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September 6, 2022

How to Make a Social Media App: Tech stack, Features, and Costs

Communication means a lot these days, and the popularity of social media has skyrocketed. That brings up a question: How does one build a great social network from scratch? Explore all the development stages, trends, and features.

Mitya Smusin

Chief Executive Officer

According to the Digital 2022 April Global Statshot Report, there are 4.65 billion social media users on the planet, while the number of smartphone users reached 6.6 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, and video, offering goods and services, and even making money there. For many of the 4.65 billion social media users, social apps are a primary source of information.

How many social media apps do you have installed on your smartphone? We guess there are at least three of them: Whatsapp, Facebook, and YouTube. According to Statista, the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide amounted to 147 minutes per day.

Social Media User Stats

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 show impressive revenue growth. TikTok was founded five years ago, which is not that long ago, in comparison with Facebook which was founded almost 20 years ago, in 2004. Today, TikTok is the most downloaded app in the world with a 2022 net worth of $11 billion. 

Most popular apps

In this post, you’ll learn what features they should provide, what purposes they can serve, and how to create your own social media app from scratch. What’s more, we’ll give you some cool ideas and recommendations, as well as tips and tricks for social media app 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. 

Social media illustration

A social network is an online service for communicating with people who have similar interests or backgrounds and sharing content between them. The primary goal of any social media is to build connections with others, but today they went way further than this. A modern social media app is a platform for sharing opinions and ideas, discussing urgent topics, maintaining a personal brand, and even making payments and purchases. Also, now it’s a powerful marketing tool that companies of all industries can and should use to get attention and interact with their target audience. 

The most successful social media apps like Facebook or Twitter have a user-friendly interface, an open opportunity to connect with people all over the planet, share content, and get the attention of other users. In addition, they have something that makes them stand out and that makes people willing to spend their time there.

There are several things that make social media apps different 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.

Types of social network apps

Now, when we learned the concept of social media, let’s look at the various forms this software might have. Doing so will help you identify the most appropriate niche where you can gain the most revenue while presenting the greatest value.

  • Relationship networks: Most popular social networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, fall into the relationship category. They are created to connect people, enabling them to interact with each other and share information.

  • Media sharing networks: TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube are the most notable representatives of this group. These social media platforms allow users to share media like images and videos.

  • Blogging platforms: With the help of blogging and publishing platforms, people can create blogs, publish and edit content, and manage comments. For example, Tumblr and Medium work like that.

  • Content-only networks: These niche social media apps are created to share, comment, look for and save various types of content. Of this type, Pinterest and Wattpad are among the most popular apps.

  • Forums: Participants discuss urgent topics, ask and answer questions, and share insights and experiences, as you'll find on Quora or Reddit.

  • Customer review networks: People use consumer review networks to look through reviews about a certain business or leave one about a company they had any experience with. Services like Yelp and TripAdvisor give this opportunity to users.

  • Interest-based networks attract people with a specific area of interest. Think of GoodReads as an example. 

Types of social media apps

Each type of social media is defined by a certain purpose and desired functionality. So, prior to the development stage, you should consider what you want to include in your app and what needs you want to address.

Some best social network apps to learn from

Here are some social networks that have already won the audience’s attention, and benefit both businesses and users. Looking at the best examples is always a great idea, right? So, let’s have at it:

1. TikTok

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 a personalized video feed based on user likes, shares, and views.

The app was initially released in 2016 but boomed in popularity during the lockdown time in 2020. In the first quarter of the pandemic year, the number of downloads reached 315 million compared to 199,4 at the end of 2019. Also, in January 2022, TikTok had 750 million users worldwide. How has this app made it so far? The answer is pretty simple: it offers cool features to entertain users, focuses on their preferences, and has an intuitive design. Recently we wrote a comprehensive guide to building a TikTok-like app, examining the magic of its recommendation system and providing readers with tips and tricks. 

2. Instagram

Visual content is everything when it comes to grabbing someone’s attention. The greatest example of social media based solely on images and videos is Instagram. Instagram was founded in 2012, and ten years later, this social media platform developed into a multifunctional platform. Now it’s used not only by regular users but also by brands and enterprises that communicate with their audiences like equals. 

