Social Media Tools, Social Media Software

Clearing Clouds of Confusion – the 5 Categories of Social Media Software

Jay Baer Blog PostThe social media software industry offers some amazing functionality, but it suffers mightily from murky messaging and customer confusion.

The truth is, many marketing professionals do not know what this software can do, much less what specific companies’ versions can do. And the software companies themselves make it worse by not being specific about their capabilities and areas of focus.

There are five specific categories of social media software, and lumping them all under “social media management” does us all a disservice. I’ll clarify the categories below…

but first please take this little quiz, and see if you can match the software to its benefits messaging (taken from the website home pages of the companies listed). (NOTE: The all-time best score is just 6 out of 9 correct)

Hard to figure out who does what, right? Everyone in this industry needs to sharpen their messaging and be more specific about what they do. Let’s at least try to sort out the categories of software that exist.

The 5 Categories of Social Media Software

First, let me reiterate that all of this is more about the wizard than the wand. I don’t care which of this software you procure, if you don’t know why you need it, and how to use it, it will turn into a pit of despair and social media dream killer faster than you can say “Lebron chokes in the playoffs.”

5 Categories of Social Media SoftwareConsequently, I’ve organized 5 categories of social media software not based on company size, or pricing, or platform, or niftiness of logo, but based on your needs. The questions you need answered will (and should) guide you to the right type of software.

Important notes on this taxonomy:

  • This list is not exhaustive. There are WAY more companies than this. If I’ve overlooked your favorite, please leave a comment.
  • In practice, these categories aren’t quite as tidy as I’ve made them, as many of these software companies are trying to play in multiple categories. This is especially true of the marketing management guys like Buddy, Involver, Vitrue, Wildfire, et al who all hope to be end-to-end solutions. Further, every company has analytics at some level. So, you may not need five different software packages (thankfully), but it’s entirely possible that you’ll need more than one.
  • For purposes of this segmentation, I have listed companies in the category where I believe they are best-of-breed, or where they originally focused their efforts.
  • There are other types of social media software, such as social sign-in, social advertising, etc. But these five are the categories needed by the broadest array of businesses.

Your Needs Determine the Category of Software

“I need to know what’s being said about my company, our competitors, and our category in social media. What words are used in association with our brand? Where is this chatter occurring?” 

You need Social Listening Software (AKA Social Media Monitoring Software).

Key players: Crimson Hexagon, Lithium, Meltwater Buzz (reader suggestion), Radian6, Sysomos, Trackur, Visible Technologies.

Small businesses alternative: ViralHeat, SocialMention


“I need to efficiently respond to questions posed to our company in social media, and find real-time opportunities to provide assistance. Ideally, I could assign conversation opportunities to various people in the company.”

You need Social Conversation Software (AKA Social Media Engagement Software, Social Media Management Software).

Key players:  Argyle Social (a Convince & Convert sponsor), Attensity, Awareness, CoTweet (now SocialEngage from ExactTarget – a Convince & Convert client), Spredfast, Sprinklr.

Small business alternative: Hootsuite, Jugnoo, Postling, Sprout Social


“I need to create custom Facebook apps, launch and administer promotions, and manage creative assets on YouTube and beyond. Ideally, multiple people can create with workflow and approvals.”

You need Social Marketing Software (AKA Social Media Management Software and a bunch of gibberish labels).

Key players: Buddy Media, EngageSciences (reader suggestion), Hearsay Social, Involver, Shoutlet, Spredfast, Vitrue, Wildfire

Small business alternative: Agorapulse (have given us a free account), ShortStack


“I need to know how effective my social media efforts are, both on specific platforms and (ideally) overall, and whether all of this is worth the effort.”

You need Social Analytics Software.

Key players: Adobe/OmniturePageLever (investor), People BrowsrSAS, Simply Measured, Social Bakers (reader suggestion), Syncapse

Small business alternative: Crowd Booster, Google Analytics (also viable for large business), Swix


I need to find social media participants that are disproportionately interested in, or influential about, a particular topic. I need to understand their passions and spheres of influence.

