Features of Successful Social Apps

The Ultimate Features of Successful Social Apps

Tamar Barlev

September 8, 2021 · 6 minutes

When it comes to building a successful social app, some staple features drive traction and usage. 

Currently, my phone is (somewhat violently) thrown across the room, and a particular forum website—my productivity kryptonite—is blocked off of my computer.

Why? Because Alexis Ohanian and his team knew exactly what they were doing when they built Reddit.

So, yes—there are patterns of features and ingredients of successful social apps we can track. 

Let me elaborate. 



Successful Social Apps: An Overview

In this ever-digital world, social media and social apps keep us (debatably, pseudo-) connected. We get to Skype with grandma overseas, network about our favorite underground rodeo events, and have fitness challenges against strangers across the country.

Social apps enable us to do what was virtually impossible a few decades ago—and the category includes far more than just Instagram and Facebook. Some types of social apps include: 

  1. Social Networking (Facebook, Twitter)
  2. Media Sharing (Instagram, Youtube)
  3. Consumer Reviews (Yelp, TripAdvisor)
  4. Forums (Reddit, Quora)
  5. Content Curation (Pinterest, Flipboard)
  6. Blogging (Medium, BlogSpot)
  7. Relationships (Tinder, Bumble)



Some Stats

3.78B users—yup. A little less than 50% of the world’s population, and a 32.3% increase over the last five years. 

81% and 69% of Americans reported they ever use Youtube and Facebook, respectively, with Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, and Snapchat following right behind.  

Ergo—while social media’s growth is expected to slow in the coming years, it being embedded into the very fabric of our lives will not change any time soon. So, you’re looking for a large market to target—this is it. 




Ingredients and Features of Successful Social Apps


Knowing your Target Audience (and their internal and external triggers)

First and foremost: to build an app that gains traction and retains users, you have got to understand their motivations. When we wrote about the psychology behind user retention in a previous blog, we wrote about “internal” and “external” triggers that remind and motivate your user to log in. 

External triggers—such as reminders, push notifications, advertisements, etc.— are reminders that externally propel your user to log back in. 

Internal triggers are a bit more implicit and complicated. For example—loneliness (ironically) makes you turn to Instagram or Facebook, and boredom makes my fingers immediately type “Youtube.com.” Both of these are internally occurring motivators and reminders that, when linked by anticipation of reward to your product, will generate retention. 

Even if your solution is to a problem that may not be the most obvious or tangible, it is still inherently addressing your users’ pain points.

So, by knowing your target audience and carefully building an app around their motivations for use, you can create a loyal user base. They’ll not only keep using your product (retention) but invite others to use it with them (organic traction).




Excellent CX and UI/UX

Your CX includes many factors, and your UX/UI design is a significant piece of that pie. As with any successful apps, your navigation and branding should be streamlined and tailored to your target audience. In addition, your workflow should undergo thorough usability testing, features should be user-intuitive and concise, and branding should be relatable and relevant.

Customization is also a massive part of this—which is why so many companies curate content, suggestions, and connections based on how their users responded to previous items. 




Choice in Privacy and Security

Skepticism of mass corporations asking for personal information is #trending these days—and that’s probably healthy. In fact,  81% of consumers think that the risks outweigh the benefits of corporate data collection, and 79% are concerned about how their data is being used. And this is especially true regarding financial data (78%)

So, when you give users more control over their data, they’ll trust you more and be more eager to share information that will further curate and customize their experience. Security customization includes multi-verification logins, settings about how much is publicly available and how their data is being sold, and ad preferences. And lastly, by not asking for too much information in the first place. 

And remember—it is essential to keep data as secure as possible. A breach on your end can leave many people vulnerable and ruin an app’s reputation (especially in its early stages.)




The Network Effect + Ease of Connectivity

The Network Effect principle refers to “any situation in which the value of a product, service, or platform depends on the number of buyers, sellers, or users who leverage it.” Basically, it implies that the greater the number of users (or buyers/sellers), the more valuable the product, and the higher the willingness to pay for a consumer. 

