Table of content
- The social media apps market
- The most popular social media apps
- Reasons to use social media apps
- Reasons to build a social media app
- Trends in social media app development
- What kind of social app you’re about to develop?
- What features should your social media app have?
- Technologies you can gain an advantage with building your social media app
- How to create your own social media app? Key steps
- User engagement metrics and KPIs
- Good luck with your social media app development!
The most popular social media apps
When you know there’s room for your social media app, the question is what kind of app you should develop. You can investigate what the most popular social media platforms are to find out what features they have (or maybe: what features are missing?), what platforms they target (are those web or mobile apps) and how those apps dominate their social media niches. That helps you to assess whether there’s a chance for your social media app to stand out in its niche.
In July 2022, the most widely used is still Facebook, followed by YouTube and Whatsapp. The next ones were Instagram, Wechat, TikTok and Facebook Messenger. It seems like people want to talk with each other (Whatsapp, Wechat, Facebook Messenger), watch video clips (YouTube, TikTok) and share images/photos (Facebook, Instagram). But you shouldn’t be guessing – you need to base it on stats and research.
Using an app is not the same as thinking about an app as the favourite one. Kepios analysis indicates that despite Facebook being the most used one, it was the third favourite in the ranking, overtaken by Whatsapp and Instagram.
Such an analysis gives you an insight into what features and designs are preferred by social media users. However, you should not conclude from such general stats but dig deeper into your target audience preferences.
Reasons to use social media apps
Kepios provided an analysis of reasons for using social media apps. The most frequently indicated reason was being in touch with friends and family.
On social media platforms, users are looking for fun, being up-to-date with news and trends, sharing personal information and opinions, talking with people with similar worldviews, looking for inspiration, searching for products to buy, getting to know new people and working.
That gives you an insight into what features they might need – the ones that already exist in social media apps and the lacking ones that might revolutionise the social media market.
As I mentioned above, each social media platform may attract different groups of people that vary by age, sex, interest, knowledge, specialisation and so on. Such a social media platform might be targeted to medical specialists, too. It’s totally up to you and your app ideas (and the market demand, of course).
As you can see in the image below, Whatsapp attracts a rather older audience (35-64, more often men than women), while Instagram is popular among the younger groups (16-34, rather women than men).
Such analyses are crucial to define what features your social media platform should have and how it should be designed to correspond with end-users needs and preferences.
Remember about a group that is not mentioned above but is crucial for monetisation. It’s companies (advertisers). You might want to prepare your social media app for ad publication to gain profit.
Reasons to build a social media app
Before we investigate how to make a social media app, let’s take a look at what benefits social media app development can bring to your company.
Your own social network (a space tailored to your needs)
There are many elements in existing apps that might irritate you (like adverts). Your app will be exactly like you want it to be.
Communicate with the target audience without obstacles
Having your own social media app, you can reach every person with your messages with no limitations. All you have to do is to attract the right target group to your social app.
A better understanding of your audience
Using social media platforms, even for commercial purposes, you can access only a fragment of data (primarily for advertising and spending money). Your own social media app gives you an insight into all the information you might need.
Make money instead of spending it
By having your own social networking app, you don’t need to pay for adverts (and you don’t need them) but can increase your income and revenue by offering such a feature to other companies.
Trends in social media app development
There are some directions we see the social media app development will go. Such an app will become more and more intelligent, and data-driven focused on visuals and real-time communication.
- AI/ML-driven solutions:
- lifetime value prediction based on behaviour
- data processing and automatisation
- Visual culture & live streaming
- Ephemeral content available for a particular time only
- In-app shopping (with a ‘Buy now’ button)
- Intelligent chatbots
- Augmented reality and filters
- Cross-cultural, globally-accessible content
- Focus on Generation Z
- Demand for data security
What features should your social media app have?
Below you’ll find some nice-to-have and must-have features for your social media app.
Certainly, your app won’t need all of the features mentioned below (that are summarised for all social app types). You should establish your own unique set of essential features based on your business goals.
There’s no one golden mean to decide whether you need basic features only, or a set of advanced features, too (those might be essential features for your app). That all depends on what kind of social media app you want to build, whether that should be an MVP or a full product and what budget you have assigned for this project.
For every feature, we provided a set of questions that might be helpful when gathering your social media app requirements.
To start using your social media app, users definitely must register and create an account. You need a sign-up form, password recovery and a 2-factor verification solution for security.
Many social media platforms provide users with social login using existing email or social accounts.
Things to consider:
- Can people sign in using mailboxes or other social accounts? Which ones?
- Should they secure their accounts using 2FA?
