The article was updated on July 08, 2021.
It seems like everyone is on social media nowadays; brands, individuals, and celebrities included. Indeed, as per recent stats, as much as 53.6% of the world population is using social media, which is more than 4 billion people.
Moreover, this figure is increasing annually by 13,2% showing a 420 million growth from January 2020 through January 2021. The social app market is getting bigger, and even though Facebook is still an indisputable favorite, the question of how to make a social media app that would bring users unique experiences is still relevant.
The hype around a Clubhouse voice platform proved that there’s still lots of room for creativity in building platforms for human contact. Below is a checklist of aspects that you should take into account if you intend to build a social media app.
Entering this competitive market is not an easy task. Let’s consider the following aspects of social media app development.
Humans communicate in many ways, and this diversity is reflected in all social network subtypes. Let’s now go through the variety of online social services addressing different audiences and their requirements.
People need to stay in touch with their reference groups and relatable communities, and networking services are excellent for this purpose. LinkedIn targets professional communities built around career interests and identities, while Facebook is more versatile.
If you aim to create your own social platform, you may want to explore untapped niches where the need for networking is pressing.
Sharing special moments
It’s no secret, human perception is visual by 80%, so photo-sharing services like Instagram are simply bound to succeed. The image conveys emotional information in an intuitive and concise manner, so sharing images and photos is an excellent way of creating strong bonds and winning followers.
Reading and writing
Blogging services connect writers to readers and help users post and share uniquely written content. The results are mutually beneficial: writers and bloggers are getting exposure, while readers get interesting and insightful articles delivered to them daily.
Quick content sharing
Some people prefer brief and straight-to-the-point exchanges of news. That’s why microblogging platforms have a steady base of fans and followers.
Twitter, for example, is a household name known to everyone. Tumblr, on the other hand, also allows people to exchange graphics and quotes which reflect their interests and personalities.
The expanding popularity of TikTok is proving that people are developing a taste for all kinds of video content. Visual communication is very straightforward and allows subscribers to instantly empathize with blogger personas. YouTube is still the world’s second-largest network, but there’s still room for something different.
Apart from news and the exchange of content, people also need to discuss their feelings and attitudes regarding just about anything: from practical issues to religious matters.
A social network app featuring discussion forums addresses an important human need to speak their minds and be heard. That’s why apps like Quora will always have a loyal circle of subscribers.
Testimonials and reviews
Being a pioneer and discovering something new may appeal to some people. Others, however, don’t like taking chances and prefer to rely on customers’ feedback and testimonials about restaurants, hotels, venues, and travel destinations.
Social review services are also offering businesses platforms for marketing their offerings and gaining exposure, that’s why apps like Yelp are enjoying a high popularity.
Some social platforms target specific fields of human interest. Some target individuals who like reading, and others focus on music tastes. Admittedly, such platforms will only appeal to specific audiences but will boast high user retention rates.
Leveraging social networks to look for dates and relationships will never go out of style. Consider building a dating platform facilitating the search for significant others if you need ideas for creating a social media app.
Collaborative networks enable individuals to make money by offering services and to use services rendered by other individuals. AirBnB, for example, enables individuals to rent out their apartments, meet new people, and travel to new destinations.
Anonymous social platforms may not have many followers, however, certain audiences surely appreciate the possibility of voicing an opinion without openly revealing their identity.
Such apps are immensely popular with youth and teenagers, so you may want to consider launching an application for this age group.
All social media apps have something in common. Even if you have a concept that is absolutely 100% unique, the chances are you will still need some basic features to make your app work. Most often these elements are used as a foundation, with more advanced and outstanding capabilities implemented on top of it.
Here is our list of the must-have elements any social media app should have:
1. Integration with the existing social media
To start with, you should provide an easy and convenient way to access your product. In this case, registration with other social media accounts might speed up the process. Most of your users are already using Facebook, Twitter or Google+, and applying this feature will allow your users to sign up with your app in less than 2 seconds.
The ability to import users’ data and contacts from other networks is also a good way to increase the number of your app users.
