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Girl with smartphone on couch engaging with a social media appGirl with smartphone on couch engaging with a social media app

How to create a social media app: The 101 guide to digital engagement

Amity Team
Amity Team
July 13, 2022
Amity Team
July 13, 2022

It’s a fact: social apps still have the upper hand in amount and quality of user engagement, thanks to their ‘community-driven’ features. This is something every other company must learn. There is still space in the market for social media apps that put people before profit and connection before content. If you’re looking to build your own, this article will discuss the core importance of social media and how you can bring your product to life.

The gravitational pull of community

Over the past two decades of its existence, people have regarded social media with apprehension. General perceptions have been mixed, bordering on the poor: concerns have been raised about privacy, not to mention addictiveness and stress-induction. One in four young adults aged 18-25 report mental illness coupled with high usage of social media.

So what changed?

The nature of people’s interactions slowly shifted from sensational, mass-appeal content to community building. While there are more social media users than ever—4.65 billion in April 2022, to be exact—interactions are becoming more localized. Users increasingly seek controlled-access communities with shared interests and deeper loyalty. 

We’re moving away from globalized social media and towards alternatives that allow us to choose who to engage with online. In this movement lies an opportunity to build a healthier social experience with your app.

5 Steps to building your own social media app

App building isn’t nearly as expensive or resource-heavy as it used to be. The hardest part is creating a product that answers the needs of a specific audience.

These five basic steps will help you create a new social media app that connects and engages its users.

1 - Establish a unique selling proposition (USP)

Without a clear idea of who will be using your social media app, you’ll have a hard time competing with more established platforms. Start by defining who you want to attract to your app. What do they have in common? Which spaces do they spend time in online? What must-have features will answer their needs?

After you have a defined audience, establish a USP for your social media app by performing market research and taking note of things like:

  • Functionalities: What basic features do competitors offer and are there any that set them apart?
  • Price/monetization: Are competing apps paid or monetized? Can you come up with an alternative monetization strategy that’s more appealing to users?
  • Recent feedback: Are existing apps regularly updated? What have their users been saying about their recent performance? 

The insights you gain will reveal the essential features to include in your own social media app along with which ones to prioritize. 

2 - Plan out your features

Social media apps are created to connect a certain group of people with a user-intuitive interface and space for conversation. Here are a few basic features your app will undoubtedly need:

Easy-to-use interface: Users need to be able to sign up, create a profile, search for content, and browse posts relevant to their interests with activity feeds and push notifications. More importantly, they should be able to do all of these things without extra guidance or tutorials.

An intuitive UI (user interface) reduces friction in the customer journey, helping people quickly get what they came for.

Community features: Social media apps are created to connect users, so community features like messaging and groups are non-negotiable. You can also drive more engagement by enabling video capabilities such as live streaming, short clips, and 1-1 video calls.

Since the peer-to-peer connection is what drives the value of a social networking app, you must put the bulk of your time and energy into integrating community features seamlessly.

Community guidelines: A major advantage of building your own social network is defining the rules that govern it. Consider the context of your community and set guidelines in alignment. This step might help you adjust certain functionalities of your social network app, such as the sign-up process.

Once you’ve planned out your features and defined the ones that make up a minimum viable product (MVP), it’s time to take it to the drawing board.

3 - Create a design mockup

This is where you see your app idea truly begin to come to life. Create a basic mockup of your application using a wireframe tool. Softwares like Adobe XD, Figma, and Sketch allow you to quickly work out the basics of your app’s interface. During this stage, you will:

  • Highlight the paths between pages and flesh out the user journey
  • Determine core functionalities
  • Maximize usability
  • Begin UX copy design based on allocated space.

Don’t worry—your app doesn’t have to be perfect from the very first design. The goal here is to visualize the product and prioritize the core functionalities. Once you can ship an MVP, you can gather feedback from active users and make quick improvements to retain them. 

4 - Design a marketing strategy

There’s no shortage of social media apps out in the market today, and the top few have billions of monthly active users (MAUs) under their belts. Competition is high but - knowing that the average app loses 77% of its DAUs (Daily Active Users) within the first 3 days of installation - even the most popular apps won’t be successful if they aren’t able to attract, engage and retain the right users. 

There’s good news: You can begin marketing your app before it’s even launched. 

Start by developing brand assets. A logo, a catchy (and unique) name, and mockups of core functionalities will help you attract potential users and investors who want to bet on your product. You can create these assets yourself or work with a graphic designer. 

Meanwhile, acquaint yourself with the spaces your audience members are in. Find a way to get them interested and keep them involved in the process, such as with pre-launch social media and email campaigns. 

You will certainly need a landing page, an email list, and a media kit (for PR opportunities). Other than that, your marketing strategy will depend on your ability to relate and speak to your target audience.

5 - Build your app

The last step is to finally build and ship your app. There are several ways to do this, including: 

Building in-house: If you have the skills necessary to code an app, developing in-house is an option for you. The benefits are that you have the best idea of what and for whom you’re building. There are also plenty of SDKs (software development kits) that allow you to integrate third-party services so you don’t have to code everything from scratch.

The costs are that you will not have as much third-party feedback. You might also sacrifice speed-to-market and high usability if you aren’t experienced in social media app development.

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Outsourcing: A freelance app developer or an agency can take on your project for a price. This will obviously cost more money, but it will increase your speed to market and ensure a quality product (assuming you work with a skilled and reputable team).

Using an app builder: Many tools now allow you to create a usable social app from a template. This will require significantly less coding knowledge and allow you to launch more quickly. However, the final product will not be bespoke. You might also have to pay a monthly fee to keep your app running. 

The build process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months or even years, depending on the method of development, functionalities needed, and budget. It’s generally recommended to launch with an MVP so that you can get your product into the hands of users more quickly. Then, it’s just a matter of adjusting and adding to deliver more value.

Launch a social media app that answers today’s user needs

People will always use the internet to connect online, but expectations are shifting in favor of more meaningful interactions. Developing an app that promotes healthy discussion in the face of mutual interest is a way to offer respite in an overwhelmingly global social landscape. 

If you’re ready to build a social media platform that promotes greater digital engagement, keep the core values of community in mind. With features that drive conversation instead of solely profit, we can turn the tide on social media’s bad rap and meet today's user expectations.

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