Is it possible to repeat Facebook’s phenomenal success and build your own social networking site? Well, there is nothing impossible since this top-ranked platform was a simple experimental website accessible only to Harvard students. Inspirational, isn’t it?
The human desire to socialize via the latest innovative tools is constantly evolving, making this field rather fruitful. Hence, continue reading this article, and we will certainly answer your question of how to make a social media website.
MySpace marked a milestone in the era of social media websites in 2004. Since then, the number of active social network web users reached almost 3.5 billion people, according to the statistics overview in 2019.
Another fact shows that the time spent by 45% of the global population on social media ranges from 2 — 4 hours per day, which signifies that the relevance of this segment is higher than ever.
The main revenue on social networking platforms is mainly obtained from advertising: according to the Hootsuite report, it accounts for $51.3 billion in 2018. Such an indicator is expected to keep growing 10.5% annually, which makes social media the third largest advertising channel, besides television and paid search.
The statistics are striking, aren’t they? To figure out what niche to choose, let’s consider the types of existing social media websites.
The success behind any prosperous social network is explained by the ability to benefit from its users’ requirements. By following our list of the most prominent types of social media websites, you will see what business model and feature set can be applied to reach the top.
Social networking sites
By entering this segment, you can cover the needs of the users to create, share, and absorb content, hence, connect globally. Facebook is the most prominent representative that managed to transform such a simple concept into a multi-billion dollar empire that unifies not only people but also brands.
Consumer review sites
Such a successful location-based website as Yelp, for instance, has converted consumer’s desire to access businesses online, use their products, and leave corresponding reviews into high revenue social networking portal. If you wish to build this type of social media website, you should enable your users to leave feedback regarding consumed services.
Discussion forums & Publishing platforms
The development of these types of social networking websites may be best suited to cover users’ requirements to exploit a high-quality knowledge base where they can ask questions, discuss them, and publish engaging textual content. The realization of this idea made such giants of the field as Reddit, Quora, and Medium strikingly thriving, despite their simplicity and “feature modesty.”
Media hosting sites
The concept of diverse video and audio content sharing can be the core idea of your future social media hosting website. Its great potential to gather revenue from ads selling, brands’ promotions and premium subscriptions is the defining reason to opt for this segment. Youtube, for example, has absorbed all these beneficial factors and paved its way to success.
Content curation sites
Social curation type of websites is a perfect ground to convert human desire to sort and share collected content according to specific topics into an impressive platform. Pinterest, for instance, gave its users rather simple feature to “pin” whatever product they like and form collections. By following a highly-functioning business model, “network first, money later,” the platform earned its undoubted fame in this segment.
After this field overview, we suggest considering our vision on the creation of a Facebook-like site despite all this plethora of social media websites.
Why do you need to build your own Facebook-like site?
What may be more convincing than dry statistics showing the real state of affairs? The graphs below will significantly help you answer why exactly you should make a social networking website like Facebook.
As we see, the revenue doubled every year from 2009 to 2011, then continued increasing by one third from 2012 till now. The number of users is striking as well, reaching almost 2.5 billion this year. The only way to obtain these numbers is to let people socialize via the website’s unique functionality, which Facebook once successfully provided.
The idea to make a social networking website like Facebook is rather appealing because of the following business model: users are constantly looking for new networking sites they can trust, brands, in turn, are looking for potential consumers. You become the one who may benefit from such needs and develop a unified portal that will meet the requirements of both sides.
However, if you want to create a social network like Facebook, it’s desirable to identify its weaknesses and exclude them during the development of your product. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a good example reminding social media website creators to strengthen constantly the systems that equally ensure data security and data privacy.
Once you are settled with the idea to start your own social network similar to Facebook, the perfect time comes to talk about its monetization.
There is a strong correlation between what segment of social media networks you’ll decide to enter and the choice of monetization strategy. So, let’s dive right in and look at the three most effective ways to make money with your website:
Renting ad space
By choosing this strategy, you may either provide your users with self-serve advertising that allows placing their ads on the “sidebar” of the page or letting brands use special tools, similar to Facebook’s Dynamic Ads. The latter one is called targeted advertising, which is a rather mindful approach in marketing as it displays only those ads that are relevant to the users.