2. Personal profile
Personal accounts are very important for every social media app: they help your users identify themselves and improve the credibility of the content they share.
This might be a simple profile with a picture, username, and short bio, or it could contain more detailed information about the user, such as: interests, preferences, location, number of followers/friends and recent activity.
The ability to “friend” or “follow” other users is what makes your product a social media app. To become friends, the users typically need to approve this action, while following is usually a one-way process.
Alternatively, the users can connect based on their interests, groups they belong to, or their location. Some apps even offer you the ability to add your friends from other connected networks.
4. Ability to share user-generated content
Probably the most important feature of any social media app is the opportunity to upload or create content, be it text, images, videos, audio, or all of the above. You can keep it simple, like Twitter or YikYak, allowing only a limited amount of text to be shared.
On the other hand, you can go big and offer more capabilities, like photo filters, stickers, or even live streaming, for instance as in Periscope. A huge trend in social media (pioneered by Snapchat), are posts with a limited lifetime: they disappear after a specific amount of time.
5. News feed
This is where the content can be found. News feed typically includes the updates from your connections or subscriptions, while there might be some selection of trending content from other users outside of your social media app.
You can show the content in chronological order or use complex algorithms to customize the feed and arrange the news based on its importance to a specific user. For example, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are arranging their news feeds from the most to the least important.
Some apps also offer personalized content suggestions, using machine learning algorithms to determine your preferences and interests.
6. Interaction between the users and content
To create engagement within your app, you need to allow your users to interact with the published content, i.e. like, comment, repost it, or reply to it. This helps create a community within your application and keeps your users engaged. Indeed, why share something, when you don’t even know if anyone has seen it?
7. Search and suggestions
By offering search capabilities, you allow your users to enlarge their networks and discover other content they might like. They can search other users by name, gender, age, location, interests, or join groups they didn’t know existed.
Contextual search can help users find relevant content: in this case hashtags or a keyword search is probably the most useful feature. Pinterest is a nice example of an advanced search option: it has all content divided by topic, so you can go to Gifts or Art and browse all the images that are relevant to the topic.
Moreover, you can use keywords to find something more specific.
Some social media apps can do without this feature. However, chat gives a new level of interpersonal communication, especially in social media. This might be used as a room for confidential discussions, unlike comments that are visible to other users.
Not everyone uses private messages on Twitter, however, Facebook chat has grown to such an extent that the company decided to launch it as a separate app, Messenger.
9. Alerts and notifications
Alerts notify users about the activity on their app and motivate them to come back and take a look at any new updates. People must be able to choose which notifications they want to receive and unsubscribe from the alerts if necessary.
Geotagging allows users to post their location on social platforms and notify their inner circles about where they currently are. It is advisable to make this feature optional since location data is viewed as highly sensitive by some individuals.
11. File uploads
This is one of the most frequently used features of social media apps. File sharing and uploading are an important means of communication and promotion. Make sure your platform supports widespread file types and formats of text, sound, graphics, and video.
One of the best social media features; gamification keeps people engaged and ensures that they return for more networking and interactions. Creating polls, tests, playing games, running competitions, and giving out badges and tags for various types of activity, will enable users to communicate in a variety of ways.
The analytics modules target primarily network admins, to help them understand their audience and tweak marketing campaigns in order to reach better outcomes.
14. CMS features
Network admins will also need a set of features for user and content management. At the very least, they should be able to manage registrations, review reported entries, and filter users and content, if necessary.
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In addition to the more conventional functionalities of a social media app, you may want to add some of the novelties that are quickly gaining acknowledgment these days.
Below are some of the additional features of social media apps that you may implement if you want to keep abreast of the emerging tendencies and technologies.
1. Voice call
Consider adding a voice call feature so that people could talk to each other over a Wi-Fi internet connection. This will increase the variety of communication channels available through your platform, and boost your audiences’ loyalty and engagement.
2. Video call
The same applies to implementing a video call feature; most people will be happy to make video calls without leaving a social media platform.
