Social Media App Development: The Steps to Creating a Successful Social Media Application

Maryna Pasko
Market Researcher

It’s hard to underestimate the significance of social media in our lives, and most of us spend some time every day socializing, browsing, or following the latest news and trends on a social platform or three. 

Whether it’s perusing pics on Instagram or chatting on WhatsApp, social media is now part of our routines, much like exercising or enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning. But perhaps we appreciate the opportunity for self-expression the most — something our social media apps readily provide.  

Just imagine, the number of people using social media has reached 4.08 billion, which means that every second person on Earth is an active social media user. And that number will only keep growing as the world becomes increasingly connected and digitalised.

So is it worth creating another social media application? With industry giants such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok making huge profits from their billion-strong audiences worldwide, it seems like there’s little chance to compete. 

Well, that might be a misconception as the latest trends reveal a noticeable shift from the most popular platforms towards alternative social apps and private messengers. 

For further insight, our team researched the social media application market and gathered all the essential information. In this guide, we cover what you need to know about creating a social media app including your app’s must-have features, monetization strategies, and development costs. 

But before we proceed to the nitty-gritty development details, let's take a look at the market research side of things. Here’s what you need to do first.

 Research The Market And Find Your Niche

Every solid business idea relies on market research, and social networking app development is no exception. The social media app market is broad and dynamic, and the competition is tough. So the first thing you need to do is to decide which niche to occupy and measure the possible scope of your project. For example, if you have an ambitious project in mind and you want your platform to rival Instagram and TikTok, you need to conduct extensive research in order to create an in-depth strategy. If you’re creating a small-scale community app, on the other hand, your approach will be different. 

Social media apps fall into many categories, depending on their purposes and key features. We briefly reviewed common social media application types below:

  • Social network apps like Facebook and Twitter provide personal or professional connections and allow people to interact and share information.
  • Media sharing apps allow users to share and exchange photo and video content. The most popular apps in this niche are Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.
  • Community and discussion forums are places for knowledge sharing, asking and answering questions, and exchanging ideas, tips, and insights. The best representatives of this category are Quora and Reddit. 
  • Consumer review networks, such as Yelp and Urbanspoon, allow users to gather information and recommendations on businesses to help them make better shopping decisions.
  • Blogging and publishing networks such as  Tumblr, Medium, and Twitter are popular for creating blogs and publishing text and media content. 
  • Messenger apps are great tools for chatting that became extremely popular over the years. The famous WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram have millions of active users and an ever-growing audience.
  • Interest-based networks gather people with common interests to share their hobbies and related experiences. Platforms like Soundcloud and Goodreads are examples of this category.
  • Anonymous networks such as Ask.fm and Whisper allow users to communicate anonymously and ask questions without revealing their identities. 

After you learn about your target audience via market research and decide upon a type of social media app, you’ll have a clearer picture of your app’s overall direction. As your next step, you should explore the trends and tendencies in the industry. 

 Get Acquainted With The Latest Trends

It’s impossible to build an up-to-date social media application without considering the industry’s current trends. We researched the latest tendencies and here’s what we discovered:

Generation Z is the most influential audience

According to researchers, Gen Z already overcame Millennials and is now the most influential group. People born after 1998 spend their childhood with a gadget in hand and give preference to online communication methods. According to researchers, Gen Zers spend 3.5 hours or more on their mobile phones daily, and their top activities include text messaging, downloading apps, and live video calls. 

Because Gen Z will be crucial to your app’s success, make sure you research this segment and analyse the needs of this particular focus group.

Live streaming is becoming a new normal

Most users prefer to watch live broadcasts rather than read long posts on social media, so many popular apps like Instagram and Facebook already have this feature. In fact, there are also platforms (for example Twitch and Periscope) that are entirely focused on live streaming. Such services are on-trend and growing their audiences. 

Short-lived content is more popular

The way people consume content has changed: our attention spans are shorter, and we are soaking up large amounts of information in limited timeframes. No wonder people are finding formats like Stories increasingly attractive. Short, engaging content grabs our attention as it is available for seconds and disappears afterwards.

The shift to Virtual Reality (VR) is imminent 

Technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) are the future of social media interaction and can provide a more engaging, immersive experience. The shift to VR can already be seen in Facebook’s ambitious Horizon project, which will allow users to interact in a social, VR world by playing games and exploring VR environments.

These are just a few examples of the current social media trends. If you dive deeper, you’ll discover even more fascinating tendencies, all of which can help you with your own concept and execution. 

Choose Your Social App’s Features

When you are done with market research, it’s time to frame your idea in a set of concrete features. Approach this stage carefully and prioritize features,  choosing the most significant for the first release of your app. 

Let’s take a look at the most common social media app features:

Authorisation and profile creation

Allowing users to register and/or log in via another social network is convenient as they do not have to duplicate the log-in process multiple times. It may also make users more inclined to sign up if the process is hassle-free. After signing up,  users need to be able to create a profile with personal information such as their name, photo, location, bio, and so on.

Search

Various search filters make it easier for users to find people, groups, or topics by interest.

