Having the audience of 85% of the total number of Internet users, social media have become a tremendous tool to influence the public opinion.
They have transformed from isolated sandboxes for certain layers of people into powerful news media and communication tools.
The statistics says that an average person uses at least 4 to 5 various social networks for various purposes – learning about new technologies, products, and services, chatting with friends, colleagues, or employers, and even for buying/renting houses, cars, and other types of property.
With that being said, social networking sites have become a great weapon to promote, sell and, generally, market various products and services. You can easily reach your target audiences using social media instead of wasting time and resources on inventing a new bicycle,
Our article is purposed to tell those businesses, who are interested in engaging new customers, partners or leads to their products and services, which challenges they need to overcome and which benefits they may get after deciding to build a social network. For obtaining some reference statistics, we used Global Digital Report 2019 and its updated version as of Q2 2019 prepared by Hootsuite.
1. Know Your Audience
As soon as you decide to proceed with creating a social network, you must identify your audience, i.e. active and potential users of the solution.This is a very important step you have to take in order to start a social network, as all the following steps are based on your audience.
In order to know your community, use various filters. Such filters can be Internet polls where you ask people to share their vision on a new social network. It can also be test use of the social network demo where you test how real people accept your social media platform and implement appropriate changes and improvements based on test users’ feedback.
As a result of target audience definition, you will find out which scent to add to your social platform – either it will be a business-oriented social network, or it will be a web portal connecting people by interests.
2. Key Features and Functions of a Social Network Site
Before building a social networking site, you must first define which features and functions it will have. This point is essential as different social networks may have different sets of features. Actually, you may use the same test use and market research tools as described above, in order to find it out.
Let’s examine some of the most important features of any successful social networking site according to the users.
This feature allows users to make friends with other users of a social network. Since people are mostly social and like communicating with other people on things they like/dislike, this feature is a must and has to be thoroughly elaborated immediately after you decide to build a social network website from scratch.
Examples: Add to friends feature (Facebook), Subscribe feature (Instagram), Connect feature (LinkedIn).
- Photo/video/… uploading
With today’s increase in the Internet speed and because people like audio and visual content, you have no choice but to realize this feature in your social network. When users are not able to upload their photos, home videos, favorite music tracks or share important business documents with their colleagues, they will search for a social network that allows such operations.
Examples: Stories feature (Instagram), Attach feature (Facebook, LinkedIn etc.)
Everyone loves when things are simple. Nobody likes to take extra actions. This applies virtually to all spheres of our life. In particular, it works well for software: most people prefer to have all tools in a single bundle instead of using separate applications. Examples: Facebook with its Messenger and Instagram with its Direct.
Their users can easily communicate without leaving the social network site. That’s a great example of the right user retention strategy. And you must consider this point when building a social networking site.
- Event Calendars
People often forget about important and unimportant events. Some of us are unlucky enough to forget about wedding anniversaries, spouse’s or boss’s birthday etc. In order to ease the life of your users, think about implementing the event reminder feature when you create a social media website.
This feature is also a great business tool and benefit as it allows to notify about professional events such as business meetings/forums/conferences etc.
Examples: Birthday and Event email and push notifications (Facebook), Notifications (LinkedIn) etc.
3. Pick Up the Right Technology for Social Network Development
After the list of features and functions you want to add to your social network platform is compiled, it is the right time to think about which technologies you will use to make a social media website. At this stage, you won’t be able to do it alone unless you are a comprehensive software engineer. If you want your social networking portal to use the latest and the most relevant technologies, call for professional developers. It will save your company time and costs and reroute them to purely business needs. In case you feel that you will manage to develop a social networking site in-house, we would recommend to perform analysis of the major existing social networks. You will learn which technologies they use and how they apply these techs to succeed.
4. Be Ready to Scale Your Solution
DIGIS always recommends not to start any project with packing it with all possible and impossible features and functions. We advise to start with an MVP (minimum viable product). This approach helps be flexible both in terms of schedule and costs: you don’t need to allocate all available resources and funds and dedicate all your time to build a social media platform so sophisticated that it may not be needed. You build a social networking site that has a basic set of functions sufficient to test the concept and validate your business idea.
If the concept and business idea are validated and found to be viable and profitable on a basic system, you may go further with starting a social media site gradually adding all the remaining functionality.
With that being said, even if you start with the MVP, be sure to anticipate the future growth of your solution at the very initial stage, i.e. when planning your project. That is why choosing the right technology is so important – it allows for future scalability of a product at the lowest possible cost and within the shortest possible term.
When planning on the future scaling of your social networking portal, remember about usual stages of any social media ageing: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline.
