It was already well-known that Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report had at least one rival suitor for LinkedIn (LNKD) before it reached a $26.2 billion deal to buy the professional social networking giant. Indeed, Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get ReportCEO Marc Benioff admitted his company made a bid before turning its sights on e-commerce software firm Demandware (DWRE) , which was acquired for a relatively paltry sum of $2.8 billion.
We now know Microsoft and Salesforce weren't alone: A Securities and Exchange Commission filing providing specifics about LinkedIn's sale process indicates at least five different companies were involved in it. Other than Microsoft, the companies aren't named -- they're referred to as Party A, B, C, and D -- but Re/code reportsAlphabet's (GOOG) - Get Report Google and Facebook (FB) - Get Reportwere respectively Party B and Party D, and Salesforce Party A.
Between Google and Facebook, it looks as if Google's interest was more serious. A senior Google executive reportedly met with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in mid-March, and the web giant "expressed formal interest" in a deal on April 4 before backing off in early May after Microsoft and Salesforce made bids. Facebook, by contrast, had Mark Zuckerberg tell LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman his company wasn't interested, six days after Hoffman "proposed gauging" Facebook's interest.
First, the presence of at least five suitors -- or at least four, if one discounts Facebook -- points to a strong level of interest in a social networking firm that once sported a huge market cap and was dealing with some clear execution and user growth issues. At the same time, LinkedIn was also well off its highs, maintained a stranglehold on its particular social media niche and possessed a ton of data that could be quite valuable in the right hands. This all sounds very familiar.
Second, Google's reported presence in the buyout talks suggests a company's that's both a very good strategic fit for Twitter, has the resources to pull off a deal and is willing to make a big social acquisition, at least, at the right price. Rumors of Google's interest in Twitter have been around for years, and buying the microblogging leader would give Google what's arguably its biggest rival as a top real-time information source, as well as the social footprint it has long lacked and the opportunity to leverage Twitter's data for Google ad targeting (and vice versa).
The Street's Jim Cramer previously argued that Twitter is a unique asset likely to draw M&A interest, and that the company's execution could improve considerably under new ownership and a full-time CEO. "I just feel strongly that given the scarcity of properties and the changes being made and the ideas that are there to be had for someone else, whether it be a Google or an Apple or a Facebook or a Microsoft -- yes, they have that kind of money -- or even an Oracle, if it really wants to go into cloud in a fast way," Cramer said.
Shares of Twitter were trading down 2.5% to $16.84 in afternoon trading on Tuesday. Its stock is down more than 50% over the past 12 months.