How to Make a Social Media App from Scratch?
How do you build a great social network application from scratch? Explore the social media app development stages, trends, and features.
According to Smart Insights, in 2018 there were 3.196 billion social media users in the world, while the number of smartphone users reached 5.135 billion. Impressive, isn’t it? Social media applications have taken up a large part of our life. So many hours a day are now spent on social networks chatting with friends, sharing photos, audio, video, looking through the news, and even offering goods and services.
However, although there are monopolists like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook on the market, new social network solutions continue to be offered and some of them achieve true success and audience recognition.
In this post, you’ll learn what features they should provide, what purposes they can serve, and how to create a social network app from scratch. What’s more, we’ll give you some cool ideas and recommendations for the development! Well, let’s start our journey!
What is a social media app?
Before getting down to the topic, we should clarify what a social media application is. Someone can confuse it with a messenger, especially if it has some other features besides message exchange.
There are several things that differentiate social media apps from other products and the key ones are content + communications. Look around: almost all social network solutions allow their users to interact with the content - share it, react to it, and discuss it.
The main directions for creating a social media app
Social networks can serve various goals, from meeting new people and posting jobs to promoting goods and launching marketing campaigns.
Take a look at Instagram. At the beginning, it was the simplest mobile application for photo uploading and editing. At the moment, Instagram is a successful social media platform offering businesses plenty of advertising opportunities. What’s more, the app growth created a wave of Instagram bloggers having millions of subscribers and making money on advertising.
There are so many ideas to utilize take from other products: text and video blogging, live streaming, advertising, personalized news feeds, and a lot more. We recommend you to focus on one thing and then extend the project.
The key directions for building a social network application:
- Solve the problem(s) of a narrow-focused audience–building a social network application that adds value to some specific group of people, e.g. dog owners, art lovers, professional photographers, or retired people. Imagine a social media app that allows dog owners to agree to walk their dogs together, find someone who will walk a dog, or new dog owners. Choose your audience and think about how you can facilitate their life.
- Implement an idea–you can join people or their specific groups around some product idea. For instance, by location, as we did in our SpeakFree mobile app. Or you can enable users to find the company to go to quizzes and exhibitions or create their own events.
- Join people under the unifying topic–making a social media app that unites people under their interests. The focus here is made on content. Imagine, for example, a social media solution for sports lovers that allows users to discuss matches and competitions, publish interesting content about sports, fitness, healthy lifestyle, etc.
How to build a social media app: Features to add
When building a social network application, you should solve what features it would possess. Though there are many cool things you can include, you have to define what your audience really needs. In addition, decide what will differentiate your app from its competitors. Since competition is fierce, you should provide true added value to your users.
Top 13 features of social media applications:
- User profile–A user profile generally consists of a user photo, first name and last name or nickname, and such information as country, city, age, gender, and birth date. Depending on the app objectives, you can also put the “About me” field, education (faculty, university, courses), interests, hobbies, achievements, and so on.
- Likes–Likes allow users to positively react to content. In some cases, product owners also integrate dislikes in order not to allow bad content to take high positions and its owners - to have many points or bonuses. At the same time, content that has a high number of likes and no or few dislikes can gain extensive promotion, audience love, sometimes - even money (e.g. Steemit). The examples of apps that have both likes and dislikes are Reddit, Steemit, and YouTube.
- News feed–Depending on the app goals, users can look through the news of their friends or business news, or news of the groups they’re subscribed to, etc.
- Personalization–Some applications use Artificial Intelligence to personalize the news feed. How does it work? AI analyzes your page, personal information, interests, activities, and tailors the feed accordingly. By implementing this feature, you’ll add value to your audience and win their love.
- Content sharing–Ensure content (file, audio, video, image) sharing opportunities: enable users to upload content, share it in chats, messages, and news feed, create posts, and more. Reddit and Tumblr, for instance, allow sharing links: a user can put a link without writing any description - the system automatically forms a preview.
- Chats–Communication is the core of social network apps. Provide your users with the ability to chat with other people. Implement private messages, private and group chats. You can even integrate encryption so that your users can be sure that their personal data won’t be viewed, used, or stolen.
- Comments–People love discussing content no matter whether it’s music, video, business, technologies, commercial news, or just pictures of nature. Therefore, if you build a social media app, include the commenting mode.
- Search–Offer your users the ability to search for content by keywords. If you make a social media app for photo collectors and photographers, it should have photo categories and image search.
- Friends/Circles –Adding friends or creating circles is an important addition to chats and messaging. Will it be convenient for your users if they have to look for a friend among all the app users each time that they want to communicate? Of course not! This feature is no less important, especially if user communication is the core of your product.