Introduction phase is when you release your brand new social network to public and when new users start to become its members. This is the stage of initial registrations, grapevine promotion and alike. You must beware that these initial users will be mainly geeks who like trying something new.
Growth phase is when your social networking portal acquires new functions and new users. However, the number of new members does not increase as fast as during the Introduction phase. This stage anticipates that the media is close to reaching sufficient value and to being noticed by businesses and influencers. This is actually the stage when your social network can be used as a marketing, sales promotion, and customer management tool.
Maturity phase means that the number of new registrations rises very slowly and may even decrease. That is the right time for you to enable your user retention program as unless you do that, many of them will quit. One of the options is to add some new unique features to revive the users’ interest to your social media.
Decline phase is when your network has reached the maximum number of members and starts losing them. Actually, this stage is unavoidable as it follows the common evolution flow – Birth, Growing Up, Ageing, Death.
Your task is to maximize the duration of the first 3 phases and slow down the pace of the last stage.
The below figure can help understand at which stage the most popular social networks are.
5. Time to Make Money
Unless you are a philanthrope and like to help people without a reason, you aim to earn some profits when making a social network.
There are multiple ways to monetize your social media platform and get back some money you have spent to develop and launch it.
a) Ads on your social networking site: it can be sponsored posts, brand/product placements or mentions, banners, context ads and so on.
b) Products and goods sales: this can cover both digital like ebooks, games, music etc., and physical like handmade crafts, food, beverage etc..
c) Donations: passive receipts from members and visitors clicking on the Donate button placed elsewhere on your social network site.
d) Event participation: users pay for their participation in various events;
e) Partnering with influencers and other businesses by way of affiliate marketing: you place their banners on your website and they place your banners on theirs.
For proper tracking of monetization statistics, you need to connect certain Ad Networks such as Google Ad Exchange or AdSense, and affiliate networks such as Clickbooth, Affiliate Window etc.
Social networks have enormous monetization potential as they have superior audience coverage. Check the figure below to see advertising audiences of Top 5 social media.
6. Marketing and Promotion
After making a social network and establishing an appropriate monetization strategy, you may now switch to your network marketing and promotion.
Actually, some of the marketing and promotion activities need to be implemented yet at the project planning stage, i.e. when choosing the name for your network. It should be unique and reflect your business direction, audience and goals.
For efficient marketing or promotion, your social media has to be unique and special. It should attract users by offering them something special.
You may also close it for free registration immediately after the launch and distribute a limited number of invites only – people love exclusive things and they will aim to get the invite and register, as an exclusive thing cannot be bad.
Take actions to make your social network viral. Cooperate with top-notch influencers for this purpose. Influencers, as seen from the definition, lead the public opinion and even shape it. If you engage the right influencers, they will bring in their followers to your social network.
Use cross promotion technique, i.e. reach out to other social networks and offer your space for their ads and request their space for your banners.
Generally, prepare a viable SEO plan considering every aspect of your social network optimization for automated search engines. Include the efficient content publication plan anticipating where and when you will be publishing promotional posts about your social network site.
Use email promotion method, i.e. send emails to your contacts inviting them to create account in your social network. If you don’t have a large email database, purchase one or subscribe to some lead generation service. Launch a dedicated blog where you will publish news and interesting facts about your social network. Blogs are very popular today, and the people like reading interesting blogs. So make your blog interesting.
Despite the fact that there is a more or less stable number of major social networks today, you may find your own niche for starting your unique social networking platform.
With the current degree of software and technology development today, building a social network is not so difficult.
But building a “spheric horse in vacuum” is not the solution. Under the “horse” we mean something ordinary, something like already existing. Before starting to develop your social media platform, think thoroughly about the audience, coverage, functions, monetization, and other important things. Plan everything in the lowest details. Perform market studies to find the area of targeting. Make sure your network will be valuable for its users and will benefit them in a certain way.
The most important thing we recommend to think about is objective assessment of your strength: please think twice to be sure that you have enough resources and knowledge to create a successful social networking platform. In case you doubt you have, it is better to outsource development of your platform to specialized software development agencies.
If you are not sure where to look for a reputable contractor, feel free to contact DIGIS. We will be happy to help you with rough or detailed estimation of the cost and schedule of social networking site development. Moreover, DIGIS can walk the whole path, from an unclear idea and up to a ready social network release, with you, meaning that we have proven experience in building social media platforms from scratch.
An important point is that in case you ask us to draft a cost estimate for your social network creation, you won’t have to order the development from us, but you may use our cost and schedule estimate for future needs or comparison with other providers’ offers.
Our final advice for you is: be confident in your strength, and it may happen that your idea will change the world and people living in it!