- Who must use 2FA, admins or everyone?
- What mediums do you want to use for 2FA (email, SMS, authenticators)
User profiles must contain basic information such as name, location, photo and description. The list is wider in more advanced social media apps like Facebook.
- What kind of information should the user profile contain?
- Which information should be public?
- Should a user have control over what data is shown publicly?
- Can people hide their profiles from searching?
- Should users be able to personalise their profiles (cover image, colours etc.)?
Posts publication and personal news feed
Social media users should be able to publish posts that appear on their personal news feeds (wall). There might be different media types available for publication (GIFs, video, music/recording, documents and so on), and their catalogue depends on the social media app type and the stage of development (an MVP doesn’t need to offer the possibility to add all those media types).
- Does your social network need a personal news feed/wall?
- What kind of media should users publish?
- What post types are allowed? How will the media be displayed? In what formats?
- Should people be able to edit their posts?
- Can they modify post visibility and privacy settings (e.g. not to show some or every publication to defined people)?
- Should they be able to use mobile devices for publication? Should that be fully featured, including rich text formatting?
A news feed is the heart of every social media app. It’s the place where users can see what’s happening in their contacts, groups or channels/pages followed.
Users should be able to customise what they will see here. They may choose not to see some posts based on the author, subject etc.
There are also some technical aspects that should be addressed, like jumping content when images are loaded and providing a high speed of loading.
What to think about:
- Does your app need a news feed?
- What information will be displayed there? From whom (contacts, groups, channels/pages)?
- In what order should publications be displayed by default?
- Can users customise what they see here (e.g. request not to display some types of posts, topics, categories or authors)?
Activities and reactions
In social media app, people must be able to take action and react in some way to what is published: to like, comment or share posts.
Check what you need:
- What kinds of reactions are crucial for your app (likes, comments, sharing)?
- What kinds of reactions should be available for whom (users, companies, pages, etc.)?
- Do you need a comments tree and responding/reacting to comments?
- How can users share posts they like – as a publication, via a message to another user or via other apps (email, other communicators)?
Personal activity feed
Personal activity feed should be private, but users might need the possibility to see all their publications and activities in a feed form. It’s an additional feature recommended for development when the app already has some users and generates income.
What do your users need?
- Should users be able to see their activities?
- Which activities should be shown here?
- In what form do you want to present the activities?
Connecting and acquaint
Users must be able to connect with each other and create networks to talk and follow each other.
- Should users be able to connect with others?
- Can anyone invite anyone?
- Do they start a relationship only when matched (like each other’s profiles)?
- Can people block this option partially or totally?
Content storing and files sharing
Your social media app should allow users to upload media files (like images, GIFs or videos) and documents (presentations) and store them in one place.
You might also allow users to store content uploaded by others by saving them to their boards or folders (like Pinterest or YouTube does).
- Does your app need file sharing?
- What kind of files should that be?
- Can they modify the content (crop or rotate images, create collages, add filters, create movies by joining images or videos and so on)?
- How should users manage the privacy of those documents (personal or public and shareable)?
- Can other users add published content to favourites or their boards/folders?
People might search for many things in a social media app: people, pages, official profiles, media, content, events, and groups… The list can be expanded.
Social media app is designed to work on a large scale, so your development must take that for granted. That also means a lot of content to search for and a long time of query processing.
- What kinds of content should users search for (posts, profiles, pages, groups, files etc.)?
- Can people define what content they are looking for or see all results?
- How can users define the privacy settings to not display their profiles or content in search results?
Notifications are one of the crucial features of a social media app because they inform about the changes or reactions of others. They motivate users to go back to the app to see what’s happening.
There are a few types of notifications that can be used. If the channel is concerned, we have email and web push notifications, in-app messaging or mobile notifications.
We can send notifications when relevant content appears (a followed user or page published a new post), someone joined the user’s contact network, the user was tagged or mentioned, some posts were commented on, shared or liked, or a message was sent.
Remember that technical solutions matter. Make sure the development team of your social media app remember to address issues like multiple notifications about the same action in a short period of time (when someone likes and dislikes a post or comments, delete the comment and comments again).
- What kinds of notifications do you need? When should those be sent?
- What channels do you want to use (email, mobile or push notifications, in-app messages)?
- Do you need to display different notifications on different devices?
- How can users define and manage their notification preferences (what information they want to receive, what channels and how often)?
Messaging & calling
Personal messaging is an extremely important feature as the app is focused on interpersonal communication. The level of advancement of the chat depends on your goals and the type of the project (MVP or fully-featured social media app). At first, you can provide users with a simple messaging solution that allows sending text messages and images and expand its functionality in time.
