As social media continues to increase in popularity, with over 2.2 billion active users (or a global penetration of 30 percent) and counting, the tools available to those seeking to use social platforms to enhance their business are simultaneously increasing in number and becoming more specialist.
One of the biggest differences between some of the social media management tools available today is whether they place more emphasis on usability or on utility.
Of course, the two groups aren’t mutually exclusive: a well-designed tool will be both easy to use and learn and provide plenty of great features. However, as functionalities become more complex, the tools offering them can often become more difficult to use. This means that tools offering more complex functions are likely to be less user-friendly than those offering more simple functions.
So, what should social media management tools priorities? And which type of tool is right for you?
Usability or Utility?
When it comes to social media management tools, users want to be able to perform fairly complex tasks (such as creating posts suitable for multiple platforms, synchronising content between multiple users, analysing previous campaigns, creating reports, etc.) in a quick and easy fashion.
The hallmark of great usability design is to allow users to complete complex tasks in the most intuitive way possible. In terms of software, platforms that were created with usability in mind put the user (rather than the system) at the centre of the process. In practice, this often means that user focussed software incorporates representative graphics, clear visuals, simple navigation, and high-level summaries.
To break this down further, usability research company Nielsen Norman Group attribute good usability 5 quality components:
- Learnability – how easy it is for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design.
- Efficiency – how easy it is for users to perform tasks once they have learnt the design.
- Memorability – how easy it is for users to re-establish proficiency after time spent away from the design.
- Errors – the frequency at which users make errors, how serious these errors are, and how easy is it for users to recover from their errors.
- Satisfaction – the level of satisfaction users get from using the design.
As long as a piece of software scores highly in all of these areas, then it can be said to be designed in a user-centric fashion.
On the other hand, software that offers its users a lot of control and functionalities can be said to have high utility. In other words, utility can be assessed in terms of whether the software provides all of the features its users need.
Of course, usability and utility are both incredibly important, and together determine the quality of a particular piece of software. That said, an inverse relation often exists between the two, so that when a piece of software increases in usability, its utility may decrease, and vice versa. This means that it is impossible to create a piece of software that has perfect usability and perfect utility. If this wasn’t the case, programs would exist that allow even the most amateur computer user to write complex code or create beautiful designs.
Social media management tools, then, will naturally lean either toward usability or utility. And, depending on who you are and what you use your tool for, then it’s important that you pick a tool which leans the right way for you.
What Should I Be Looking For?
Those who use social media management tools can be broken into two groups: those who use them to manage their own social media presence, and those who use them to manage a third-party’s social media presence. Small business owners and sole traders are likely to belong to the former group; whereas freelancers and agencies are likely to belong to the latter.
Most individuals belonging to the former group use a social media management tool to help them save time, increase efficiency, and receive guidance and support pertaining to an area that they may not be wholly familiar with. Most belonging to the latter group use a social media management tool because they have been hired on the assumption that they can run a third-party’s social media presence better than that third-party could do by itself.
Although it’s not a perfect split, you could say that most sole traders and small business owners would prioritise usability over utility; whereas most freelancers and agencies would prioritise utility – sole traders and small business owners operate social media in addition to the rest of their activities; freelancers and agencies are able to dedicate much more time to learning more difficult processes and functionalities.
The trouble is, without trying lots of different social media marketing tools (a time-consuming and potentially expensive process), it can be hard to know which tools lean more toward usability and which lean more toward utility.
Picking the Right Tool
In terms of this article, combining the scores for learnability and usability can give us a good indication of which tool has the best usability. And, by combining the scores for meeting requirements and product direction, we can get a good idea of which has the best utility.
Sprout Social comes out on top in terms of usability, with a combined score of 18.3/20.
AgoraPulse comes out on top in terms of utility, with a combined score of 18.2/20.
However, interestingly, AgoraPulse also comes second in terms of usability, with a score of 18.1/20, which indicates that, whilst the tool may lean slightly toward utility, it has also clearly been designed with usability in mind.
My recommendation would be for small business owners and sole traders to use Sprout Social or AgoraPulse (since the difference in their usability is marginal) and for freelancers and agencies to use AgoraPulse – since it was the clear winner in terms of utility, with a 0.8 point advantage over Sendible, the runner-up in the utility category.
By scoring so highly on usability and utility, AgoraPulse is proof that, with great design, it is possible to carefully balance the two. Whilst AgoraPulse currently only ranks third in terms of market presence, the quality of its design may mean that next year this may change. Only time will tell.
Are you using a social media management tool? If so, do you prioritise usability or utility? And do you find your tool meets your requirements? Let me know with a comment.
Highly regarded on the world speaker circuit, Lilach Bullock has graced Forbes and Number 10 Downing Street. She’s a hugely connected and highly influential entrepreneur.
Listed in Forbes as one of the top 20 women social media power influencers and was crowned the Social Influencer of Europe by Oracle.
A recipient for a Global Women Champions Award for her outstanding contribution and leadership in business.