- Collections and subscriptions–Have you ever encountered a situation when you enjoy some content/profile and want to be aware of the news? We believe that the answer is yes. There are plenty of examples that come to mind: user profile subscriptions (Instagram), group and channel subscriptions (Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, YouTube), interest collections (StumbleUpon (now Mix); Google Plus - although it was closed recently, the idea to use collections was pretty good).
- Geolocation–Geolocation enables you to see users near you, mark a place on a photo (address, city, country), and more. This feature is a must-have for dating applications.
- Sign-up–A basic product feature that exists everywhere and seems to be irreplaceable but should be minimized. Allow your audience to use most of the app functionality without registration to offer more convenience and privacy.
- Push notifications–Users like it when they’re instantly notified about new messages, requests, and followers. And they appreciate it when there is the possibility to customize alerts: choose the time for receiving notifications, turn them on, and turn them off.
Certainly, it’s not necessary to integrate all of these features. Take only those that will help you solve user tasks and ensure an amazing user experience. Considering other features, you can also provide the ability to invite friends to install your product, create groups and communities, and use emojis and stickers.
Moreover, you can implement a feature of facial recognition and emoji creation based on your face. Such a cool function is great in a social media application that focuses on entertainment and communications.
Social media application development stages
Have a cool app idea and the opportunity to implement it? Wonderful! It’s time to find out what steps your product should pass before coming to life. Like any software project, social media application development embraces 7 stages:
1. Product idea and requirements formulation
If you decide to create a social network application, you should define how it would help your users, what tasks it will solve, what functionality it will provide, what makes it stand out from the competitors, and much more.
Detailed requirements are written in the technical specification and can include a number of things, from design, brand book, and a description of what and how the product should behave regarding the app performance, infrastructure, and software supported versions. But don’t be afraid, social media app developers will always help you!
2. Wireframe and prototype creation
Wireframing is an important stage of a social media app design as it enables both the customer and developers to create and imagine the app skeleton. Due to wireframes, you not only get a structural product view but also establish a basis for its future design.
Then, designers make a clickable prototype to visualize how the future application will act and look like. What’s more, you can use it to test your idea on the target audience.
3. Work planning
When the software requirements and project vision are clarified, and the prototype is created, you need to plan the work including the development tasks, duration, and budget. At this stage, you should also think about the best ways to implement the product.
Now it’s not enough just to create a cool modern design. You must provide a seamless user experience and personalization. Make your design clean, beautiful, and intuitive so that people use the app even without thinking.
Before developing a social media app design, take a look at your competitors–what and how they make. In addition, check out the software design trends. A perfect way is to catch the wave and make your product ahead of time.
Once the application design is completed, the development part begins. Here, you should think about the app architecture, technology stack, operating systems, and ways of creating the app.
We recommend starting with MVP (minimum viable product) development–implement only the key functionality, ideally–just one essential feature that solves the user’s problem. This approach will allow you to test the app on the audience, collect and measure user feedback, and add new features accordingly. By choosing this way, you will reduce costs, quickly get a working solution, validate the idea, and tailor the product to the needs of your users.
When building a social network application, take care of its scalability, maintainability, and high load support. Integrate an administrator panel so that admins can manage users–segment them, filter, and search (e.g. by name, by email, by ID), and content–remove offensive and threatening content, block users who post it, etc.
Testing plays an important role in social media application development. Testers investigate the product, find bugs, and ensure that the result complies with the requirements, from the app functioning to the number of screens. High quality is impossible without diligent testing, so pay special attention to this stage.
A social network app is published on the App Store, Google Play, and alternative stores, if needed.
The key trends of social media application development
It seems that, today, the whole world is obsessed with privacy. Users hate filling out multiple fields and sharing too much private data. They want to have the ability to use the app without registration or at least without providing a lot of information. Therefore, if you want to collect some user data, ask their permission and explain why you need it.
In addition, you should ensure high security as there is a risk of password cracking and data theft. Therefore, take care of your users by setting up strong reliable passwords.
2. Audio and video support
When building a social network application, integrate audio and video support. Let your users upload, share, store, post, and repost audio and video files. You can even create your app around video–like YouTube did–or make video creation and sharing the main feature by the example of TikTok. You should also take advantage of modern high-speed mobile Internet and live streaming–it will add more value to your social media solution.
Focus on beautiful content visualization and make your app stand out from others. To do this, investigate your competitors, discover what people enjoy, what they don’t like, and what they’re fed up with, and then try to predict the upcoming design trends.
