Salesforce-Radian 6: social lead gen’s acquisition of social monitoring company Radian 6 isn’t that big of a surprise — although I had to think for a few minutes on why the poster child for cloud-delivered application services and sales management tools would acquire the Canadian monitoring service for $326 million.

The metrics and analytics space is crowded with social metrics vendors — most of which put pretty dashboards on top of gross census figures (how many followers, fans, likes, retweets, etc.) and data crawled by Google — who don’t bring a lot to the table in terms of precision and salient insights that a web metrics platform like Adobe’s Omniture has done in classic web site measurement. The fact that Adobe didn’t grab Radian 6 (or any of the other players that are crowding for attention) is not surprising — but why would Salesforce take on social? For the cachet? To get on the frothy bubble?

If Salesforce’s sweet spot is sales management then Radian 6 could be used for social lead generation — that detection-of-desire model I wrote about two years ago.

If the first phase of social monitoring was to prevent Dell Hell from happening, and the second phase was influencer identification, I think the third and most lucrative will be the detection and analysis of people in market for stuff and talking about their need for that stuff within their social graph. We messed around a little with this at Lenovo — looking at Twitter for indications such as “I need a PC” or “Should I buy a Mac or a ThinkPad” — and then tried to seal the deal with a one-off discount coupon to get the Tweeter into the e-commerce engine.

The problem with most social metrics is sentiment. The “red-yellow-green” type of analysis that a brand would use to see if people think positively or negatively about them or a specific issue or a specific product over time. Sentiment is the province of pollsters and professional surveyors — and any conceit that it can be automated is just that. A conceit.

But — if social analytics can provide attribution of an action — be it a news story, ad campaign, etc. — to a change in fundamental business results: sales, reduced costs, or improved customer loyalty, then bingo, it makes sense for a company focused on the provision of sales tools to acquire a company focused on pulse taking.

Here’s Nathan Gilliatt’s trenchant analysis of the announcement.

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