When it comes to building a successful social app, the Network Effect is critical to keep in mind—what’s the use of a dating app with no one on which to swipe?

So, okay, we’ve established The Network Effect is one to chase. So how do you get there?

Through ease of connectivity. Ease of connectivity means easily communicating with and finding others through forums and search tools, and sharing content with them. And finally, doing so through a streamlined workflow that’s user-intuitive and simple. 

Another piece of this is the ability to acquire a following. By giving some sort of metric to guide your user, you’re essentially implicitly gamifying the product. Wherever there are numbers and scores, there are competition and clout (aka, pride.) 

These numbers can be usage streaks, followers, or scores. Whatever they may be,  the user’s ability to gain a following—and present their score their following—can be a form of currency that’s hugely motivating and bonding.




Customizable Profiles

Two facts of life, right after the death and taxes thing: we all like to feel special, and we all want to choose how we’re represented.  

This is why having the ability to personalize our profiles is so fun—we’re controlling the way others see us. Usually, this involves choosing your little avatar or selfie, writing a little enigmatic bio, and curating memories of interactions or events on your page. 

A profile can then be presented to a following or used to interact with others. But either way, it’s an essential feature of building a successful social app. 




Using the Right Platform

Let’s go back to The Network Effect—which suggests that a social app’s value for the individual user generally increases the more users there are. 

Therefore, in the pursuit of increasing the number of users (and app value), it’s essential to use your knowledge of your target market to make your app compatible with any relevant devices they might use. By knowing, for instance, whether they use iOS or Android more, you’d be able to prioritize your development efforts. 

And another thing—once you have built your app to be compatible with various platforms, it’s got to be consistent in branding and quality. 




Third-Party Integration

The ability to share one social media platform’s posts with another is practical, fun, and terrific for organic user growth and adoption. With third-party integration, your users would be able to cross-post between social apps and directly invite others to join them. 

Good for them, good for Network Effects, and good for you. 




Content Sharing + Newsfeed

Content sharing goes back to my point on the joy that is the ability to control our representation. 

People create bonds by sharing content—and boy, do we like sharing. Show-and-tell, conversational tangents, and winding wedding toasts—most of us love to share. 

On the other hand, however, we’d rather not yell into an abyss about the incredible grilled cheese we just made; it’s nice to have an audience and reactions. 

So, this is where content sharing and newsfeeds go so hand-in-hand. By creating a feature that allows for the easy discovery of others’ content, you keep users up-to-date and engaged. Those posting get an audience and reactions; those scrolling get the reward of “hunting” (from the HOOK Loop model of habit formation we discussed here.)

Newsfeed content can be anything from photos, videos, live streams, articles, check-ins, scores—really, anything, as long as it interests your users and is relevant to the solution.




Choosing the Right Technical Partner

And finally, we have an extremely crucial point—choosing the right technical partner

The right technical development partner will be experienced (both generally and with social apps), transparent, and long-term. 

  • Experienced so that they’re not learning on your dime or choosing unsustainable, unscalable, or low-quality MVP technical infrastructure. 
  • Transparent so that they understand, align themselves to, build what you envisioned—the first time around. 
  • And long-term, because they should be interested and supportive of the long-term success of your app. Meaning, your developer will choose a sustainable, scalable, and high-quality app infrastructure—even if it’s not the easy one to build. 




Well, this was a lot. We know. So, it could be beneficial to consult product strategy experts who’ll help you put the theory to the rubber.

Coincidentally, hi, we’re Goji Labs—a product and software development consultancy with experience in designing, “rescuing,” and deploying hundreds of products

Looking to develop a new app or revamp an existing one?

Have any general questions about who we are and our authority on the subject? 

Reach us at GojiLabs.com.

– Goji Labs

About Tamar Barlev

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