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