The biggest problem with social software reared its ugly head this week for me. It confuses even the most educated and experienced social marketer, never mind the brand manager who doesn’t have time to dive head first into social marketing and figure it all out for themselves.

The problem is how social software is categorized, labeled and sold. There are social media management tools and social media marketing tools. There are social listening platforms and social media monitoring platforms. There are social media analytics software packages and social media reporting packages. And each is the other, but most aren’t all.

Yeah, even that description is confusing.

My social media research software of choice – NetBase – markets itself as an enterprise-scale social media analytics solution. That’s accurate. I use it for analyzing conversations for consumer insights as well as reporting trends and topics, conversation volume and competitive analysis, among other things.

But take platforms like Sprinklr, Spredfast or even the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, all of which argue their social media analytics are comparable. They’re really not, in my opinion, nor those of most who understand the difference between social monitoring (searching for keyword mentions) and social listening (distilling conversations for consumer insights).

These platforms are social media management solutions that have a monitoring capability integrated. Yes, you can produce some pretty charts and graphs and get a fair, but superficial look at several metrics with just monitoring. And yes, they offer more of a full package for one price, but that means they’re normally good at a lot, but not great at any one thing.

A client had that conflict recently – wanting to buy a management tool’s solution for “analytics” in lieu of using a robust research platform, which would have given them monitoring, not listening. Fortunately, my colleagues and I explained the difference before they signed a contract for an expensive non-solution.

The first social analytics software report from G2 Crowd, which is the most comprehensive resource for social and other software reviews and ratings, is a perfect example of this confusion. Look at the Crowd Grid:

Simply Measured – an analytics solution – has the highest performance score and is closest to being a market leader, according to G2 Crowd’s rankings (based on user reviews). Crimson Hexagon and NetBase, expected entries there, are represented. But so are FollowerWonk, which only analyzes Twitter, and Iconosquare, which only looks at Instagram. That’s like ranking a Cooper Mini along with luxury sedans because it has leather seats.

And while Spredfast is here, the other management solutions that also have cursory “analytics” add-ons are not. Why? Is it because they don’t have enough reviews or because they’ve never been categorized as offering analytics as part of their solution? I can confirm at least five I know of sell their “analytics” solutions as major parts of their package, at least one as a significant upsell to its base price.

Granted, G2 Crowd derives its report and these grids from user reviews. The more it gets, the more relevant it will be. (So go join and review what you’ve used!) But it’s awfully hard to trust reports, reviews and sales pitches when the industry can’t even agree on what software should be included.

Just know that there are tools and features that manage social media content and interactions. There are tools and features that monitor social media conversations and brand mentions. There are tools and features that analyze social media and other online conversations and produce research-like reports on the findings. There are tools and features that spit out pie charts and bar graphs based on what you find most relevant.

And few of them have all of those in one package. In fact, I’ve not found one that has enough of each for me to say its worth focusing on one solution most of the time.

If you’re in the market for a social media marketing software solution, just be clear on what you want it to do and what you don’t need. It’s really easy for these software companies to throw in a $10,000 upsell to something you’ll use as often as liquid paper.

Disclosure: NetBase and Spredfast are former clients. I like both, but take no fees or endorsement dollars from either at the moment.

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