This type of monetization is best-suited for publishing platforms (like Medium) or media hosting websites (like Youtube). In case you want to charge your users for access to specific high-quality content, then this strategy will suit your network perfectly. You may implement this strategy by using plugins for content restriction, similar to Membership plugin, or other technology appropriate for your business model.
Affiliate marketing /Memberships
It is one of the fastest ways to obtain higher ROI over the short term. The core of such monetization is to promote on your social media website the product/brand you choose, letting your users click on the affiliate link and make a purchase. If the transaction is successful, you will split the sale price that is a rather effective way in case your website has just been launched.
Now when we have explored the most widely used monetization strategies, let’s take a look at those that made Facebook such a lucrative platform.
Facebook business model overview
Facebook’s striking fame is explained by its successful business approach. It’s highly functioning due to the following formula: users’ data + AI/Ml algorithms processing this data + advertisers = major part of Facebook’s revenue.
With this pattern and by following advertising strategies, Facebook managed to gain 93% of its total revenue for the first quarter of 2019:
- promoted posts & boosted posts (paid option allowing users “boost” particular content in the newsfeed);
- sidebar ads (let advertisers customize their ads and place them in the right-hand column on desktop);
- sponsored stories (advertising option to reach the audience only connected to a page; won’t be shown to other users).
The website’s business model is also formed with the help of users’ payments that they make within the platform. Facebook placed a great diversity of its products, e.g., Candy Crush game, Zynga Poker, and many others, to offer users not only sponsored products but also native engaging ones.
Facebook’s business model wouldn’t have succeeded if the platform hadn’t been so user-oriented. Such an approach has been highly functioning for 15 years already and continues evolving according to the latest tendencies and growing demands of the users.
When starting social media platform development, we recommend integrating not only inherent to any social network one-size-fits-all features that are listed below but also innovative ones to stand out from your market competitors.
Profile creation and editing
To enable your users to exploit the full functionality of this feature, make sure you let them customize personal profiles with the help of diverse toolkit. It’s also desirable to integrate an option that will allow hiding certain data from the rest of the users if such a need appears.
In order to convert your potential users into loyal ones, make sure you provide them with all necessary and engaging tools for content creation and publishing. One of the most popular options to add are various editorial tools for textual posts, free and premium templates that users may customize to create unique posts design, etc.
Like, comment, and share options
Like, comment and share are certainly three pillars of any social media website. The human desire to become famous is what you may convert into a beneficial business model. You may offer your users to boost their content, which will attract great influencers to your social network willing to pay for their promotion.
It’s vital to make newsfeed’s UX simple and intuitively understandable. People should be able to easily understand how to share posts, upload content, and adjust unwanted posts in the settings. Don’t forget to make your platform UGC-oriented (user-generated content-oriented) to reduce users’ churn.
By integrating the messaging tool, it is desirable to enable secure data exchange between your potential users that may be surely guaranteed by the integration of correctly set up TLS/SSL protocols.
Once the target audience is defined, and the social media segment is chosen, let’s proceed to the actual stages that will help create a social network like Facebook.
The main thing is the idea
When you come up with some clear concept, it’s vital to check its viability to build a social media platform from scratch successfully. You can do it yourself by developing a thorough business analysis. However, this is a time-consuming task. So it may be wise to turn to the services of a business analytics company or the full cycle development company like Aimprosoft.
This type of IT-vendor has already established scheme and expertise in idea assessment that eliminates difficulties and risks. Moreover, it eases and accelerates the company’s development process as the creation of the product in such a case is done from scratch.
Then is a detailed marketing research
The customer is at the heart of any social media website. So to make weight tactical and strategic decisions to satisfy your customers’ needs best and reduce extra costs on your project implementation, detailed marketing research is required.
Whether you conduct it yourself without outsourcing or hire a specialized agency, we recommend taking the following steps:
- Define the problem. Developing questions is necessary to clear up what information you need and how you can get it to solve your issue(s). For example, it can be questions about your social media website users, their habits, demographics, etc.
- Develop your marketing research plan. When you come up to the research plan, the following techniques are usually included:
- Collect valid data. It may be of two types:
- quantitative (numbers, data);
- qualitative (non-numerical, approximate, and characterizing).
