While it may seem that every other idea for a social media app has already been "seen" and "done", that's far from the truth. The niche is still ripe and ready for new disruptions. 

As Kevin King, chair of Edelman Digital has noted in his forecast of the social media landscape for 2017: “We're going to see old dogs with new tricks in areas such as content mixed with new dogs who want to change the game altogether”.

What he meant is that emerging technologies like conversational design, VR, and blockchain have open up new possibilities for product owners and developers in this domain.



And even if you are planning to start with a less advanced solution, there are still plenty of untapped ideas for a social media app:

●    A social networking app where people can exchange anonymous “messages in the bottle” and have others discover them.
●    An app that will help you find strangers you may have seen today in the café/on the train/at work, but didn’t dare to strike a conversation with.
●    Niche apps that would cater to specific audience segments e.g. musicians, people with disabilities, elders etc.

And of course, if you plan to build a social network app, you already have some other concepts in mind. And this guide will walk you through the key development stages.

Social Media App Development 101: Key Product Features

Building a social media application assumes having a three-tier architecture – the mobile/website client, database and a backend to power it all.

First, you need to decide whether you want to develop a social media app for Android or iOS. A lot of popular networks got started as iOS-only apps, through Android devices are more popular on a global scale. Your best bet is to choose a platform that is more popular in your target market.

Next, let’s talk about the product features.

While your social media app will need to have a competitive edge to lure in the early adopters, there’s also a set of fundamental features you should include:

User Profiles

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat – all of them are profile-centric social media networks. If you want to build a similar one, your first step is to encourage more profile registrations.

The best option is to connect your app to an existing network aka allow new users to sign up using an existing profile say on Facebook or Twitter. While including social media integrations in your app may increase the development price, it will likely boost the user base growth as well. After all, people don’t feel encouraged to join a space where they don’t have any possible “connections”.

Alternatively, you can always ask them to sign up using an email and password, though it’s a bit more cumbersome from mobile.

User profiles should match your overall product concept. For instance, as Instagram focuses more on the user-generated content, they don't request users to create lengthy bios. The same is true for Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat. Facebook and LinkedIn, on the contrary, require users to provide a lot of personal data first and encourage sharing later.

In general, all user profiles should include the following elements:

●    Personal details/bio space.
●    Profile photo.
●    Background/theme image (optional)
●    Places for additional links to connect on other networks.

Content Feed

User generated content is the core of your network. Otherwise, it’s not that fun to use at all.

First of all, you need to decide on the supported content types:

●    Text updates
●    Photos
●    Videos
●    Livestreams
●    GIFs and short videos
●    Links
●    Hosted blog posts

Next, you’ll need to create the custom tools that would encourage more sharing and self-expression from the users. Those can include:

●    Cool photo/video filters.
●    Custom in-app elements like stickers, GIFs, and emojis.
●    Seamless, one-click sharing
●    Means to interact with the shared content (likes, comments etc).

Developing a social media app also assumes having powerful filtering and ranking algorithms that would deliver that content to all users. Most businesses opt for a combination of the following options:

●    Show all the postings chronologically.
●    Show submissions with the most engagement/from selected connections first.
●    Create two separate tabs for content generated by connections and the “discovery” section.
●    Include content/user recommendations to steer up the engagement rates.

Connections

So, user interactions are everything within a social media app. Otherwise, it’s plainly boring and you’ll have hard times with keeping the engagement rates high.

You need to keep people glued to it and give them reasons to log into it daily. And users will go so as long as they have means to interact with others. There are a few ways to do so:

Content-Based Connections & Interactions

On platforms like Instagram, YouTube or Periscope, people primarily build connections through sharing and discovering content created by others.

In this case, social media application development assumes building different channels to facilitate this process and boost interactions:

●    Hashtags and geotags give additional means for exploration and discovering new curious users.
●    Likes/shares/view counters allow users (and you as well) to identify trending/influential content. Additionally, those metrics create a perceived image of authority. A lot of us are prone to the irrational bias towards following identified leaders, meaning that more people will strive to follow the popular users and aim to become just like them.
●    Comments and private messages is another way to steer up interactions between the members and encourage users to spend more time within the app. 

A word on temporary and disappearing content: Snapchat’s entire product strategy was built around the disappearing content. And, in fact, it proved to be hell of a successful strategy as the network grew by 27% in 2016, surpassing all the competition. Instagram later introduced similar functionality called Stories – short videos, viewable only for 24 hours after posting.

For startups looking into rapid engagement growth, this strategy may be pretty viable. As users, in this case, are encouraged to access the app more frequently, be more creative and produce on-the-moment content.

The same is true for livestreaming – another massive trend among the social media platforms.

In-App Groups

A lot of platforms allow users to create curated lists or private groups, where interactions happen between more than just two members at a time. Those could be either private group chats or more forum-like gatherings where any member can start an interaction.

Direct Search Functionality

Users should also have the option to search for new connections directly through the app e.g. by typing profile names. Additionally, you may want to create a more powerful search engine that would also parse the in-app content.

Additionally, in most cases users can search for existing connections from other apps; their address book/contact list, and invite new users via email, for instance, to ensure stable user base growth for your product.

Databases For Social Media Apps

Now, let’s have a brief tech chat.

At Alty, we always advise our clients to choose a well-supported NoSQL database (MongoDB for instance) for processing in-app relationships and dynamic data. Sure, this will likely increase the overall social media app development cost. But think about it this way – a cheap non-scalable database will become a frustrating bottleneck in your product growth.

What happens if the traffic suddenly surges and your app simply won’t be able to handle it? So, always ask the developers how scalable the proposed database is and how much load it can handle.

Backend Development and Admin Panel

Lastly, your social media app will need to have an admin section aka the major control panel that will:

●    Help you manage and overview all the user-generated content.
●    Deliver in-app insights and analytics about your audience.
●    Incorporate customer support and help you address common user queries and troubleshoot.

So these were the basic ideas for creating a social media app. Yet, in order to successes and to make the next “big thing”, you’ll need to give your product a competitive edge and some very unique functionality.

The best option is to create a product MVP first, test it with the target audience first and then go full-fledge into the development.

BIO

Slava Bushtruk is Founder and CEO of Alty, Inc. He’s been in software and app development for nearly a decade with over 75 successful projects under his belt, ranging from startups to enterprise clients. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or shoot a quick hi at slava@alterplay.com.  Additionally, you can read more from him on his Tech Blog and Website