Remember that the app icon is the first thing users see. Make it bright and attractive so that users would want to click it. You should also ensure that the icon stands out among the rest. Did you notice that there is too much blue? Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn... Maybe, you should choose something else?
4. Voice messaging
Voice messaging–sending recorded or converted from a text voice messages–is trending. Although in some parts of the globe it’s just being introduced, for others, voice chats have long fallen into a habit.
In China, for instance, mobile apps can’t offer the keyboard with Chinese, since there are thousands of hieroglyphs that simply don’t fit on a small screen. “It’s a phenomenon that has just hit our shores lately, but it’s been huge in China over the years,” says Dr. Benjamin Cowan of University College Dublin’s school of information and communication studies.
Alex Hart, who works at a Chinese company with US and European customers, adds: “Most of our internal communication occurs via WeChat”. WeChat is the Chinese alternative of WhatsApp that provides extensive voice messaging support.
So ensure to integrate voice messaging into your application to let your users communicate with no text input. It will help you ensure a seamless user experience and keep pace with the trends.
5. Short-lived content
The integration of short-lived or self-destructing content is becoming a trend of social media app development. Snapchat and Instagram have already adopted it in their products. You may have already noticed that Instagram Stories are very popular and enjoyed by users.
Posts that contain this type of content can be set to expire in an hour, day, or week–as a user desires. Since self-destructing messages ensure a higher level of privacy and perfectly suit urgent and intimate issues, users appreciate having them in the app.
Some best social network apps to learn from
TikTok is a social media mobile application that enables you to create, edit, share, and watch short videos. The app allows video streaming and employs AI to provide personalized video feed based on user likes, shares, and views. 100+ emojis and various face filters make the interaction with the product even more engaging.
The app was initially released in 2016. Two years later, it had 500 million users worldwide. According to Sensor Tower, on March 2019 TikTok was downloaded 36,000 times. Why is it so popular? The answer is pretty simple: it offers cool features to entertain users, focuses on their preferences, and has an intuitive design. Good marketing also helped.
Houseparty is a social network solution for face-to-face communications. It allows group video chats and notifies users when their friends are online and ready to chat. Being aimed at teens, the app helps people get closer with their friends. Houseparty was launched in 2016 and now is available on iOS, Android, and desktop.
As you can see, the product functionality can’t be called rich. App success is explained by focusing on the right audience and solving one important task.
Kik is a social media messaging app available on iOS and Android. This mobile solution enables you to exchange text messages, photos, videos, and other content. It also lets users communicate in private and group chats, or with a bot. The ability to use emojis and GIFs, receive content tips and news, and play quizzes are additional product features that make it more engaging.
Creating a social media app: Our practical experience
We have experience in many areas but social networking takes a large part of it. The industry is large and we’re happy to have truly interesting cases in our portfolio. There are several great social media projects that we successfully delivered. Take a look!
Famlicious is a mobile chat application for families that allows people to get closer to their relatives. It includes family chats, family member profiles, and user timelines. However, the most remarkable feature is the family trees that have a dynamic nature.
What differentiates Famlicious from other social media apps is the unique way of building family trees. When a new family member is registered on the app, they are added to the related tree. As a result, family trees are automatically updated and all the connections can be seen on the app screen. You can learn more about Famlicious development in its case study.
We built SpeakFree, a location-based mobile application that enables users to find and interact with interesting people around them. The app supports text, photo, and video messages, allows content sharing, and has no sign-up. SpeakFree is a spam free anonymous group chat offering simple and private communications.
Interestingly, 4 years ago Syrian refugees used the application for communication with each other and mutual assistance. It was in Germany at the time when they had a refugee crisis. We didn’t expect this situation which was even covered in the German news.
WhatsYours is a social media app for managing a person’s contact information, social network accounts, and activities from the same place. The application provides users with the ability to create various sets of contacts and share them with specific groups of people. Visit our portfolio to learn more about WhatsYours social network solution.
Social network solutions have transformed the way we communicate, interact with the content, and look for different things, e.g. job, services, investments, relationships. As a result of their widespread adoption, new jobs like a blogger, SMM manager, and PPC marketer emerged and gained popularity.
Although social media applications often bring a lot of junk and false content, they can do a lot of good. Many children and animals are saved with the help of social media, refugees and the poor receive assistance via social networks, people come together to help victims like it was during Hurricane Katrina which made landfall in Florida and Louisiana.
Have a product idea? Want to calculate the exact social media app development cost for your project? Know more about our experience? What will be better for you, to build a native or cross-platform application? Feel free to contact Yellow, a trusted custom software development company. We’ll be glad to help you and make the world better together.
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