Social Analytics Company Topsy

Why Apple Bet Big on Social Data and Acquired Topsy for $200 Million

[This post was originally published on BuzzFork’s social marketing blog]

While Cyber Monday shoppers bought up iPads and Macbooks in droves, Apple did some purchasing of its own, acquiring social search and data analytics aggregator Topsy for a reported $200 million+.

Topsy, known by many as the “Google for Twitter,” offers tools to analyze tweets, social data and consumer sentiment. I’ve featured Topsy hashtag and keyword data previously on BuzzFork’s blog to look at trending terms and topics at events like Advertising Week and the World Series.

Apple confirmed the acquisition, but its representatives have declined to comment on how the company plans to use Topsy. The most probably outlook for Topsy is a public-facing shutdown of its core services as the product and team gets assimilated into various Apple efforts.  Nonetheless, I see Topsy factoring into Apple’s plans across a variety of potential avenues and product applications:

  1. Market Research and Forecasting. Compared to Google, Facebook and even Microsoft (with Bing), Apple lacks strong social data aggregation capabilities. Because Apple has chosen to own the hardware, rather than the network (like a Google or AT&T), it doesn’t acquire as much social interaction data outside of platforms like iTunes and its App Store. Tapping into Topsy gives Apple a better sense of what’s trending, how to identify social influencers and a robust platform for making sense out of social data.
  2. Twitter Music (or Spotify, or newcomer Google Play) Caught Apple’s Attention. Apple’s iTunes radio currently lags far behind Pandora and Spotify in terms of consumer attention, as well as traction. Although Twitter’s failed Twitter Music experiment died on the vine (no, not that Vine), Apple management may still be intrigued at the possibility of integrating social data more deeply to make iTunes radio a more data-driven and shareable media experience. Apple’s purchase of Topsy could be a key element of a strategy to recover listener share lost to streaming providers like Spotify, Pandora and newcomer Google Play All Access.
  3. App Store Analytics. Most quickly think of the Twitter firehose in conversations about social big data, but with over 2 billion downloads per month, the App Store throws off a considerable amount of download and interaction data, despite very limited external data transparency. Topsy’s team may be coming on board to help Apple execs make more sense of that data at scale for strategic forecasting and product purposes.
  4. Apple Worries About Being Left Out of Mobile Ads. According to the Wall Street Journal and other media sources, “Apple has been wrestling with a tepid response from marketers for its iAd platform, which was launched in 2010 to sell ads within mobile apps on iPhones, iPads and iPods” and other mobile devices. Although mobile ads seems like a relatively low priority for Apple, Twitter’s acquisition of MoPub may have inspired Apple to open up its checkbook to balance the product roadmap scales for mobile ad insights and analytics.
  5. Topsy is a Defensive Move to Keep Safari Competitive as a Web Browser. Google’s Chrome is now used more than Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer combined, and in recent years both Mozilla and Microsoft seem to have invested significantly more in trying to stay afloat. Overall, Safari’s share has treaded water, and the likely reason is that Safari is the native search engine browser in Apple’s mobile device and tablet product line.  Acquiring Topsy could bring Apple valuable search IP as it looks to stay competitive in a browser world that’s rapidly transitioning toward mobile (where rival Google and it’s Android platform is uniquely positioned).

While the Topys acquisition certainly isn’t a game-changer for Apple, it’s an interesting pickup at the intersection of social data, real-time analytics and mobile insights, representing a data parsing engine that could contribute meaningful value to the App Store, iTunes Radio, Social Search (to contribute to Safari) and general corporate forecasting. Will it make Apple a more transparent and social company? Probably not, but it may indicate a shift in strategic sentiment at Apple, where hardware has primarily reigned as the prized priority.

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