At the beginning of the year, Instagram reached more than 1,2 billion active users and became one of the top 10 most visited websites, even though it mainly focuses on a mobile app.

3. Facebook

Despite being one of the oldest social media, Facebook still holds its position as one of the most popular social networking apps. However, with the “avalanche” of allegations against Facebook, the statistics show that the younger generation now prefers more trendy social networks.

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.

There are so many ideas to 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—let’s name it the ‘core’ functionality—and then extend the project. So, here are the three main goals of social networking app development that we'd like to highlight:

  1. Solve the problem(s) of a narrow-focused audience: Build a social media app 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Join people under the unifying topic: Make a successful social media app that unites people by their interests. The focus here is 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.

Top features of social media applications

When building your own social network app, 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. This section describes all the features that your future social media app might need.

📌User profile

One of the most basic features of a social media app. 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's objectives, you can also put the “About me” field, education (faculty, university, courses), interests, hobbies, achievements, and so on.

User profile
Source: Instagram

📌Likes

Likes allow users to react to the content shared on that social media platform. 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, and sometimes—even money (e.g. Steemit). Examples of apps that have both likes and dislikes are Reddit, Steemit, and YouTube.

Likes
Source: Instagram

📌Newsfeed

Depending on the app's goals, users can look through the news of their friends or news of the groups they’re subscribed to, etc.

Newsfeed
Source: Instagram

📌Personalization

Some applications use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to personalize the news feed. How does it work? AI analyzes your page, personal information, interests, and activities and tailors the feed accordingly. By implementing this feature, you’ll add value to your audience and win their love. 

AI played a crucial role in the success of TikTok’s recommendation system. The more you interact—watch, rewatch, comment on, repost, save—with videos of a certain type, the more you’ll see them in your feed. It will be no exaggeration to say that all social media apps can benefit from the integration of AI as it will make the content shared there more relevant to its users.

📌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, go live, 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. 

Content sharing
Source: Instagram

📌Chats

Communication is the core of any social media app. Provide your users with the ability to chat with other people. Implement private messages and 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.

Chats
Source: Instagram

📌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 media-sharing network, make sure to include the commenting mode. It’s also needed for consumer review networks to leave reviews.

Comments
Source: Instagram

📌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. In each case, the final version of any feature will depend on the problem that your product solves. 

Search
Source: Instagram

📌Friends/Circles

Adding friends or creating circles is an important addition to chats and instant 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 media sharing networks 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. Learn more about implementing this feature by checking out how to make a geolocation app.

📌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

On social media platforms, content is updated nearly every second, and some users like it when they’re instantly notified about new messages, requests, and followers. Push notifications are made for this. And users appreciate it when there is the possibility to customize alerts: choose the time for receiving notifications, turn them on, and turn them off if necessary. 

Certainly, it’s not necessary to integrate all of these features in your future social network app. 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.

Main stages to make your own social media app

Have a cool app idea and the opportunity to implement it? Wonderful! It’s time to find out what steps your social network app should pass before turning into an up-and-running product. Like any software project, social networking app development embraces 7 stages.

Social media illustration

Stage #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 like design, brand book, and a description of what and how the product should behave regarding the app performance, infrastructure, and supported versions of software. But don’t be afraid, social media app developers will always help you!

Stage #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 what it will look like. What’s more, you can use it to test your idea on the target audience.

Stage #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.

Stage #4: Design

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 are made. In addition, check out the software design trends. A perfect way is to catch the wave and make your product ahead of time.

Stage #5: Engineering

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 and implementing only the key functionality of, 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.

Stage #6: Testing

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.

Stage #7: Launch

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

Now when you have an overall idea about social networking app development and must-have features of a social media app, it’s a great idea to take a look at the key trends.

1. Privacy

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 for 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.

Privacy illustration

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.

3. Visualization

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 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 a keyboard in 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 to 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.

Stories

Technology stack

The exact list of technologies and tools depends on the particular specifications of the project, available budget, and platforms you want to release it on. However, it’s still possible to predict the most crucial solutions that will get in hand while building a new social media app.