Switching between apps can be tiresome, so making an app that would fulfill all personal communication needs will surely give you a competitive edge.
3. Live streaming feature
Live streaming is a real-time video broadcasting feature, which allows streamers to communicate with their followers and share experiences. This feature is extremely popular with Gen-Z and younger audiences.
4. Augmented reality
Another trend that is favored by Gen-Z is using AR filters to enhance a person’s appearance and add a fun and unusual twist to social network communication.
Applying instant filters and enabling users to easily change the way their avatars look will surely appeal to young people.
5. Content editing
Providing users with advanced tools for editing their photos, texts, videos, and profiles will also help you create a social network app that will appeal to many audiences.
Most people appreciate the possibility to express their unique selves and unleash their creativity.
6. Short-term content
The latest fad is creating content that will disappear after a while, a so-called ephemeral content. Stories are a vivid example of something short-term, which most people don’t want to miss out on.
The concept of Snapchat, for example, is built around ephemeral content that is only there for a short while.
7. Natural language processing
AI chatbots offer automated answers to frequently asked questions, and you may also want to add them to your application toolkit.
This feature can be especially popular with businesses as it helps them save time and facilitate interactions with clients.
How do you intend to earn revenue with a social media app? It is crucial that you know the answer before you begin writing a specification for your product. Ultimately, the application type, users’ age, income, and other demographics will dictate your monetization strategy.
The following are the main social media monetization models:
Ads and promotions
The app is free for users, yet, you get revenue for running ads, either on a per-view or a per-click basis. The ads are selected based on the person’s gender, age, and interests they reveal in their profiles.
The key to making this model work lies in preventing ads from becoming too annoying or irrelevant. The wider your user pool, the more money you can earn with advertising. Facebook and YouTube successfully use this type of monetization.
If you want to know how to build a social media app that will bring money, consider introducing in-app purchases. The application may be free to use, yet, some features come at a price.
This model works best for gaming networks such as Steam and Discord. You can charge money for virtual merchandise, gifts, weapons, and avatars.
Free services for everyone and advanced options for those willing to pay – this is what the freemium model looks like, in a nutshell. Examples of social apps using this model are Flickr and LinkedIn.
Surely, social media monetization strategies aren’t restricted to the aforementioned ones. You can get as creative as you wish if you want your platform to generate income. You may also apply a mixed strategy, for instance, you can go for both freemium and advertising models to make your social network pay off.
Want to make a social app like Facebook?
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As soon as you’ve finalized your app concept and functionality, you need to decide which technology stack to use. To build a mobile app, you will need to consider:
When considering the options for mobile app development, first of all you will need to decide which platform(s) you need to target: iOS or Android.
While building a cross-platform application might seem like a good idea, social media apps are not the best use case for this technology stack. Cross-platform apps tend to be less performant than native ones and they often have a poor UX.
Read also: Native vs cross-platform – How to choose
Many popular applications were initially launched on one platform and then ported to another (e.g. Instagram).
However, to make the right choice, you need to consider such aspects as localization, your target audience, market fragmentation and development complexity.
If you decide to go with iOS first, you will face yet another dilemma: which technology stack you should use? To make an informed decision, you first need to consider all the benefits of Swift vs Objective-C for iOS app development.
As for the backend, or server-side programming, the choice of technology stacks is even greater.
We typically recommend using Ruby on Rails or PHP for social media projects. Both of these tech stacks provide a number of useful tools, and gems/frameworks that can significantly speed up the development process, while still providing high performance, and reliability.
Additionally, multiple third party integration for authentication, sharing, payment processing, emails, SMS, and push notifications should be decided separately.
Regardless of the backend technologies you use, your app’s database needs to be scalable and ready to process multiple queries at a time. We would recommend PostgreSQL – an open source database, designed specifically for high-volume environments, extensible and reliable.
The admin panel provides access to all the data your app can source: from the number of active users, to their activity and content they share, or the posts they interact with.
Using third-party analytics tools, you can study users’ behavior and find out how they interact with your app. This might provide you with valuable insight into what your users really want, and with such, you can improve your app accordingly.
