Want to build a social media app? This post has everything you need to know about creating a social network app in 2023.
We’re going to look at the different development options available to you, the tech used by some of today’s biggest social media platforms, and how to go about building your own social media app, when you don’t have the resources of companies like Meta.
Ready to play your part in the social media resolution? Keep reading to find out how.
Overview: Today, it's possible for anyone to launch their own social network app with minimal investment using a social media app builder. This is a great way for smaller businesses to enter the social media app market, particular for niche social networks catered towards a specific audience or interest group.
First, let’s look at some background on social media apps.
The social media platform market was valued at $192 billion in 2019. It’s projected to grow to be worth $939 billion by 2026.
This encompasses a huge range of platforms, from behemoths like Facebook and Twitter to smaller, more niche social media apps.
Social media covers a wider range of platforms than you’d think.
Curious where your idea fits in? Here are some of the various types of social media app that exist today (keep in mind that some blur the lines between different categories - there’s no need to shoehorn your app to fit a specific definition).
Examples: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
These are your traditional social media platforms. A social network app like Facebook is designed to create online, virtual networks, connecting people through their computer or mobile device.
They enable communication, content sharing, media sharing, and much more. They’re basically the catch-all definition of a social network or social media site.
Of course, each platform needs something that makes it unique, and captures that platform’s place in the market.
Twitter has its focus on short snippets of text. LinkedIn is the social network for professionals.
Facebook is more generalized - but it stands out because of just how far its reach extends.
Examples: Telegram, WhatsApp, Viber
These social networks strip away most of the profile part of a social media app, focusing more on peer to peer chat.
Essential features of these platforms are the ability to chat privately with other people, as well as creating or finding group chats to participate in.
Many social networks include this as a feature - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram for example. But for these types of app, it’s the number one focus.
Examples: Instagram, Pinterest
Next we have image sharing platforms. These are not too dissimilar from traditional social networks, but they’re primarily visual media sharing networks, rather than text-based.
Instagram is the best example of this, though it’s branched out to be a hybrid of image/video sharing, and also allows a lot of text in posts (though not without an image or video).
Pinterest is perhaps a stricter example of an image sharing platform. You could even include sites like Flickr and Pixabay in this category.
Examples: YouTube, Vimeo
Video sharing platforms like YouTube are generally not the first that come to mind when we think of social media apps. But they fit the definition. They allow you to set up profiles, share media with others, and connect with people by following, subscribing and commenting.
So, in this sense, YouTube is one of the biggest social media platforms that exists today, with more than 2.5 million users going on the site at least once a month.
Examples: TikTok, Snapchat
Now we’ve got “interactive media” platforms. You could classify these as video sharing platforms as well, but they’re different to platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, and should probably be separated for clarity.
These apps are today’s hottest type of social media app. TikTok has exploded in recent years, and Snapchat is also in the top ten social media platforms in the world.
The key difference between these apps and video sharing/video hosting platforms is that these apps promote networking features (as with platforms like Facebook), and also have interactive elements like AR/VR filters, interactive games and musical overlays.
Examples: Reddit, Quora
These are possibly the oldest type of social media. Since almost the dawn of the internet, we’ve had message boards, which allow people with similar interests to communicate, connect and discuss topics related to those interests.
Reddit and Quora are the two biggest discussion sites today, each boasting hundreds of millions of active users, with topics and communities for just about every interest or group imaginable.
However, the hallmark of discussion forums are the niche message boards, specifically targeted to a specific group or topic. You’ve got sites like the developer-focused Stack Overflow and the Bodybuilding.com forum as a couple of examples, along with millions of smaller sites catering to a specific audience.
Examples: Medium, Tumblr
Blogging as a form of social media has perhaps died off a bit from where it once was, with blogging now being much more commercial. But blogging and publishing platforms still exist as a type of social media.
Medium, WordPress and Tumblr are some of the most popular examples. These sites allow you to sign up, create a profile and start writing, as well as letting you discover and read others’ blogs.
Examples: Yelp, TripAdvisor
One more type of social media to consider are consumer review networks like Yelp and TripAdvisor.
These are part review section, part message board. They let users rate and share their experiences with businesses, which prospective customers can look up before they shop/dine/etc.
The message board part of these sites can also offer a lot of value, which TripAdvisor’s forums are a great example of.
There are a few different ways to create social media apps.
The method you choose will depend on what type of social media app you’re looking to build, the resources you have to work with, and the scope of your app (e.g. an enterprise project or a small side project).
We’ll share some examples of how other apps were built later, and giving our recommendation on what we feel is the best way to create a social media app today. But first, you need to understand the different options:
The first option entails programming your app in native mobile frameworks.