An approximate tech stack for a social network will include:

  • Programming language: Swift, Kotlin, Node.js

  • Networking: Alamofire

  • Framework: Express 4

  • Database: MySQL, PostgreSQL

  • Chat: Twilio, PubNub, Socket.io

  • API: Swagger, Postman

  • Push notifications: FCM

  • Geolocation: Google Maps

  • Storage: Amazon S3

  • Search: Elasticsearch

Monetization strategy

Creating a social media app can be beneficial for businesses and users. Now it’s time to think about how to make it profitable. The most common and proven models to make money out of social media apps are:

📌Advertisements. The easiest and the most common way to monetize a social network is to give businesses an advertising platform, as Facebook and Instagram did. But be careful with ads: they all should be relevant to users and not be annoying.

📌Freemium. If something has value, people pay for it more willingly. If you want to implement premium profiles or subscriptions, be sure that your offer is not just unique, it’s exceptional.

📌In-app purchases. Another popular way to make money out of the app is to create not advertizing but merchandising platforms allowing users to buy directly on your social media platforms. Instagram is a great example of implementing this way of monetization.

📌Venture capital. Companies like Twitter started by raising huge venture capital. This way can be applied if you want to sell your app to a larger enterprise.

Monetization illustration

Crucial metrics for social media apps

Okay, your social media app is finished and makes money. Now, how can you track its performance and understand the bottlenecks to improve? Here is the list of metrics to pay attention to:

  • CPI & CAC. CPI (Cost Per Install) is with total ad spends divided by the number of installs. CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) shows the overall marketing efforts needed to attract a potential customer.

  • User activation is the number of users compared to the total number of downloads.

  • Churn rate, or customer retention, measures how many customers return for another visit. This metric applies only to existing customers.

  • User engagement is a number of target actions taken in the app. A target action may vary depending on what your goals are.

  • Burn rate shows how much money you invest in your product monthly including, for example, staff and marketing costs.

These KPIs will allow you to see how your social networking app is doing and fix the issues quickly if they appear.

Cost to build a social media app

The cost of creating a social media app varies depending on a lot of factors like the desired functionality or the team’s rate. Also, the way of building it matters. If you want to opt for a SaaS or CMS solution, it will show itself faster and less costly than an open-source tool.

If you’re considering building a native social media app, then you will need a backend that can take months to develop and a client-side part for iOS, Android, or both. The approximate costs for development can range from $90,000 for one platform and $155,000 for two platforms.

Here is the approximate estimate of a social media app development cost. We should underline that the final cost depends on multiple factors. For a more detailed estimation, please feel free to contact us.

FeatureBackend development, hiOS/Android development, hThe average cost, $
Sing-in / Sing-up1006020,000
User profile804016,000
Content upload60255,000
Feed903510,000
Chats1008010,000
Search704011,000
Video streaming1005017,000
Settings70209,000
Notifications15205,000
Total:685370103,000

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

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.

Fernwayer

Fernwayer is an iOS and Web-based social media app for travelers and experience makers so they can make and share their experience worldwide. The app connects travelers and local guides, offering an easy-to-use booking system with a detailed description of future experience. Find more about Fernwayer in the case study.  

SpeakFree

We built SpeakFree, a location-based mobile application that enables users to find and interact with interesting people around them. This social media 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.

Closing thoughts

Social media platforms have transformed the way we communicate, interact with content, and look for different things, e.g. job, services, investments, and relationships. As a result of their widespread adoption, new jobs like blogger, SMM manager, and PPC marketer emerged and gained popularity.

Although there are already many popular social media apps, it’s definitely worth developing a new app if you believe that it will gain a loyal target audience.

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.

📌What are the most popular social media applications?

According to Statista, the most popular social network apps (by the number of active users) are Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat.

📌How long does it take to develop a social media app from scratch?

The social media application development will start from 500-700 hours. To get a detailed estimate, please contact us!

📌What technology stack should you use to develop your own social media app?

It is worth mentioning that the appropriate tech stack depends on your project needs. We recommend that you consider the following programming languages: Swift, Kotlin, Node.js

📌How much will it cost to develop a social media app?

The price starts at $90,000 and depends on the feature list of the future application.

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