You need Social Influencer Software.

Key players: Appinions, GroupHigh (have given us a free account), Klout, Kred, Peek Analytics (have given us a free account) Plexus Engine (closed beta. investor), Vocus


Does this segmentation work for you? Did I leave out any major players?

Business Relationship

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Great post! Another growing category in the space includes tools to gain a deeper understanding of a particular target audience (customer, non-customers), consumer trends, brand perceptions, etc. These toosl are being adopted by market research agencies for data collection purposes in addition to surveys, focus groups and other research methods. A few of them are Netbase (, Conversition (, and iTracks ( However, to extract real insights, we still need people who can analyze the data in addition to data cleaning, classification and text analytics algorithms, so I totally agree that it is more about the wizard than the brand. Here are some thoughts about how social media should be used in market research:

    • says

       @brucefloyd Hi Bruce. Just completely forgot. No malice. I’ll add into the post anything legit that folks recommend here in the comments. Thanks for the reminder!

      • brucefloyd says

         @JayBaer Gotcha, thanks! Was wondering if the omission was an editorial decision or just a mistake.

  2. says

    Great post! Another growing category in the space includes tools to gain a deeper understanding of a particular target audience (customer, non-customers), consumer trends, brand perceptions, etc. These tools are being adopted by market research agencies for data collection purposes in addition to surveys, focus groups and other research methods. A couple of them are Netbase (, Conversition (, and iTracks ( However, to extract real insights, we still need people who analyze the data in addition to data cleaning, classification and text analytics algorithms, so I totally agree that it is more about the wizard than the brand. Here are some thoughts about how social media should be used in market research:

    • says

       @Michaela Mora  @rinsights Thanks very much for the contribution Michaela. Absolutely, that type of deep dive analytics is going to get more and more necessary. 

  3. extraterrestric says

    Thank you for that post. I realize very often, that companies don’t know what exactly they try to solve with social software. After using it in daily business, questions and feature wishes appear.
    My recommendaition to help your list grow: The guys at @socialbakers have awesome tools for Analytics and Conversation. And they’re doing an really good job.

      • Steven Kapoloma says

        I would like to know the cost of the social marketing software. Has anyone compared them in terms of cost besides the excellent demarcation of large vs small business done here. You may inbox me @kapoxxy

  4. says

    Thank you for a great list, Jay! There are so many little sites for social conversion software but I find very attractive.

  5. says

    Thank you for a great list, Jay! There are so many little sites for social conversion software but I find very attractive (still in Beta).

  6. says

    Adding my favorite (and full disclosure my company) to your enterprise social media management platform list.  Expion, <a href=””></a>, fits under your “key players” in these categories: Social Conversation, Software Social Marketing Software and Social Analytics Software.

  7. says

    Adding my favorite (and full disclosure my company) to your enterprise social media management platform list, Jay.  Expion,, fits under your “key players” in these categories: Social Conversation, Software Social Marketing Software and Social Analytics Software.

  8. joeciarallo says

    Jay, Great post. Look forward to seeing you when you’re in town for Blogworld. Buddy Media actually fits reliably into social marketing, conversation and analytics. We actually just made some massive enhancements to our products just last week:
    Also, are you considering adding a category for social ad software? Ideally marketers are using paid, owned and earned together. Cheers,

    • says

       @joeciarallo Really good idea on social ad software Joe. Certainly, Buddy fits into several categories (as do other players), but I tried to put people in just one category, favoring their “original” placement. 

  9. alexvdm says

    Long awaited post. I think another emerging field is ‘Social Content Optimization’ – including not only publishing, but republishing, amplification of messages in ads or apps or the Web sites, and social plug in that enable this, all to maximize the impact of the brands’ voice and its ambassadors. I represent, which helps brands to do precisely this.

    • says

       @alexvdm Absolutely, Alex. Like social advertising mentioned by Joe below, this is an emerging field for sure. Perhaps not needed as universally as some of the other software types, but coming along absolutely.