- Analyze gathered data for marketing strategy design. At this stage, it is vital to single out trends against specific pieces of information.
If you work with a marketing agency, the data analysis should be summed up in a report. In case it is done within your organization, provide a summary of the study where the process of data collection, the results, conclusions, and recommendations based on the gathered results are described. The purpose of such a report is defining your course of action.
Keep in mind that a marketing research campaign should be performed not only before your actual project deployment but throughout all its life cycle as market environment trends are constantly changing, and you will have to improve accordingly.
With a clear overview of the marketing research milestones and benefits for your business, let’s dive deeper into the question of how to identify your target audience correctly.
Finding your target audience
The right choice of your TA is the key to a prosperous social network and higher ROI accordingly. To define what user model is more suitable for the content and services of your website, we suggest to pose the following questions:
Who? — define overall portrait of your audience considering: demographics parameter, namely age and gender, and socio-economic status of the users;
Why? — identify your product’s unique features and reasons why your potential customers should opt for you over the competitors;
What? — analyze with the help of psychographics what value proposition you may offer to your future TA that will meet their expectations and cover basic needs;
Where? — choose a particular geographical segment where your type of social media website will be best-suited, and most likely, a roaring success.
Once you identify the target audience, it’s desirable to proceed to the creation of a strategy for your product’s development.
Strategy and planning
The data collected from previous stages is the basis of your product strategy. To complete it, include the following aspects:
- design an overall concept of the product with a full set of desirable features;
- form a vision of potential growth of the website, in terms of the revenue and audience;
- plan the expansion on other platforms, mobile, for example, or other geographical zones and market segments.
Based on your documentation, a software vendor develops SoW (Statement of Work) and technical specifications. We at Aimprosoft, for instance, carefully drawn up during 1 — 2 weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the project.
After this, a roadmapping approach is applied. It helps mark all milestones of the website development schematically. It also assists in setting time frames of each feature realization and prioritizing task implementation.
The most crucial benefit of a roadmap is that it’s dynamic and allows adjusting changes in the course of the development. It eases the working process for the developers and is rather time-saving in terms of project creation.
Mockups and prototypes
It’s desirable to opt for a comprehensive approach to the social media platform design by creating mockups and prototypes first.
Mockup is a middle to high-fidelity static overview of your future design that assists you with choosing a proper color scheme, content layouts, spacing around components that will appeal to your users. Prototype displays everything to you interactively fully depicting the website’s functionality.
These stages are a part of a pre-development process that is designed by your software partner. If you decide to create them yourself, consider such highly functional tools as Axure, Principle, or Invision.
Finally, mockups and prototypes help you minimize the following business risks:
- reduce the time spent by the designers on fixing uncoordinated aspects;
- analyze the overview of the final product before its actual development;
- obtain a cost-saving way to make adjustments on the early stage of product development.
Once the design groundwork for your future social network is laid, let’s consider a focus group testing stage that helps to identify the product’s gaps and check whether it meets potential TA expectations or not.
Focus group testing
Focus group testing can be conducted either on the early stage of your social media platform development right after Proof of Concept creation or having developed an MVP. It is also possible to perform it to analyze deeper the market or test innovative aspects of your product before its implementation.
This stage usually requires 6 — 8 representatives who best suit your potential target audience and specialist who will coordinate the whole process by asking the group questions regarding their attitude towards the product.
Its primary purpose is to define inconveniences while using the website, insufficiency in feature set, and highlight the overall network’s weaknesses for further improvements.
Now with a thoroughly designed business strategy and graphical representation of your future product, it’s time to overview how to code a social networking site from scratch.
Based on created mockups and prototypes, your software vendor proceeds to their technical realization, namely UI and UX development. To avoid frequently occurring mistakes related to social media platform design, we suggest following the tips we gathered in the table below:
|adhere to unified philosophy of the color (chosen color scheme should appeal to certain users’ emotions);||thoughtful Information Architecture (all parts of website’s content are arranged understandably);|
|simplicity in terms of colors;||user-friendly navigation;|
|vivid call-to-action buttons;||intelligibility in website’s functionality|
|appealing layout;||moderate customization;|
|color consistency on user’s interface;||minimalistic distractions (reduce popups, auto-play content, etc.)|
Finally, keep in mind that both UI and UX have complementary nature. It’s impossible to develop a successful website if it has an appealing design, however poor in usability, and vice versa. However, if you have a problem with a choice of appropriate design to your social media network, our specialists will help you opt for a proper solution.
