Step-by-Step Guide: How to Make a Social Media App from Scratch

Social media has undoubtedly changed modern human society. We’ve come a long way from the early days of Myspace and Friendster with the latest versions of Facebook, X (Twitter), and TikTok.

But one constant holds true across the board—there’s a massive demand for social connection through digital platforms.

You may be shocked to learn the social media world is still growing. According to Forbes, over 4.9 billion people worldwide use social media. That number is expected to reach 5.85 billion by 2027.

Revenue growth across these platforms is growing at an even higher rate. The social media app market is valued at roughly $49.09 billion, with forecasts projecting a CAGR of 26.2% between now and 2030.

This means that you don’t have to compete with Instagram or YouTube to make money with a social media app. If you can carve out just a fraction of a percentage of this market, you can still have a multi-million dollar business

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99% of all people on social media use mobile devices to access their favorite platforms, with a whopping 78% doing so exclusively from their smartphones. 

Creating a social media app from scratch may sound daunting, but it’s an attainable task if you follow the right blueprint. This guide will walk you through the step-by-step process to get your app idea off the ground. 

Step 1 – Define Your App’s Purpose and Target Audience

Creating a successful social media app begins with a clear understanding of its purpose and the audience it intends to serve. This step is crucial, as it lays the foundation for all subsequent decisions in the app development process.

First, you need to pinpoint the primary goal of your app.

What specific need or problem does it address? Is it meant for sharing photos, connecting professionals, discussing hobbies, or something else entirely?

This objective should resonate with potential users and offer them a compelling reason to choose your app over existing options on the market. 

When narrowing in your target audience, consider factors like age, location, interest, and online behavior. Are you targeting young adults or working professionals? Is the app designed for a local community or a global connection? 

Don’t try to become the next Facebook. Saying your social media app is for “everyone” will be a recipe for disaster—as this approach often results in the app appealing to nobody at all. 

Instead, try to corner a specific market and fill a need for those users. 

Use tools like surveys, focus groups, and social media analysis to gather insights about your target audience. What are their likes and dislikes? How do they interact with current social media platforms? What are they missing in existing apps that your app can provide? 

This research will help you tailor your app to meet the specific needs and desires of your target audience.

Step 2 – Establish a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and Strategy

Differentiating your app in the competitive social media landscape is vital for capturing attention and building a user base. A unique selling proposition (USP) is what sets your app apart from others, making it unique and appealing to your target audience. 

Your USP could be a novel feature, a unique approach to social interaction, or a specific focus that addresses a particular need or interest.

To help you brainstorm and help you further understand this concept, here are some potential USPs to consider for your social media app:

  • A social media platform dedicated to connecting local artists and art enthusiasts.
  • A social networking app that focuses on real-time, location-based social networking for event discovery.
  • Social media with advanced privacy controls for users concerned about online security.
  • A social network app with built-in language learning tools and cultural exchange opportunities. 
  • Niche social media apps for pet owners, eco-conscious and environment awareness networks, social activism, etc.
  • An app with a focus on mental health with features promoting positive online behavior and well-being.
  • Integration of augmented reality for innovative content creation.
  • A community-driven social platform where content is solely generated and moderated by users.

Each of these USPs addresses specific needs or interests, providing a clear reason for users to choose your app over others. These are just a handful of examples, but there are literally thousands of different ways to approach this. 

One real-life example is the social media app Daylyy. Created with BuildFire, Daylyy sets itself apart from the crowd with a USP that focuses on authenticity.

It targets users who are seeking a more genuine and unfiltered social media experience. Unlike other platforms where content is often heavily curated, Daylyy encourages its users to share real-time, unfiltered content. This approach taps into a growing desire for more authentic online interactions and sets Daylyy apart from other social media apps. 

All photos must be taken through the app. The platform doesn’t have any public comments either. Instead, users can connect with each other through private conversations. 

You can learn more about Daylyy’s story and how they leveraged their strategy for success here.