      • alexvdm says

         @JayBaer  Great, thanks. Social advertising in a way is part of social content optimization – amplify social currency across the board.  Then you could argue that social amplification on a website is part of the category ‘social widgets’, which has been there for some time (think Bazaarvoice)… ouch.

  10. rhonda hurwitz says

    Thanks, Jay, for this very useful post.  I love that you listed a Small biz alternative where possible.  Which brings me to my question:  Where does Hubspot fit?  All in one tool for SMB’s has a bunch of these categories covered ….

    • says

       @rhonda hurwitz Good question. I always think of Hubspot as more of a content marketing platform than a social media platform, but I know it can do a lot of these things. 

  11. says

    Hi Jay, great article and something we struggle with every day. As a young start-up (, we try to offer actionable insights (listening, conversating, analyzing, finding influencers) all at once in the most simple form possible. Offering the complete picture is not that difficult, designing it so that you do not get lost in all data is the trick. Feel free to try Engagor and certainly feel free to add us to the article! 😉

  12. says

    Jay – really timely post as brands and agencies alike try and figure out what combination of tools/platforms out there makes the most sense. Appreciate you including @appinions in the mix and even within the influence marketing space there are significant differences in approach: contextual vs individual influence. 

  13. 40deuce says

    Hey @JayBaer great post!
    I know that you pointed out that the lines are constantly blurring between a lot of these tools, but I thought that I’d leave a little note here in the comments about sysomos .
    You definitely have us placed in the right category in terms of our Heartbeat platform. Above all, it is a monitoring tool. However, we’re also working really hard to add and improve on the engagement features of Heartbeat because we feel that monitoring and engagement go hand in hand. It’s great to see all the talk, but responding and engaging with those people who are talking is of almost equal importance these days.
    One other thing I think you missed is our Sysomos MAP platform. I know a lot of people associate us with monitoring, but our MAP platform is actually more of a research and analytics tool (meaning that I think it would fit nicely in your analytics category). The MAP platform allows users unlimited queries so that they can do research on the social space with up to two years worth of back data. We have a lot of companies and agencies who use this software for researching trends, new ideas or even pitching clients by having a great overview of what their social presence looked like previously.
    Just thought I’d throw that one into the mix.
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • says

       @40deuce  sysomos Thanks Sheldon. Yes indeed, I thought about putting you and Radian6 in both the listening and engagement categories (hadn’t thought about analytics, but good point on MAP). But then this would have ended up as an exercise in trying to get it 100% accurate, and that wasn’t really the object. 

      • 40deuce says

         @JayBaer  sysomos I totally understand. Didn’t want to call you out or anything, but I was more hoping that your readers would see it. A lot of the time people forget that we offer two products and that MAP is kind of in a category of it’s own. It’s just my job to spread the word.
        No qualms with how you classified us though really.

  14. caseycarey says

    It is actually somewhat funny that most of the comments are vendors complaining about being put into a category.  As a buyer of these products, I greatly appreciate your clarity of an over-hyped and confused set of products.  Much of which is a directly attributed to poor positioning by the vendors.  The taxonomy makes sense and the products I am familiar with are in the right places.  I also think that generally speaking, social vendors confuse reports with analytics; they are not the same thing.

    • says

       @caseycarey I wouldn’t say complaining, necessarily, and I do understand that many of these companies do multiple things. But I agree that the positioning is muddy, at best. 

  15. MarshallSponder says

    Thought this is a good post – my feeling is that the categorization is good, tying in questions with platforms.
    My particular bent has been to look at most of the questions, themselves, and wonder if they’re the right questions (which then lead, in your post, to the right platforms for that question or need).
    It may be, that what we really need to do is redefine and tighten up the question, which will lead to a better, more actionable answer – and perhaps a platform(s) that provide it.
    Cheers, ~marshall 

    • says

       @MarshallSponder Thanks Marshall. Indeed, the question that should follow each of those questions is “really? why do you think you need to know that?” But that is a post for a different day! Thanks for the comment.