Notifications and news feed

Viewing content from friends and following groups of interest are among the key reasons why users go on their social media apps. In fact, some don’t post their own content, but still scroll the platform’s news feed to keep track of what’s happening in their online communities and with friends.

Post creation and reactions

The ability to share thoughts and visual content with others (as well as receiving feedback) is the core feature of any social media application. Adding reactions such as likes/dislikes and a comment section to discuss the published content with fellow users grows the user's interest and keeps the community connected. 

Friending/following options

This feature gives users broader possibilities to interact with others and makes it easier for users to stay in touch with friends and keep an eye on the content they publish.

Chat/messaging feature

Quite often, users want to continue communicating via a private messaging system, so providing this functionality in your app gives it a significant advantage.

Admin and moderation options

Moderation tools, such as banning/blocking and comment editing, are crucial in admin-controlled communities to ensure they are protected from spam and trolling. 

Security

Last, but definitely not least, is your platform’s security. Protecting users' private data and personal content should be the utmost priority for any social media app. Data leakage and harmful impact from outsiders are huge privacy issues nowadays. 

One 2019 Facebook security incident is an illustrative example of poor security management. Just imagine, the "hundreds of millions" of account passwords that were stored in plain text for years!

These are the basic features your average social media application offers. If you want to stand out, consider including enhanced and trendy features in later releases of your app. 

Think About Monetization Strategies

If you’re planning to receive income from your social media application, you should think of a proper monetization strategy in advance. Here are a few of the most common investment return techniques. 

In-app advertising

Advertising is the main source of income for many social media platforms. Instagram, for example, shows how well advertising can be integrated. The app’s visual ads are nicely embedded into the feed, showing users only relevant posts and stories.

Paid subscriptions

The subscription model is another monetization strategy to consider. It allows users to download content from the app and try some premium features. After the trial period, the user has to pay a fee to access the app or unique content.

Sponsors and Partnerships

Sponsorship is a common way to get revenue from your mobile app. If your community is highly engaged, you may consider partnerships with other brands. Normally, the app creator is paid for promoting the sponsor’s brand via adverts or referral links, but there are a lot of variations. For example, you can be rewarded for presenting the sponsor’s logo with a small icon or cover in your app. Discreet promotions such as this hardly bother users, so your app’s UX is not compromised.

The above examples are popular monetization models, but they are not the only ones. Moreover, sometimes social networks combine two or more monetization strategies to increase revenue. 

Hire a Development Team

Hiring social media app developers is the start of bringing your idea to life. To build a high-quality application that performs well, you need a team of skilled IT-professionals. 

Let's take a look at the team required and their roles.

  • Project manager to lead the project, organise the team, and ensure the channels of communication are open
  • UI/UX designer to create a user-friendly intuitive design for the app
  • 1 or 2 iOS developers to develop a native application for the iOS platform
  • 1 or 2 Android developers to build a native app for Android
  • Back-end developer to take care of the app’s architecture and logic
  • QA engineer to run the testing procedures and identify bugs

As you can see, the development of a quality application requires the coordinated work of several experts with varied skill sets. You have to decide whether you want to hire in-house developers or outsource to a mobile development company. The latter option is more reasonable if you’re developing a single project. If you're searching for tips on hiring a team, check out our guide to hiring a mobile app developer.

Build an MVP

Building a minimum viable product (MVP) gives you the chance to test a business idea and get user feedback before rolling out a full version of the project. An MVP is a product with a minimum set of core functionalities that can be developed relatively quickly and affordably. Learn how we managed to build an MVP in six weeks.

Once you’ve validated the idea behind your app with an MVP, your developers can start adding features, design elements, and build the UI/UX. Soon after the work is done you’ll receive the initial version of your product ready for market release.

Release The App And Maintain It Consistently

This initial release will show your app’s strengths and drawbacks. Based on user feedback, you can decide what needs to be improved and what features added to later releases.

Apart from regular planned maintenance, social media apps update continuously with new functions, designs, and improved user experience. It helps to keep existing audiences interested in the app and also attracts new users.

Social Media App Development: Timescale And Cost Estimations

Lastly, let’s try to answer the most important questions: how much does it cost to make a social media app and how long does it usually take?

The average mobile application requires 3 to 5 months of development time. Depending on the number of features and the app’s complexity, the development process could take longer, or rarely, a shorter period. 

MVP development includes the planning, prototyping, development, and launch stages. Following Agile methodology, many development companies complete the whole process in two-week development cycles called sprints. At MadAppGang, we use sprints to break down big, complex projects into bite-sized pieces.

So, what is the average cost of a social media app MVP? Well, each project is very individual, and there are many considerations, which makes exact app development cost estimations notoriously tricky to pin down. The final cost depends on factors such as the complexity of the app’s features and the number of third-party integrations needed. For a rough average, you can estimate the price for an MVP as somewhere between $15,000 and $75,000. The starting point for a large-scale, full-featured application is $100,000 and upward.

If you are ready to bring your idea to life and burst into the social media app market, drop us a line and we’ll contact you to discuss the details. 

09 March 2021 social media app development