For more inspiration, we have a list of low-cost and easy business ideas that make money—many of which can be applied to a social media app. 

Step 3 – Conduct Comprehensive Market Research

Comprehensive market research is essential for social media app development. This research enables you to understand the current landscape of the market, trends that are shaping the industry, and the behaviors and preferences of your potential users.

Start by keeping an eye on the latest trends in the social media space. This includes tracking technological advancements, shifts in user behavior, and changing patterns in content consumption. Staying up-to-date with these trends is crucial to ensure that your app remains relevant and appealing to your target audience.

Analyzing your competitors is another key aspect of market research. Understand what other apps in the space are doing, their strengths and weaknesses, feature sets, user interface designs, marketing strategies, and user feedback. 

Identifying areas where other social media sharing networks fall short or where users express dissatisfaction can highlight opportunities for your app to offer something different and better.

Gathering direct feedback from potential users is equally important. Conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups to understand what users are looking for in a social media app. 

Utilize online tools and social media platforms to analyze comments and discussions about existing apps. This information can guide you in designing features and functionalities that truly resonate with your target audience.

For example, a recent study found that 74% of people are tired of seeing ads on social media. 

You might see a study like this and decide to create an ad-free social media experience to give your app an edge against other social networking apps. 

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Additional Reading: How to Conduct Mobile App Market Research

Step 4 – Choose Essential and Innovative Features

Choosing the right features is crucial in the development of your social media app. The features should cater to the basic needs of your users and also introduce something innovative to make your app stand out. It’s important to balance essential functionalities with unique, engaging features.

Start with the essential features that form the backbone of any social media app, such as user profiles, news feeds, messaging capabilities, and privacy settings. These core functionalities are what users typically expect from a social media platform.

Once you have the essentials covered, think about innovative features that can enhance the user experience and differentiate your app. These could be advanced functionalities or creative ways to interact with content and other users.

Here are some example features for a social media app:

  • Photo and video sharing
  • In-app messaging
  • Live streaming
  • Augmented reality filters
  • Customizable news feeds
  • Location-based communities
  • E-commerce integration
  • Gamification elements
  • Virtual events and meetups
  • Advanced privacy controls
  • Content curation tools
  • Mental health and well-being features
  • Interactive polls and quizzes
  • Collaborative content creation

By selecting a combination of essential and innovative features, your social media app can provide a familiar yet unique experience, attracting and retaining users in a competitive market.

Building a social media network with BuildFire makes it easy to add features with just a few clicks.

Our feature marketplace has over 150+ pre-built functions that can be added to your social app.

One piece of advice—start small. You don’t need to have everything built on the launch day. 

Focus first on the features that are an absolute must for your app to function on a basic level while still covering what makes your app unique compared to market alternatives. 

So many businesses get lost in the concept of creating their own social media app that they lose sight of things like user engagement. Get active users first by appealing to their needs, and expand from there. 

You can look at existing social media platforms that took the same approach. The biggest players in this space are still coming out with new features and advancements. 

Step 5 – Select a Suitable Business Model

At this point, you need to select a business model to support the success and sustainability of your social media app. Your business model should align with your app’s goals and target audience. Here are some popular revenue models to consider:

  • Advertising: Generate revenue by displaying ads within your app. This can include banner ads, sponsored content, or video ads. The key is to balance ad presence with user experience to ensure that ads are not overly intrusive.
  • Freemium: Offer the basic app for free, with premium features available for a fee. This model entices users to try your app and then pay for additional functionalities, such as advanced customization options or ad-free experiences.
  • Subscription: Charge users a recurring fee for access to your app or premium features. Subscriptions can provide a steady revenue stream and are often used for apps that offer ongoing value, like exclusive content or enhanced networking opportunities.
  • In-App Purchases: Enable users to buy virtual goods, additional features, or special content within the app. This model works well for apps that offer customizable experiences or have an engaged user base willing to pay for specific enhancements.
  • Transaction Fees: If your app facilitates transactions, such as in a marketplace or e-commerce platform, you can charge a fee for each transaction. This model is suitable for apps that connect buyers and sellers or offer a platform for financial transactions.