Having observed all the pitfalls and according to solutions related to the client-side constituent of social network development, let’s see what vital aspects of the server-side part should be taken into consideration.
If you build a social media platform from scratch, you want to make it work seamlessly and lower the percentage of users’ churn. Hence, it’s crucial to consider the following aspects during back-end development:
- Proper rendering
server-side rendering (SSR)
This is a more traditional and static way of website’s content rendering that may provide delayed page load up to a couple of seconds. If you are creating blogging or publishing social media platforms, such an option is the one for you as it doesn’t require fast and immediate response between subsequent page loads.
A rendering approach is performed by back-end developers in collaboration with or without HTML/CSS-coder, with the help of either Spring framework, Velocity library, or other efficient Java technologies. Also, mind that unlike CSR (client-side rendering), microservices back-end architecture is not applicable for SSR; hence opt for monolith architecture.
client-side rendering (CSR)
In the case of Facebook-like site development, this type of data displaying is more suitable. Such an approach is more dynamic and responsive and allows creating a network that will provide you with fast website rendering after the initial first load.
- Enhancing security
Structured Query Language (SQL) injection prevention
Your users’ sensitive data, such as authentication details and credit card information, may be vulnerable to SQL injections in case of insufficient security. To prevent such malicious attacks, make sure you place secure Java database driver with prepared statement feature that sends query and data to the database server separately, avoiding the intervention of such attack into the records inside the database.
PHP database driver, for instance, doesn’t provide such protections, so developer must protect it using escape input data or some other technology.
As you can see, the choice of programming language and/or framework influence the stack of the tools that secure your product, which, in turn, should be used correctly.
protection from Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks
If your social media network doesn’t have properly secured input data validation, your website is open to XSS attacks. In this case, consider integrating input data filtration upon its arrival or encode your data on the output.
To make sure that your users’ data is securely stored, it’s desirable to opt for reliable, top-ranked cloud web hosting providers, such as AWS, A2 Hosting, HostGator, or InMotion.
In terms of social media website creation, the integration of SSL type of data encryption is considered one of the most effective and obligatory security measures. It prevents hackers from obtaining your users’ sensitive data while it is in transit.
The security of numerous websites is often compromised due to outdated software components. Always make sure that all parts of your programs are updated, whether it’s the latest version of the plugin or CMS so that there will be no open website’s vulnerabilities for attacks.
- Admin panel
This is one of the most vital tools for the moderation of any social media website that can not be overlooked. It’s a full-fledged application that interoperates with your website and aims to enhance the capabilities of your business by:
- providing insight into the user-related functions (user’s behavior);
- detecting the violation of website’s regulations and policy;
- displaying business metrics (KPIs).
- Improving performance
The more famous your network becomes, the more concurrent workloads are running within the website. In such a case, the maintenance of horizontal scalability is a must, which can be achieved by your vendor’s right choice of load balancers.
Content delivery network
In case you aim to popularize your network not only in one particular geographical location but globally, you may boost your website performance by using CDN (content delivery network). Such a solution provides faster delivery of the content to your end-users who are located far from the hosted server, by utilizing nearest or local edge servers.
Content size optimization
To optimize the work of your website, you may require software that compresses audio, video, textual, and other types of files. You may use a Gzip application that compresses and decompresses files either statically or dynamically, both improving website’s page load almost by 15%. Moreover, it’s better to store compressed files than compress them on the frontend side every time the request comes.