Additionally, the admin panel is a must-have tool for apps with user-generated content. It gives you control over your users and the content they share. If someone violates the app policies or posts abusive content then you can easily remove it altogether.
Read also: How to reduce app development costs
When building an app for such a saturated market, you should start by conducting competitive research. By analyzing the market trends, you can predict what is going to be “the next big hit” and capitalize on this knowledge before your competitors do.
Read also: Which cooperation model to choose?
In order to test your idea and verify your assumptions before you invest heavily into your product, you should build an MVP first. By implementing a limited set of features first, you will get feedback early in the process, which allows you to adapt your product better for the end-users’ requirements and needs.
Don’t forget to read about these 7 mistakes you should avoid when developing an MVP
Among the features that can make your MVP start successfully are user engagement and analytics tools. While your app’s core functionality is obviously a must-have, user engagement is often overlooked, or not prioritized. However, getting a user to install your app is not enough: over 80% of your users will churn sooner or later.
With that said, it is necessary for you to optimize your MVP for user retention in order to get enough data about user behavior and requirements; namely, smart onboarding, integration with the other social media platforms and social networks, gamification, user re-engagement with push notifications as well as emails.
Using mobile analytics, you can source real-time data from your app, including: the number of active users, their activity, preferences, and perform behavioral trends analysis. You can use third-party analytics tools (Google Analytics, Flurry or Localytics), to help you make sense of all that data.
As a result, you will get actionable insights about what you users really want and will be able to further improve your product.
While UX/UI design and development will depend specifically on the product, there is one element of a successful app development process – quality assurance. Due to a large number of various devices, screen resolutions and mobile OS versions, testing helps you optimize your application for the best compatibility with the most popular environments and devices.
Besides functional testing, load testing should be used to verify that app performs equally well with 1 active user or 1,000,000. This is especially important for social media apps.
Develop a marketing strategy for a social media app
Even if you get all the parts of the app development right, it will be hard to make a new social media app popular without a good marketing campaign. How are the users supposed to find your app among billions of apps in the store? Thus, proper marketing is a must.
Plan your campaign in advance, so that when you launch your product there is a certain audience that can test it and provide valuable feedback.
Learn more about app marketing strategies
Platforms like ProductHunt or PreApps allow you to prepare the ground for your app’s release. At the end of the day, the number of active users is the major definition of your app’s success and its future growth.
How to get started?
The product discovery phase is the best first step you can take to lay a solid foundation for the development of your app. It includes a functional specification, UX/UI design, and a visual prototype that will give you a clear vision of the end product. On average, this phase takes 4-6 weeks.
The product discovery phase can help you:
- define a full scope of work and develop a roadmap for the project
- set a realistic budget for your MVP and plan your resources
- test the waters with your audience using a visual prototype
- craft a convincing investment pitch
- get to know your team
Looking for an experienced development partner to build a next-gen social platform? Contact us now for free advice and consultation!
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to create a social media app?
The costs will depend on your application’s scope, as well as on the overall time the developers will have to spend on creating the social media app.
For comparison, the price for building a Facebook-like app is around $450,000, while the cost of a more basic app, like Instagram, will range from $100,000 to $300,000. On average, the budget starts at $50,000 and may reach beyond $465,000.
How do you make a social media app like Facebook?
10 steps towards creating a social app:
- create a memorable app idea,
- conduct research,
- choose an original brand name,
- create an attractive UI/UХ,
- build and test a prototype,
- start software development,
- test your product,
- release and publish on app stores,
- support and update, and
- monitor analytics for useful insights.
What makes a social media app successful?
Below is a list of features that are present in most of the popular social media apps:
- engaging content that makes users lose track of time,
- infinite scroll function,
- likes, shares, comments, and other reward mechanisms, and
- using social urges to facilitate communication.
- How to Develop an Anonymous Social Network?
- How to Create a Dating App
- How to Build a Voice Chat App Like Clubhouse
- Top 11 Methods to Prioritize Features for Your MVP
- “I have an idea for an app, but my budget is limited.”