By carefully selecting a business model that fits your app’s purpose and audience, you can create a viable path to revenue generation and long-term success.

If you’re looking for additional tips on how to make money with your own social network app, check out the following resources:

Step 6 – Prioritize User-Friendly Design

One thing to keep in mind when you’re building a social media app is the importance of a user-friendly design. 

The design of your app is not just about aesthetics—it’s about creating an intuitive and enjoyable user experience. In the world of social media apps, where user engagement is key, the design can make or break your app’s success.

A well-designed app should be easy to navigate, with a clean and organized interface that makes it simple for users to find what they’re looking for. Pay attention to the layout of elements such as buttons, icons, and menus. They should be placed logically and consistently throughout the app to ensure a seamless user journey.

Color schemes, fonts, and imagery also play a significant role in the overall user experience. These should align with your brand identity and be visually appealing without being overwhelming or distracting. The goal is to create an environment where users feel comfortable and engaged.

Another crucial aspect of design is responsiveness and speed. Users expect social media apps to load quickly and function smoothly on various devices and screen sizes. Ensuring your social media app is responsive and performs well is essential to keep users satisfied and engaged.

It’s also important to consider the established design standards of popular social media apps. Users are often accustomed to certain layouts and functionalities, such as swiping to view the next post or tapping a heart icon to like content. While it’s important to be innovative, straying too far from these familiar design elements can be jarring and may hinder user adoption.

Step 7 – Develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

An MVP is a version of your app with just enough features to be usable by early customers, who can then provide feedback for future product development. This approach allows you to test your app concept in the real market with minimal resources before fully committing to its development.

The key to creating an effective MVP is to focus on your app’s core functionality. 

Identify the most essential features that represent the heart of your app’s value proposition. These should be the features that directly address the needs and interests of your target audience, as identified in your market research.

Developing an MVP is not just about building a simplified version of your app—it’s also about learning and adapting. 

By launching an MVP, you have the opportunity to gather real user feedback. This feedback is invaluable as it provides insights into what users like, what they don’t, and what additional features they might be looking for.

It’s important to be prepared for both positive and negative feedback and to use this information constructively. Analyze user interactions, track engagement metrics, and listen to user suggestions. This will guide you in refining your app, fixing any issues, and adding new features that align with user needs and preferences.

Remember, the MVP is a starting point. It’s a way to validate your app idea and gain a deeper understanding of your user base. From there, you can iterate and evolve your app, adding features and making improvements based on user feedback and market demand.

Step 8 – Opt for the Right Technology Stack

Your technology stack is the collection of software, tools, and technologies you use to build and run your app. It’s important to select technologies that not only support your app’s functionality but also offer scalability as your user base grows.

When it comes to creating a successful social media app, BuildFire provides everything you need to build, launch, and scale your app under one roof.

That’s because BuildFire is so much more than just an app builder and app development company. We’re a complete mobile backend as a service (MBaaS)—meaning your entire mobile app technology is handled for you. From servers to app infrastructure, databases, and supporting every possible monetization method, we have you covered. 

BuildFire’s technology is not only user-friendly but also robust and scalable. It can handle growing numbers of users and increasing data demands, ensuring that your app remains fast and reliable as your audience expands.

For those who need more advanced customization or have specific requirements, BuildFire provides access to professional app developers. These experts can help you tailor your app to your exact specifications, ensuring that your vision is realized to its fullest potential.

Ready to build a social media app from scratch? Contact BuildFire today, or start your 14-day free trial

Nic Hughart

Nic is the VP of Sales at BuildFire. He's a proven sales leader with 20+ years of experience in SMB, MM & ENT level sales markets, with more than a decade in the SaaS segment. Nic specializes in leadership, hiring, training, developing, and optimizing growing sales teams.