle Acquires Social Marketer Involver As Enterprise Giants Buy Rather Than Build For Tomorrow

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Old world online marketers must build, buy, or die, and Oracle has made its choice. Oracle just agreed to acquire Involver, only a month after the giant bought its competing social marketing platform Vitrue. Involver will be rolled into Oracle Cloud marketing suite, and the deal is expected to close over the summer (Update: though the purchase price may have been quite low).

Oracle has been on acquisition spree as of late, buying Vitrue for publishing, Collective Intellect for monitoring, and Right Now for customer service, Involver will give Oracle a powerful toolset for helping brands create custom applications as they adjust to sea change in marketing brought on by social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Here we dive deep into the two-year trend of social M&A that Oracle is driving, and ask if mobile marketing is the next industry to see a roll-up.

Involver offers a licensable platform that handles everything a brands needs to reach and persuade the public through social media. It provides tools for publishing updates plus tracking and responding to user comments and feedback, as well as app creation through simple template re-skinning, drag-and-drop building, or more custom development.

While we’re working on the Involver price, its investors are likely to walk away with a handsome payday, considering the suspected $300 million price tag on Vitrue and the $689 million Salesforce recently paid for leading enterprise social marketer Buddy Media. [Update 9:15pm PST 7/10: But maybe not. We're now hearing Involver was struggling to sign / maintain clients, and was looking to sell, so Oracle may have gotten a bargain. In fact, a former employee says only the investors and founders made money on the acquisition.]

Involver had raised $11 million through its Series C from angels as well as Bessemer Venture Partners, Western Technology Investment, and Cervin Ventures.

Bringing Social Apps To Oracle

One of Involver’s unique products is the Social Markup Language, a proprietary development platform for creating apps that hook deeply into today’s social networks. It lets big brands design engaging custom experiences for potential customers such as games, contests, sweepstakes, and content generators designed to imprint a company on their consciousness. Brands can use Involver widgets to instantly augment their apps and websites social functionality like Facebook share buttons, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and signup boxes and ecommerce coupons.

Involver-made apps will give Oracle client brands the “owned” part of the paid-earned-owned marketing trifecta. Getting all three to work in combination is crucial to taking advantage of integrated marketing campaigns and social advertising options like Facebook Sponsored Stories — where a friend’s interaction with a brand is used as an implicit recommendation in a marketing message.

For example, Oracle client brands will be able to buy “paid” Facebook ads to drive traffic to their “owned” Facebook Page hosting a custom-skinned Involver app. There users might upload a photo of themselves into a branded vacation background, and be urged to share their collaged creation with friends. The brand could then pay to have this shared content appear more frequently in the news feeds of friends through Facebook Sponsored Stories.

Too Late To Build

The enterprise marketers of the 90′s and early 2000′s waited a long time before diving into social. Perhaps they wanted to see the sector prove itself and the social networks begin to cater to their needs through APIs as well as owned media presence platforms like Facebook Pages. Perhaps they believed they lacked the know-how to produce social marketing products themselves.

In either case, giants like Oracle, Adobe, and Webtrends have found themselves lagging behind, and without the months or years of lead time needed to build social marketing tools in-house. So over the last two years we’ve seen a massive wave of consolidation as everyone tries to attain products in the four big areas of social marketing: publishing, advertising, applications, and analytics.

Webtrends bought drag-and-drop app developer Transpond in late 2010, while search and social ads buyer Efficient Frontier bought its own app marker Context Optional in May 2011 only to then be acquired by Adobe in November. That same month, huge Internet advertiser Adknowledge scooped up AdParlor, who runs all the Facebook ad campaigns for Groupon. Buddy Media bought Facebook Ads API provider Brighter Option in February 2012, then was acquired by Salesforce in June.

Now with Oracle buying both Vitrue and Involver in the last few months, its seems to have owned and earned social marketing squared away, yet it still lacks a Facebook Ads API company. If it wants to compete with Adobe, it may need to buy a way to efficiently purchase huge Facebook ad campaigns. NanigansGraphEffect, and Optim.al (formerly XA.net) are possible Ads API acquisition targets.

Looking forward, though, none of the companies I’ve mentioned are fully focused on mobile, which will likely bring another tectonic shift to online marketing. If the big dogs of enterprise marketing are only now adapting to social, they could be similarly slow to catch on to the power of the small screen. There, startups like 955 Dreams and GoldSpot Media are tackling new design and connectivity challenges.

If businesses like Oracle don’t start building now, a round of mobile marketing consolidation could be on the horizon.