What is social+ and how can it help your app succeed?

Social media platforms are often treated as places to grow your circle and connect with as many people as possible. And while it’s nice to have everyone associated with you under one digital roof, the truth is that social media can feel loud to the point of anonymity.

Internet users—especially those under the age of 35—are no longer looking for generalized content and promotions aimed at the masses. Instead, they look for privacy, connection, and a sense of belonging. Social+ apps cater to this by providing safe spaces to interact with people with similar interests and shared experiences. 

User behavior is seeing a shift to microcommunities. This presents an opportunity for social+ products to capture market share and build up a competitive moat. But what is a social+ app and how can it help you succeed? Keep reading to find out.

What is a social+ app?

Social+ apps are software products that have transaction (function) and interaction (social) layers so tightly interwoven that they cannot possibly be separated and still make sense. They are not:

  • Mass-appeal social media networks
  • Brands with communities on third-party platforms (eg. Facebook groups or Discord groups)
  • Products with social features built as an afterthought

There is an application for just about anything you can think of, but not all of them have the distinct advantage of being intrinsically social. By layering peer-to-peer connection on top of a useful product, brands boost user retention and fortify their invulnerability.

There are three main qualifying features of social+ apps:

1 - The social aspect is built for and into the product

A social+ app wouldn’t exist without its users being able to connect throughout the product experience. A brand community is formed around it, and it is an owned community rather than one on a third-party platform. New users adopt the app for access to existing members just as much as for access to the core product. 

2 - The social aspect is permanently fused to the product

Community cannot be removed from a social+ product without damaging or completely destroying the user experience. Utility and connection have to be so closely tied that if you were to disconnect one from the other, the product would no longer make sense.

3 - Engagement organically occurs between peers

Authenticity is valued in today’s online communities, and the same is true for social+ products. Engagement should be natural and voluntary, with minimal interference from hosts or moderators. When organic peer-to-peer interactions take place, a community truly begins to grow. 

social+ benefits

The benefits of going social+

Even the most well-known app in your industry segment risks losing market share if it fails to immerse users in a social experience. Here’s how going social+ can give your product the upper hand:

Loyalty built on genuine connection

People crave connection. We have an intrinsic desire to share our passions with like-minded people, and as a result, we spend most of our time in spaces where we feel we belong.

Now that social media is pervasive, hyper-communication is increasingly common. In fact, a typical social media user spends 2.5 hours a day on social platforms, and a cumulative average of 41 million messages are sent out every minute

When you consider the time that people are willing to invest in genuine connection, it becomes quite clear that you can build loyalty by becoming a digital space they want to keep coming back to. You will have dedicated customers for as long as you are able to deliver functionality and the community that comes with the product experience.

social media usage

Self-supported growth loops

The best type of app growth is organic—and it saves you money while proving customers enjoy the product enough to share. The compounding effect that occurs when active users bring more on board is called a growth loop.

Social+ products have better growth loops because they fulfil the core requirement: giving users something to gain by inviting like-minded people. Since they get real value from bringing more peers on board, you enjoy low-cost compounding growth.

growth loops

Fortified invulnerability

Experts predict that by 2025, apps will be downloaded more than 200 billion times. If you want your product to be a part of that statistic, future-proofing starts now. Human connection is fortunately difficult to replicate. As a result, social+ products are considerably more invulnerable compared to their non-social counterparts.

A wider competitive moat means that customers cannot switch to competitor products without some degree of difficulty. As a result, user retention is a lot higher. Switching also means having to say goodbye to community access, so as long as you are able to showcase functional and social value, users will stick around.

total app downloads

How to make your app social+

Building a social+ app involves developing a strong community and functionality tie-in, then using social features to enable connection. Product and marketing teams have to work closely with leadership to envision a software that has purpose and appeals to users’ emotional and social needs.

Marry community and functionality

Community can’t be an afterthought. For your app to truly be social+, connection and utility have to go hand-in-hand, neither capable of existing without the other.

Messaging features, activity feeds, and other social capabilities make it possible for users to connect with one another, but they don’t make a community. You need to develop a strong social strategy that not only feels genuine but directly ties into the product.

Invest in social features

Users need a means of communication to engage and build bonds. Social features are those means. Capabilities like rich messaging, activity feeds, and groups allow the exchange of information and ideas. You can even consider supercharging your app with extra functionalities like video calling, live streaming, and stickers.

Before you get to novelty features, however, focus on getting a few core functionalities down. Here are the things we suggest making a priority:

Messaging: Conversation is a basic component of social, so messaging is a feature you can’t possibly forego. In-app chat that enables a variety of messaging options—1-1, group, channel, and more—immediately improve the user experience. 

If real-time conversation is a must in your product, live chat is another important messaging feature to integrate. This boosts engagement and creates a space where participants can congregate during a shared experience.

Groups: Microcommunities are on the rise, and online spaces often foster groups of dedicated people who share specialized interests. This means features that allow small groups of people to connect over specific topics should be a priority of any social+ app.

Tight-knit communities are more engaged and less likely to become lapsed users because there is a stronger sense of camaraderie and bonding. Groups can be official, unofficial, private, or public and be used for all sorts of purposes to boost time spent in app.

Activity feeds: Personalized activity feeds deliver the most relevant information to each user. Like with super apps, social+ apps need to cater to users’ everyday lives and make their product experience as contextualized as possible.

Features like social profiles, chat, and push notifications all contribute to personalization and reinforce the tie-in between transactional and social layers.

social features

Top social+ apps to benchmark

Now that we’ve discussed the impact of social+, let’s look a few specific examples in finance, media, and fitness industries. The following brands have managed to strike a balance between utility and connection, creating an inextricably social experience:

Social+finance: Venmo

Venmo is one of the biggest names in personal finance today. It’s primarily used for peer-to-peer transactions, meaning that if users could not connect to one another, the app would be rendered useless. 

As more members sign up for the platform, Venmo’s value is increased and users find it harder to look for an alternative. This gives them a strong defensibility that will be challenging for competitors to breach.

Venmo social+

Social+media: TrueID

As the top entertainment platform and latest super app contender in Thailand, TrueID’s strategy focuses on creating a sticky product. One aspect of their app, however, is built with social features baked in: live-streamed sporting events. 

Watching sports is an extremely social activity, with fans coming together both online and offline to cheer on their teams. TrueID saw an opportunity in this and launched community and live chat features along with their media and live streams. This created an extremely social watching experience and encouraged organic growth.

TrueID social+

Social+fitness: Strava

Fitness is another social activity that people love to share. Strava was created for runners to create content and interact with other runners. Users can share their runs, start and join challenges, host competitions, participate in microcommunities, and much more.

Without the peer-to-peer engagement factor, this app simply wouldn’t stand out in its category. Strava has found a way to bake connection into a functional product, and that’s what gives them their distinct advantage.

Strava social+

Social+: Your solution to market vulnerability

Digital solutions are a lot more tied into human nature than we’d think. While you might think you have a terrific functional product, you might remain vulnerable to competitors and struggle with retention.

Apps with social built directly into their purpose enjoy loyalty built on genuine connection, self-supported growth loops, and greater defensibility. Before you launch your app, consider rounding it out by integrating social features so that you can take advantage of these factors as well!


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