Native development allows you to tailor your social media app specifically to each platform, and the design specifications and features of that device. However, it also means a lot of expense and complexity, as you’ll need to develop two separate apps to launch for Android and iOS (as you should).
Hybrid or cross-platform development lets you write code that works on multiple platforms and devices, as opposed to code that only works on iOS or Android.
This saves you time, money, and complexity moving forward, if potentially sacrificing flexibility.
The definition of hybrid frameworks/hybrid app development and cross-platform frameworks is somewhat cloudy. There’s not exactly a standard definition for each. But generally, we can think of them as such:
Building hybrid or cross-platform social media apps will require a different programming language or framework (such as React Native or Ionic), and developers who are proficient in that framework. In most cases, it will be more efficient than building natively.
Writing code to develop apps from scratch may be outside the expertise or budget of many small businesses or hobbyists.
In this case, you might want to use a social media app builder to help you create an app without writing code or hiring developers.
App builders come in many different forms. Some are very simple solutions that basically give you a template you can fill in with the name and logo of your app, and let you pick and choose which features you want.
Others are more flexible, allowing you to create an app that looks and feels to the end user as if it were a custom app.
Unless you’re coming in with a business plan backed by strong partners and a lot of investment, app builders are the way to go. The trick is finding the right app builder, and following the right process to build an app that doesn’t look like a cookie-cutter, template app.
MobiLoud is the way to do that. It converts any website or web app into mobile apps, giving you full freedom to create a full-featured social media app using web technologies, then convert it into apps that look and feel like native apps (but without the huge investment).
To help you budget your project, here’s a rough idea of what it will cost to create apps using different development tools or methods.
Keep in mind that these are very rough estimates, and can vary greatly depending on the complexity of your project, the length of the development process, and the kind of features you want to include in your app.
The cost of building a native app can be anywhere from $20,000 to $300,000 or more per platform (Android/iOS).
Simple apps will come in at the low end of this range, and more complicated projects at the other.
A social media mobile app will likely be mildly complex, so you can expect, at a minimum, creating a new social media app will be around the middle of the aforementioned range.
Let’s estimate it as $100,000 to build a native social media app. Multiply that by two, as you’ll want to launch on Android and iPhone.
That comes to a rough estimate of $200,000. On top of this, you’ll have maintenance costs of approximately 15-20% of the initial cost per year.
This will be around $30,000 per year for updates and maintenance.
Building cross-platform, with frameworks like React Native or Ionic, will allow you to save money compared to building separate native iOS and Android apps.
Cross-platform development generally costs around 50-75% of what building two native apps does.
With that, we can estimate the cost of a cross-platform social media app to be around $100,000-150,000.
Maintenance costs on top of that will be approximately $15,000-$22,500 per year.
With MobiLoud, you don’t need to pay expensive developers. Having worked out a streamlined process for converting web apps to mobile apps, we can ship your app a lot faster, which also means significantly lower cost.
Taking into account the cost of a MobiLoud subscription, and upfront costs, it will cost from $2,540 to launch your app.
This includes a full year’s subscription.
The ongoing cost moving forward, on our startup plan, is $170 per month ($2,040 per year). This covers all updates, maintenance, fixes and support, the same as you’d be paying tens of thousands for if you go with native or cross-platform developers.
Most popular social media apps are mostly built using a combination of cross-platform and native developing frameworks.
Keep in mind that companies like Meta have nearly unlimited resources available to them, and massive development teams able to write custom builds using multiple programming languages.
This is probably unrealistic for your app, though, unless you have a ton of investors on board.
Meta released its own cross-platform development framework, React Native, which is used in many big apps today, including the Facebook app.
Of course, for an app as big as Facebook, there’s a lot of custom work under the hood. Facebook uses C++, Objective-C(++), and Swift, alongside React Native, and Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP for the web app.
This post gives an interesting and informative look at the backend architecture of the Facebook iOS app.
Instagram is built in Django, a python-based web framework. There are a number of other frameworks used as well, particularly in converting their web to a mobile app, including a combination of React Native and native mobile frameworks.
Twitter was originally built for the web using Ruby on Rails. Their mobile app uses native iOS/Android frameworks, coded to connect to the same backend of their web app.
Unlike older social media apps, TikTok was built mobile-first. That’s why the bulk of it is built using native programming languages, such as Swift, Java, C, C+ and Kotlin.
Now let’s jump into the process of creating your own social networking app.
The examples above may seem complex and daunting, particularly if you’re not coming from a coding background. But it’s actually more straightforward to create a social media app than you’d think.
Here’s a broad look at how you can do it.
We don’t want to get too in-depth into the ideation process of creating a social media app here - the purpose of this guide is to walk you through the technical “how-to” of building a social media app, rather than helping you create the perfect business plan.