There are many improvements that can be added to the basic feature like reactions, replies to particular messages, group chatting, voice and video calls (one-to-one or in a group) and so on. However, those are extensions of the core functionality, so they can be added later.
Things to consider:
- Does your app need a one to one messaging?
- Do you want to implement group messaging?
- Should users be able to send images, videos or music? What formats are allowed?
- Should they be able to respond or react to messages? What kind of reactions do you need?
- Do you need a calling feature? One to one, or a group calling, too?
- Is video calling required? One to one, or a group video calling, too?
If you’re about to build a comprehensive social media app, you might need an event feature that allows users to create their events, invite people and promote them.
- Does your application need events?
- Who can create an event?
- What information can be provided for an event?
- Who can invite people to an event?
The whole social media concept is based on recommendations, and so should be your app. People want to see what their friends like (but you can’t show them literally everything but relevant content only) and what corresponds with their interests.
They also want to explore the unknown – other users, profiles, pages or groups. You can recommend them to users to provide them with a better and more comprehensive experience.
It’s best to use AI/ML for this purpose. You don’t need to invent your own algorithm but use a tool like TeaRex.AI for personalised recommendations.
- What kind of content do you want to recommend?
- On what basis should the recommendations work?
- Do you want to use an existing tool or develop your own algorithm?
Groups & Moderation (higher level of group management)
Social media app should allow people to gather into groups (or even subgroups) to create communities around some topics.
An administrator should define whether the group is inclusive or exclusive and who can accept new members (admins or every member).
Hand in hand with groups, there should come a moderation solution to prevent unwanted activities. It should provide different roles in a group, way more complicated than administrator and users only, with access level management.
Users in groups should not be able to delete any post or comment but theirs, while moderators or administrators should not have such limitations.
- Does your app need a group feature?
- Should those groups be open or closed?
- Who decided whether new members are included in the group?
- Do you need admin and user types of accounts only, or are additional ones required (moderator, editor and so on)?
- What level of access do they need? What should they be able to do (or not do)?
- Is group chat needed?
Live broadcasts are increasingly popular nowadays, so that might be an attractive feature for your app. It makes people more engaged in the content than images or videos do and is a tempting format for influencers, experts and advertisers.
- Does your app need a live broadcasting feature?
- Who is allowed to broadcast (e.g. every user, the one with a higher subscription tier, or a company)?
- How long can a broadcast last?
- Would anyone join, or the chosen/registered ones only?
- Could people interact with presenters? How (join the conversation, send messages)?
- Is there any way to contact those people after the stream is over?
Your app might also contain some kind of gamification. Let’s think about some fitness social apps that offer the possibility to compete with friends fulfilling some goals.
You might also conduct surveys or quizzes, offer in-app games where users can compete with each other or reward users for taking some activities (liking, commenting, contributing content and so on). You might organise a contest based on user-generated content or organise a treasure-haunt (like Volkswagen did).
We can set LinkedIn as an example with the Social Selling Index score.
What do you need?
- Do you need a gamification feature? What for?
- What kind of gamification do you want to implement?
Sometimes, you might need to show users different content based on localisation. You might have a social travelling app that could recommend them to visit some extraordinary places or a feature to notify people if their friends are around.
What does your app need?
- Do you need a location-based feature?
- How should it work?
- Could people see publications of people in their area?
- Should people be able to add location information to their content?
- How can people manage location sharing? Can they switch it off?
Social media portal personalisation & customisation (social media app as a service)
If you’re about to build a social media app as a service (which means everyone can pay and set up their own social media app), it might be crucial for you to allow your clients to personalise and customise the basic app.
Your clients might need to change a logotype, colours, fonts or even headers and footers. They might also need to publish the app on their domain and use their email address for contacting users.
- Will your app be offered in a SaaS model?
- What elements should your clients customise?
- Do they need a higher subscription plan to customise some elements?
Whether you’re building your own social network app or SaaS solution, analytics is always crucial. People will always need to check some stats about their audiences, like geolocation, demographics or technicals, and how their content performs.
- Do regular users need analytics?
- What data do they need to check (number of followers, publications activities)?
- What kind of data should pages, groups and advertisers have access to?
- How will this information be displayed (dashboard, table, list)?
If you’re building a social media app for yourself, you probably already know how you would like to earn money based on it. You might focus on displaying adverts of external companies in the form of banners, a build in-app advertisement organism like Facebook has or require payments from users to use the app (or at least more advanced features).
However, if your app is thought to be a SaaS solution used by other companies as it was their own platform, you need to provide them with different monetisation models so they can choose their own business model.
