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Updated Apr 04, 2024

Why Your Business Software Is Looking More and More Like Social Media

Have you ever wondered why business software looks and feels a lot like social media? That wasn't always the case.

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Mona Bushnell, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Software is constantly changing to better meet the needs of the end user. For business software, this has meant a trend toward familiar, inviting user interfaces, such as those we encounter on popular social media platforms. When business software is intuitive and easy to navigate, training is streamlined and productivity improves. We’ll examine social media’s impact on software development and how the user experience has dramatically improved.

What is UI/UX?

User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are terms that describe the front end of software. 

  • UI: The UI encompasses everything a user can do with the software from a functional perspective.
  • UX: The UX describes the feelings users take away after working with a software application. It can include ease of use, confusion or frustration.

The UI and UX of consumer and business software have traditionally been dramatically different:

  • Consumer software: Software built for consumers has typically been much more attractive and easier to use than business software. Software developers respond to market pressures and design products to attract individual users. If a consumer-based app is clunky or unattractive, users will choose a competitor’s product.
  • Business software: In the past, business software tended to be complex and cumbersome. The designers and executives who created these applications assumed employee training would solve any design issues. They cared about the software’s overall costs and how it integrated with other business applications, not necessarily how it looked and functioned.

How has business software UI/UX changed?

While some business software is still dowdy and unintuitive, many of today’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-hosted business software solutions emphasize the user experience and look and function more like consumer apps. Today, gamification and social media features are seeping into business products, and competing products are increasingly similar in interface design.

While all-in-one business software ecosystems are still prevalent, the ability to integrate with third-party solutions and use SaaS products across different devices is becoming the norm. Today’s developers strive to create business applications that are as easy to use as simple, lightweight apps but as powerful as legacy enterprise software.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Mobile app developers and software developers creating business applications are focusing on UI and UX changes that mimic social media platforms.

Social media’s effect on software technology

Consumer and business social media usage is ubiquitous, so everyone is familiar with the tenets and features of inviting and easy-to-use social platforms. Recently, there’s been rampant crossover and competition between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) technology.

Here are some examples: 

  • Facebook: The venerable social media giant Facebook now has numerous Facebook for business options, including ads, Facebook Business pages and boosted posts. 
  • Instagram: Similarly, Instagram for business is popular, with organizations using Reels, ads, Stories and selling tools. 
  • Google: Even consumer behemoth Google has added Google for Business tools like ads, guides and lessons. 

All these platforms have taken the straightforward, easily navigable nature of social media and translated it into effective business tools. As a result, today’s business solutions and consumer products are being developed with similar UI/UX goals, even if their ultimate purposes are very different. 

Social media experts we spoke with agree that social media design directly influences today’s business software and app design. For example, business messaging tools have adopted “at” mentioning (@EmployeeName), GIFs and emojis, and SaaS products now feature live notifications. 

What other factors are driving business software UI/UX changes?

Consumer and business software solutions are increasingly similar in look and feel. The following factors have helped create this new landscape of increasingly homogeneous and user-friendly products that bridge the gap between B2B and B2C:

1. Computer usage is more widespread than ever. 

The era of computers at every desk is relatively new. While today’s in-office and remote teams can constantly access workstations and mobile devices, this wasn’t always the case. However, the massive expansion of computer technology adoption changed the dynamics within companies. Employees began to have a say in the software they used. As a result, applications with better UI and UX grew in favor, and clunky, unappealing software was pushed aside in many cases. 

Today, virtually everyone uses a computer and is intimately familiar with the internet and a plethora of mobile apps. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of American adults are online daily, with 31 percent saying they’re “almost constantly online.” They expect a consistent experience regardless of whether the software they use is designed for consumers or a corporate enterprise. These expectations are powerful motivators for business software developers, who know that software with the best UX will be well received.

2. Employees have a say in the software they use. 

Computers were initially business devices first and foremost. Little thought was given to a software application’s ease of use and attractiveness because the alternative was doing everything by hand. Any software was better than no software. 

In the 1990s through the early 2000s, no one sought employees’ opinions on software. There were fewer products to choose from, and company cultures were more hierarchical and formal. If work systems weren’t user-friendly, employees had to get over it and use them anyway.

Puneet Gangal, CEO and founder of Aciron Consulting, a Boston-based business management and IT consulting firm, has been in the technology and management field for more than 20 years and has seen the shift firsthand.

“For a long time, businesses were prioritizing functionality over design for their internal applications – it didn’t matter what it looked like, as long as it got the job done,” Gangal explained. “Employees used these systems because they had no other choices. Now, however, employees have gotten so accustomed to using intuitive, beautifully designed consumer products in their personal life, they are demanding a similar experience for their business software.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Today's employees have a say in the business software they use, and they want intuitive, easily navigable solutions.

3. There’s more competition among software products. 

As business technology evolved, companies and their employees gained access to a new world of choices. Adam Conrad, a software consultant, business owner and UX engineer, sees the demand for beautifully designed business software as a natural step in the evolution of business technology.

“First, we simply had to put out products online to increase distribution,” Conrad explained. “Then, when everyone had their products online, it evolved to become about creating a great experience around those products. We are simply at that point now where there is enough market saturation that we require strong brands to distinguish ourselves, and a brand includes the experience of using our products and interacting with the employees.”

According to Gangal and several other UI/UX experts we consulted, employees will go rogue to find their own solutions if they’re provided with less-than-optimal software. For example, document management software is critical for many businesses. If teams are given a clunky, hard-to-use product, they don’t have to look far to find the best document management software that provides an intuitive experience. 