- Making website fault-tolerant
Numerous factors may negatively affect the functioning of your website. Fault tolerance is one of the most vital aspects of any social network, which helps to counteract such intrusions. It may be provided with the help of such preventive measures:
- enable clustering, the process which helps replicate the actions of the server in case of its sudden failure to function;
- make sure you have a fault-tolerant database, which will take over the work of the main one in case of its outage;
- integrate reliable communication channels which will ensure a secure and consistent exchange of data and reduce risks of connection loss;
- provide database backup to eliminate the possibility of sensitive data loss;
- ensure disaster recovery procedures. Such procedures will depend on whether you choose cloud computing or on-premises. In the case of the former one, you will have to enable cloud migration of data to the other region. If you choose the latter option, make sure you have a backup provider or data center in other geographical area. Also if you use on-premises environment you may switch to cloud computing in this case;
Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployments (CD) are indispensable practices that enable efficient and flexible workflow that eventually leads to faster and bugless deployment. DevOps engineers are those who provide and maintain a correctly functioning process of CI/CD setup into the development lifecycle. By opting for this approach to the development of your social media website, you may obtain:
- minimized bug emergence when you launch the website as regressions are caught earlier during iterative automated tests (CI);
- reduced costs for post-development testing because CI server performs numerous tests automatically;
- faster release as CI/CD pipeline constantly merges the code and deploy it to production after the automated testing, hence always maintaining it release-ready.
The choice of the appropriate tech stack to program a social network normally depends on the best-suited solution to the set requirements, the complexity of the project, and the expertise of software vendor in backend technologies. Let’s consider the most popular options during back-end development of a social media website:
|Category||Most popular examples|
|SQL databases||MySQL, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, MS SQL, Oracle|
|NoSQL databases||MongoDB, Cassandra, DynamoDB|
|Programming languages||Java, PHP, Python|
|Search engines||Apache Solr, Elasticsearch|
Spring stack for Java
Laravel, Symfony for PHP
Django, Flask, Tornado for Python
|Front-end frameworks and technologies||React.js, Vue.js, Angular|
|DevOps||GitLab CI, TeamCity, GoCD Jenkins, WS CodeBuild, Terraform|
The maintenance of high load on the website, responsibility for the security of users’ data, and their payments within the network are those factors that define extreme importance to approach the testing stage thoughtfully.
Testing of social media website requires the creation of particular test artifacts: test strategy, test plan, test data, test cases, etc. They are conducted to guarantee that all client’s requirements are understood accurately by the software vendor. They also enable both the customer, stakeholders, and testers to track the changes within the project eliminating possible misunderstandings among the parties.
Normally the following types of testing are performed when you develop a social network:
functional testing — helps to ensure all functions of your network operate in accordance with the requirement specification. By performing it, QA team pays attention to the following aspects:
- tests website’s core functionalities;
- ensures that updates and enhancements don’t negatively affect the website’s functionality;
- checks interoperability of different functional modules;
- make sure that the user’s interface meets end consumer’s expectations.
security testing — to make sure your social media website doesn’t contain any threats and security gaps that may damage your users’ sensitive data, testers focus on such areas:
- vulnerabilities in network scanning;
- ensures that updates and enhancements don’t negatively affect the website’s functionality;
- access points check;
- weaknesses in software components.
performance testing — while conducting it, the readiness of the website to sustain possible load is tested by checking:
- connection speed;
- website’s behavior under increasing workload;
- website’s behavior beyond the limits of expected workload;
- website’s behavior under continuous heavy load.
interface testing — helps ensure data correct transmission from the server-side and rendering at the client-side. QA team performs it via:
- validation of proper interaction of application and server interfaces;
- validation of proper interaction between the web server and database server interfaces;
usability testing — QA engineers test whether there are any weaknesses in the client-side part of the website, such as:
- comprehensiveness of navigation;
- overall view of the design;
- time the user spends to complete the task.
The QA department of Aimprosoft applies the most complex approach to the choice of the appropriate type of testing set, depending on the complexity of the product and your requirements. By integrating the work of the QA team from the very beginning of the project, you potentially reduce development costs, ensure seamless work of your network, and boost its capabilities.
Release and promotion
A number of intermediate releases (Proof of Concept, MVP, alpha, and beta versions) are delivered before the product deployment to check the new website’s functionality and feasibility.