  16. says

    Hey @JayBaer  – not exhaustive, but a great list nonetheless. I like how you’ve broken it down and focused on the customer needs first. If product messaging can’t clearly convey an offering, then you’re setting yourself up for lousy conversion rates. It’s all about the customer and making sure THEY understand how you will help them with their business objectives. What’s worse is that it’s so hard to differentiate these days that many marketing professionals have no idea about the full range of software available to them, and the social software market is absolutely booming. 
    I speak, of course, as someone who works at one of the companies you mentioned – thank you so much for including jugnoome in the social conversation software list. Our conversation tools are one of our biggest features right now, but we do also include apps for social marketing, social analytics, and social monitoring; all rolled into one. Messaging can be a challenge when you have so many social features in one piece of software, but above all you must focus on your customer needs and mindset, as we are doing. As they say, clarity trumps persuasion.
    Good job with the quiz, by the way – it had me quite stumped in places! Cheers.

  17. NDawkins_SC says

    Jay, I’d like to add Social Snap to the social analytics category.  Our focus is NOT engagement tools, it is measurement.  Social Snap provides a broad and deep group of metrics starting at the top of the funnel going all the way through to business impact.

  18. Mukesh Singh says

    Please suggest me list of 5-10 Digital Media publishing software
    programs that cost between $500 and $5,000. This should
    be a one time fee for the software package.

  19. says

    Hi Jay, really useful. The best list by type I have found so far. However, we are a small b2b business, and I am looking for a software to manage LinkedIn Twitter better. Any suggests? Apologies if you have covered this before.

      • says

        Wow, that was a quick reply :) Didn’t expect a personal reply. So thank you. Yes, Buffer is already on my list, so is Social Bro and Nimble CRM of ones to test out. There seems to be plenty for Twitter, but very few for LinkedIn. Thank you.

  20. John Ellerbrock says

    This segmentation works well for me as I’ve just crashed into the social media realm after many years as a Business Researcher for Big Blue and I’m still reading overview materials. I do know that recreating the wheel using Evernote for e-Retail or e-Commerce is of no interest. Also, the app needs to be next-to-free since we’re a hobby level business.

    My first venture with a friend is selling and soliciting uncommon collectibles on different social sites. We’re not crazy about the look and feel of eBay although it does have all the functionality in one place. Can eBay’s functionality interface with another site like Facebook or Pinterest?

    Several weeks ago I saw what looked to be a perfect uploader that I cannot now find. The main console presented frames from each of the big social media sites with the owner’s images and captions. It also allowed post responses from within the different frames. It was independent and integrated. Would this type of app fall under Social Media Software?

    Many thanks.

  21. guptaabhijit318 says

    Thank you so much for the content and helpful tips. Everything is very valuable for me; all the
    information given here is very cooperative and clearly explained. Thanks again for the great info.

  22. Dave says

    Jay, et. al., I would like to set up a “linkedin-type” system internal to our business that would allow us to share professional information and work products with employees, previous employees, and customers. It would need to support several hundred participants. What platform would you recommend for that type of application.

      • says

        Thanks Jay.

        Dave, would need a bit more info on how the information would be used but happy to discuss. Most of the current systems are based around profiles, so that’s the easy requirement. It becomes a bit more limited when adding in external parties, but also not a deal breaker. It’s when we start digging into permission grouping (who can see what), discovery (push & pull), usage behavior post-discovery (synchronous, asynchronous), and any integration to existing systems (SSO, Directory propagation, etc.) that we really start filtering down to the appropriate platform. Everything I know of easily scales to the level you’re talking about.

        As I would caution all of my clients, make sure you focus on what the outcomes and behaviors you are looking for first and that the culture and incentives to support those are included with your initiative. Technology is wonderful, but it’s a tool for scaling behaviors…not creating them, thus the dismal adoption rates out there.

        Feel free to ping me at matt (at) sideraworks (dot) com


        Matt Ridings
        CEO, SideraWorks

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