4. Business software must also compete against consumer software. 

When faced with unappealing business software, employees may turn to a high-quality consumer product they like better than the business-focused alternative.

“We have seen companies that lacked an easy-to-use document management system, so employees chose to use a variety of unsanctioned consumer products, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, instead,” Gangal shared. 

Because business software providers must compete with excellent consumer solutions, they must embrace the UX design that characterizes consumer options or risk being left without a user base. 

Did You Know?Did you know
According to research from Gartner, 40 percent of users have resisted using applications after a negative experience, while 41 percent have explored the software's capabilities more after a positive experience.

5. Remote work has increased available software options.

In addition to a shift in work culture and an explosion of competing consumer and business options, people’s interactions with technology have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. 

Specifically, people are increasingly working from home, setting their own hours, contracting, accessing business systems on the go and demanding an improved work-life balance

These trends wouldn’t be possible if employees were still tied to high-cost, locally hosted software. Instead, SaaS solutions and mobile apps enable remote work and flexible workplace arrangements.

6. The proliferation of smartphones created an app explosion.

According to Statista, there are an estimated 316.2 million smartphone users in the U.S. as of 2024. Pew Research revealed that 90 percent of Americans owned a smartphone in 2023, compared to 35 percent in 2011. Clearly, smartphone ownership has exploded, and along with the hardware came a mind-boggling number of mobile apps. 

Apple’s App Store debuted in 2008 and has 2 million apps as of 2024. Google’s Android Market arrived the same year; in 2024 – now called Google Play – it boasted nearly 3 million apps. This plethora of mobile apps exposes consumers to a massive selection of software that lets them customize their devices as they see fit. 

As a natural result of this app onslaught, average consumers became UI/UX critics, selecting only the best, most intuitive apps. If you peruse app reviews, you’ll see critiques about the inability to change an app’s color scheme, the pervasiveness of advertisements and in-app purchase offers, software bugs, and the presence or absence of specific features.

As it became clear that apps were not a fad but an evolutionary step on the tech ladder, major software companies started making apps to complement their products, including business software.

7. Consumer and business product interfaces blurred. 

Randolph Morris, founder and principal software architect at Bit Developers, noted both the proliferation of mobile usage and increased focus on employee comfort as reasons for the consistency between product interfaces for consumer and business products. 

Morris agreed that the line between business and personal products is blurring and said it’s no surprise that elements from consumer products are finding their way into business solutions.

“Software is at a point where most features of functionality have an established UI element [that] users are comfortable using,” Morris explained. “Add to that a generation of people who have had these elements available to them their entire lives. In most cases, it makes sense to use interface elements that users are expecting. Additionally, most platforms have a standards guide that reinforces these expectations to product consistency in our interfaces.”

Because users expect to feel an immediate sense of familiarity with business products they’ve never used before, developers have taken on a user-first approach to design. Nowadays, a design that isn’t instantly easy to use can kill an otherwise stellar product.

8. Developers are prioritizing the user.

UX researcher Lisa Baskett has observed clients becoming “increasingly better versed in user experience process and methods” in recent years. 

Baskett noted that, in reaction to this change in business consumers, today’s UX/UI pros are “starting to understand the value of considering the user first and foremost.” According to Baskett, the main drivers of this change are experience (in the form of past failed products and lost revenue) and “greater visibility of the UX industry as a whole through social media, conferences and industry blogs.”

These factors, along with the rise of social media, have led to a turning point in business software design and consumer expectations. 

“[Clients] desire the same transparent and immediate communication options present in the software they use at home to be available in the software they use at work,” Baskett said. “People are becoming way less tolerant of the disconnect between personal software that works effortlessly and the clunky, inefficient experiences of the business software they use every day. Users want immediate and effortless experiences.”

Did You Know?Did you know
Today's business software, including the best CRM platforms, has intuitive, user-friendly features, interfaces and dashboard designs.

9. Employees are demanding an excellent user experience. 

Employees used to expect a steep learning curve when new business software was introduced. Today, it’s understood that excellent technology should be intuitive enough to eliminate the need for extensive employee training tactics beyond a few learning guides and videos. In fact, according to a Workfront survey, almost half of American workers (49 percent) say they would quit their jobs if the technology they used at work was difficult or frustrating.

Benefits of using business software with good UI and UX

Adopting business software solutions with an easy-to-use and functional UI and UX will bring the following benefits:

All of this means that small businesses should think long and hard about the software they adopt and carefully consider how using less user-friendly legacy systems may impact employee morale, retention and productivity.

Improving the way a workforce adopts corporate software

Social media companies are some of the biggest businesses in the world. They’ve amassed decades of data to help them build a UX that attracts consumers and keeps them hooked and involved. Businesses can take advantage of the time and effort these companies put into creating ecosystems that command user attention and compel user retention. 

When businesses develop or choose software that provides the same seamless, inviting experience social media platforms offer, they too can enjoy the advantages of easy adoption and loyal user bases. 

Eduardo Vasconcellos and Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Mona Bushnell, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Mona Bushnell advises aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners on what it takes to operate a business on a day-to-day basis. Bushnell has firsthand experience as an IT technician, software administrator and scheduling manager, which are all critical roles in an increasingly digital business world. Based on her nearly 20 years in the trenches, she produces learning materials on a range of business topics. Bushnell, who has collaborated with a variety of independently owned boutique businesses to increase their visibility and profit, is also known for covering business trends and events, testing emerging technology (both software and hardware) and has even teamed up with CEOs on communications needs. Her guidance can be found in leading business publications like Forbes and Investopedia.
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