However, we will briefly mention the importance of finding a focused target audience.
You don’t want to compete with Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. These networks are far too big, and thinking you can build the next Facebook is incredibly ambitious.
You’re better off focusing on building a social network for a smaller audience. It could be a social media app for members of a specific profession, or for people in a certain location.
In other words, “niche down”. Even the big social networks did this at first - Facebook was created as a social network for Harvard University students, for example. Don’t try to take over the world straight away.
Think about what kind of features you want or need in your app.
These might include:
Consider which features are a “must”, which are a “nice to have”, and discard the rest.
Once you know what features you want in your app, and have a broad idea of what you want your app to look like, you can build a “minimum viable product” or MVP.
This is a semi-functional version of your app, not yet fully fleshed out but enough to get an idea of how it will look and feel, and what, if anything, you need to improve on.
An MVP gives you greater clarity on the direction you need to go, and potentially even get feedback from your target users, stakeholders and investors, without going through the full time and money investment of building a complete app.
Your MVP will have some deeper functionality missing, but it should show close to what the UI and UX will be on the finished app.
You’ll also want to build your MVP as a web app first. Testers can use it in their mobile browser for now, and later you’ll build it as a mobile app.
No-code app builders like Bubble, Glide and Webflow are great options for building quick MVPs with minimal time and money spent.
Once you’ve gathered feedback on your MVP and iterated on any issues or improvements you’ve identified, build it into a fully working web app.
You could build straight for mobile here. But in most cases, even if your target audience are all mobile users, it still makes more sense to build your app as a web app first.
Even mobile-first apps like Snapchat, as you saw earlier, are often built using primarily web technologies and frameworks.
There are a few reasons why.
Unless you have a lot of investment capital to work with and/or a mobile app development team already in place, you’ll find it’s far more efficient to build a web app than a mobile app.
You can still build it mobile-first, ensuring it’s fully optimized for mobile browsers. Converting it to apps for Android and iOS comes next.
Once you’ve built a mobile-optimized web app, you can use MobiLoud to convert it into mobile apps.
MobiLoud wraps your web app in mobile code, allowing it to function on mobile operating systems. The app works just the same as it does on the web, you can keep working on it and make changes in the web, using the same web frameworks or platforms, yet to the end user it will look like fully native apps.
Even massive apps like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter build their mobile apps using a hybrid/cross-platform approach like this, because of how much simpler it is.
You’ll convert your app to mobile with MobiLoud in four easy steps.
Our team handles everything, from coding to initial testing for bugs/usability issues to submitting your apps to the app store.
All you need to do is make sure your app is functional and optimized for the mobile web, and give a little input on the mobile apps.
We won’t get too deep into the weeds of marketing your social media app. But we’ll touch briefly on what to do after launch.
The first thing is to get your app in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. This is a minimum for any app publisher, as it gets your app in front of millions of potential users, and also shows that your app/business is legitimate and trustworthy.
Second, for a social media app, the network effect is key. A social app provides more value and generates more user engagement the higher the number of active users it has.
It’s vital to get over the threshold for when the network effect can take over, and you start acquiring users organically.
Consider running paid ads or something similar as an aggressive marketing campaign to get early momentum for your app.
Finally, ensure you’re monitoring your app analytics and feedback from your users, either in the form of direct feedback or reviews on the app stores. Make changes, where appropriate, based on this feedback to improve your app’s user experience over time.
With all the competition, and the massive social media apps that exist today, is it really worth building a social media app?
Trying to build the next Facebook, Instagram or TikTok will be difficult. Unless you have significant backing and a track record of business success, it’s probably far too ambitious to try and compete with these heavyweights.
The network effect these apps have is just far too much, not to mention the resources they have to work with.
Yet there’s still space to build a successful social networking app if you niche down.
Social media apps in general are a huge part of our lives. We spend over 145 minutes on average per day in social media apps. This number has been steady, or increasing, each year.
With all this time spent on social media apps, and how normalized they are today, there’s room in the market if you can fill a specific niche.
If you have ambitions of launching your own social networking app, there has never been a better time to do it than right now.
Social media is a huge part of our lives, and it isn’t slowing down. And the tools available to businesses today, such as no-code web app builders and mobile app development tools like MobiLoud, mean it’s easier and cheaper than it’s even been to develop an app.
The process we gave in this post is the most straightforward and realistic way for a small business or startup to launch a social media app in 2023.
If you want a closer look, or you want to kick off your project, get in touch with us now. Book a free demo call to discuss your unique needs, get an overview of the MobiLoud platform, learn what we do for you, and view a working prototype of your app.
You can join over 2,000 companies that trusted us to help them build, launch and maintain high-quality mobile apps for a fraction of what it would have cost them to build native apps.