- For whom is the app built? For you or as a SaaS solution?
- In the case of your app:
- What monetisation solutions should be available in the app (paid banners, advertisement ecosystem, paid subscription, premium features, in-app purchases)?
- In the case of SaaS:
- Can your clients earn money in the app?
- How can they choose their monetisation model? What models are available?
- How will they be charged by you? What is your monetisation model?
Global administrator panel
Every social media app needs to have a global admin panel for the overall management of the system, blocking (and unblocking) users and advertisers. Depending on your app type, you might need additional functionalities for administrators.
- What features should the global admin panel have?
- Can the admin block or remove users, groups, pages or companies?
- Can admin remove content published?
Technologies you can gain an advantage with in your social media app
You can implement some other advanced features to your app to make it more unique or attractive for the target group. Below you’ll find some ideas on such features.
You can implement augmented reality into your app to make it more vivid. You can provide users with the possibility to modify images as Instagram does, create their avatar who is moving around the room instead of users when calling or display how people will look in clothes that other users are selling. It’s all about your imagination.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning is a broad branch of science that you can apply to make your app more interesting for users and advertisers.
Based on proper recommendations, you can provide advertisers with the possibility to reach the best target audience possible and make their campaigns more effective (what will be an argument for spending more in your app) and regular users with better user experience (so they can return to your app for more).
You can use natural language processing for sentiment analysis and add a built-in tool for branding and customer service purposes.
You can also offer an advanced chatbot solution for companies who want to communicate with clients this way but do not necessarily spend time on creating sophisticated scenarios and anticipating potential directions in which the conversation might go.
You might also experiment with content that is available for users for a particular period of time, and then it’s gone (24h on Snapchat). Such vanishing content might be intriguing and attach people to your app.
How to create your own social media app? Key steps
Now, let’s take a look at how to make a social media app step by step.
1. Set the business goals
It’s best to start from defining the business goals and objectives you want to reach by building the app.
2. Choose the type of your social media app
Start from defining what kind of app you want to build. I bet you already have an app idea in your head, but you should express it out loud and decide what type of app it will represent.
3. Define the target audience and conduct market research
You should not start the development process if you haven’t defined the target group and market research conducted.
After the lecture of this article, you already know what people are looking for when using a social media app and what platforms they love most. It also gives you an insight into features they might need.
Now, you need to define the demographics of potential users and understand how it affects their choices. Below you’ll find a table of preferences for using the most popular social media platforms by women and men depending on their age (that might be a good starting point).
4. Create a Value Proposition and check the market demand for your app
Define the value your app will bring to end-users. You need a unique set of features and a unique selling proposition (USP).
Next, you should build an MVP but in a non-development understanding of this term. Create a landing page or video that will demonstrate your idea and gain feedback from potential users.
Proceed with the development process only when it’s positive in general.
If you want to read more about MVPs, check Gabriela’s article on this point.
5. Define the budget
The next step is to define your budget because that will define your possibilities. You might want to develop your app from scratch, but if you don’t have enough money, you should start from looking for investors.
6. Define the basic functionality
The more complicated the app, the more you pay for the development. If you’re just starting, don’t invest much money in not entirely certain business concept.
Create your social media app as an MVP, a minimum viable product that should attract users and provide them with significant value, but focus on the core feature(s) only.
Don’t resin, however, from defining the final app set because it might affect the decision of how you’ll create the app. It might become obvious that you won’t build the app of your dreams by using SaaS service (even as an MVP), and you definitely need to rely on custom software development to reach the goals.
You can use the What features should your social media app have? section as a cheat sheet.
You can also check Gabriela’s article on requirements gathering for some tips.
7. Choose the monetisation model
Define how you’ll earn money on this app. You have a lot of possibilities:
- paid membership
- free and paid tiers
- in-app purchases
- displaying adverts (like banners)
- sponsored content and internal advertisement ecosystem
To read more about monetisation models, check Gabriela’s article on this point.
8. Choose how to make a social media app
Depending on your budget, business goals, app idea, target audience, and features, you have a few possibilities here.
You can choose:
- one of the available SaaS solutions to build your community (like Disciple)
- open-source software (that can be customised but needs hosting)
- CMS with a social network feature (like WordPress or Drupal), but this might be a limited and buggy solution
- Develop your app from scratch and have a more expensive but perfectly tailored solution
9. Choose a software developer
If you decide to build a custom social media app fon scratch, it’s high time to choose a software development company that will do that for you.
There may be many aspects that influence your decision, like tech stack, localisation, and expertise. If you want to check how to choose the best one, read this Mike’s Popov article.