To program a social network, a cycle of iterative testing procedures precedes the website’s final release. After this, we at Aimprosoft freeze code and continue fixing bugs for 2-3 weeks without amending the product. To prevent possible business risks related to the release, it’s also desirable to:
- test all URLs for proper functioning;
- check whether your website is browser and mobile-friendly;
- verify whether your HTML/CSS code is errorless;
- double-check your website’s security constituent and make sure your social network has a backup.
Additional aspects that contribute to a successful website launch may be:
- implementation of efficient SEO techniques;
- setup of Google Analytics for further monitoring;
- ensure your URLs are search-engine-friendly.
Once your social network is approved for the actual release, it’s time to implement the marketing strategy for promoting your website. It may include:
- advertise your product via other popular social networks if their concept differs from yours;
- promote it on Quora by answering the questions in related topics and attaching the link to the website;
- promotion with the help of popular influencers;
- invest in search engine marketing to appear on the first page of search results.
Once you have launched your website, it’s crucial to monitor its performance and your users’ behavior to update it further accordingly.
To define an approximate cost that is required to start your own social network, let’s consider a similar product that we created called Chattlez.
Chattlez included basic features inherent to a standard social media website; we also put special emphasis on the responsiveness of its design, which was not that common back in 2013. The concept of Chattlez was to combine product aggregator with social media network and convert them into a marketplace enabling people to communicate and make purchases. It took almost 5 months to develop a social network like this, and it allowed us to come up with a rough formula to estimate both time and cost for the creation of social media websites.
When you build your own social networking site, it’s necessary to develop an MVP first to identify the product’s weaknesses and exact enhancements to invest further. The following core for any social media network features was implemented into Chattlez:
Content sharing option;
The following team stack is normally required if you decide to create an MVP first:
1 Project Manager;
1 UI/UX engineer;
1 Backend developer;
1 frontend developer;
1 QA engineer;
1 DevOps engineer.
Once MVP goes through the first wave of critical testing by your potential audience and the feedback is obtained, you may proceed to the development of the full product with the following additional features that were included in Chattlez as well:
Linking with other social media platforms;
Customization of user’s profile.
If you opt for the creation of a full product straight away, you will need such an approximate stack of software developers to code a social networking site from scratch. It may vary depending on the project’s complexity and the launch date:
1 Business Analyst;
1 Project manager;
1 UI/UX engineer;
1+ Backend developer(s);
1+ Frontend developer;
1+ QA engineer(s);
1 Architect (Optional);
1 DevOps engineer.
We used our expertise of Chattlez creation to prepare a comparative table below of approximate time spent for the development of both MVP of social networking website and full product.
~ 875 — 1065
|Full product hours
~ 1540 — 1800
|Business analysis + UX strategy||50 — 80||120 — 140|
|Technical specification||35 — 45||55 — 65|
|UI/UX||100 — 140||150 —180|
|Frontend + Backend development||470 — 520||850 — 950|
|QA||90 — 100||175 — 225|
|Product architecture||30 — 40||50 — 60|
|CI/CD||100 — 140||140 — 180|
The above-mentioned estimated time may vary if you conduct a business analysis, all mockups and prototypes yourself, and then turn to the full-cycle development company. Regarding backend development, the most time-consuming and complex parts are related to the creation of Admin panel and integrated Analytics, requiring approximately 200 hours each.
In the table below, we have calculated the cost of social media website varying between software vendors from different parts of the world:
|Country||Average hourly rate||MVP
~875 — 1065
~ 1540 — 1800
|USA||$80||$140 800—164 800||$123 200 — 144 000|
|Western Europe (Germany)||€60||€52 500 — 63 900||€92 400 — 108 000|
|UK||£55||£48 125 — 58 575||£84 700 — 99 000|
|Eastern Europe (Ukraine)||$30||$26 250 — 31 950||$46 200 — 54 000|
You may see that depending on geographical area, the average rate of the developers may significantly differ. Thus, for example, the whole development cost of the social networking website in Eastern Europe (Ukraine) forms only 40% of the same cost in the USA.
As you may have observed, web-universe of social media networks is rather multidimensional and lucrative. In order to gain more benefits from such a promising industry, you need to have a feasible idea, a bit of courage, and dedicated software partner to implement the most complex features. If you want to discuss questions of how to create a social media website, contact us, and Aimprosoft will thoroughly assist with your startup-endeavor.
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