10. Business analysis
A business analyst from the company you choose will conduct detailed analytics to gather all information about the project. He needs to not only estimate the cost and prepare documentation but also understand your business goals, the target audience and challenges.
After this stage, you’ll have a scope of work defined and a development plan prepared. This is the moment when you need to clearly define for what platforms the app should be made of and what tech stack to use (at some point, you can decide on a particular tech stack choosing a developer).
At this stage:
- verify the problem and market needs
- requirements gathering workshop
- define the value
- define and verify the business scope
- decide whether invest in cross-platform or native app development
11. Design the app
To design your social media app, it’s best to start with users’ needs and create basic user flows. Those are paths that users need to go through by navigating in your app to fulfil their needs or reach their goals.
Having those, you should design user experience and wireframes to have a general sense of the app. It’s a basis for designing any interface of your app.
When you have an interface, you should build a prototype and allow people to use it as they would use the final app. At this stage, you can collect feedback and improve the app before building it.
If you conclude that everything works as planned, you are ready to build high-fidelity designs and mockups and start the software development process.
Below you’ll find a few best practices you should keep in mind designing your social media app:
- make it simple and easy to use
- keep one menu throughout the app
- an app should look consistent and similar on every device (web, tablet and mobile)
- make your app branded and unique
- apply a rounded user profile image (to focus on the face)
- don’t use pagination on walls, just infinite scroll
12. Start the social media app development process
Now the development company of your choice will build your app according to the plan.
Project management is crucial for your app’s success. It’s about watching:
- a budget
- a scope
- a timeline
Development process (features implementation)
Having the designs, the development team will start app development. They work in two-week sprints, during which they build features according to the plan.
To ensure the app is issue-free and looks as planned, Quality assurance engineers start testing the app when the development is still in progress. They report bugs to the development team so they can fix malfunctions immediately.
Release and maintenance
The app is released when it passes all quality assurance tests, and all issues are fixed. Your app should be app store optimised.
Although many outsourcing companies consider their job finished here, there’s still much to be done. The app needs ongoing maintenance and support.
When the app is a business success, there’s room for further development and adding new features. You should collect user feedback to improve the app.
It’s also the best moment to create a roadmap and provide users with insight into the plans for the future.
13. Marketing activities
You should always remember that without a marketing plan, your app won’t reach the target audience and won’t succeed.
It’s best to start acting when the development process is still ongoing. You can:
- build a social media website or a landing page to inform about your app
- add a sign-up form to the landing page to grow your contact base and inform people when the app will be live
- build content around the app to gain organic traffic and keep people who signed up up-to-date
- ask friends to spread the news about your app to the world
- run paid advertising campaigns to attract people to the landing page
- cooperate with influencers to reach a broader audience and make the app popular
- invest in partnership promotions
- run a referral programme that will benefit those who recommend your app and follow those recommendations.
User engagement metrics and KPIs
After the app is live, keep monitoring how much you are spending on marketing activities. It’s perfectly normal that the amount will be higher at the beginning (you need to boost traffic and usage), and the effects will be so-so (you’re starting to learn what works and what’s not working).
You should not only monitor how much you spend and how much you pay for a user. In the beginning, the most important might be how many users who installed the app still use it. This way, you will be able to discover weak points and prevent losing users.
I suggest monitoring the indicators of user engagement metrics:
- instllations and uninstalls
- user activation – active users to all who downloaded the app ratio (to check how many people abandon the app)
- user retention – how many users are still using the app
- churn rate – how many users stopped using the app
- session duration – how much time people spend in the app at once
- user engagement – how many activities people take in your app
- growth – how many new users do you gain
Must-have revenue-focused metrics:
- CPI – cost per installation (from adverts), how much you’ve paid to gain one user who installed the app
- CAC – customer acquisition cost that defines all marketing efforts needed to gain a customer
- burn rate – how much a company spends monthly for marketing, sales and other operational costs.
- Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) – what amount brings every single user for your company
Good luck with your social media app development!
Whether you’re planning a media-sharing or a social networking app development, keep in mind that a successful social media application is always the one that is tailored to end-users’ needs.
Choosing a software developer is a milestone, too, as this decision defines the success or failure of your project. Having a reliable software developer, he’ll guide you through all the further stages (or even marketing activities!) required to succeed.
Drop us a line if you’re about to start your social media application development. We’ll do our best to develop the best app your target audience has ever seen! 🙂
We keep our fingers crossed for your app. Who knows, maybe that will be one of our favourite ones soon?
Global Social Media Statistics, Kepios