It’s easy to assume that if your social media app isn’t as big as Facebook or Twitter, then it won’t succeed.
•Published: Mar 1, 2023
But with the right approach, smaller apps can come in and take some of the market share from the bigger guys.
The social media app space is constantly evolving and growing, offering many opportunities for companies that want to build a social media app product.
There's a right social media app type for your business — one that's lucrative and draws a lot of users. This breakdown of the core social media app types will help you find where there's a gap in the market or a strong demand for something different.
1. Social Networks
Social network apps allow users to interact, exchange information, and build connections — either socially or professionally. On social networking apps, users can interact through profiles, activity feeds, text posts, video or photo posts, shared links, and more.
Any social networking app needs to enable users to interact and socialize with each other in a number of ways. Prioritize features that give users the ability to react and comment on users' posts, share each other's posts on their own profile or with other people, and start conversations.
They should also be able to converse with each other in 1-on-1 spaces, like direct messages, or in group spaces, like Facebook Groups.
|You can attract people who can’t or don’t want to do in-person networking & connecting.||Facebook, the biggest competitor in this space, has a huge market share with over a billion DAU.|
|There are opportunities to create networking apps within specific industries (tech, marketing, education, etc.) and interests (dating, food, etc.).||Existing, well-established social networks have a long list of features for users. You’ll need a feature-rich app to compete with these apps.|
Facebook: Facebook got an early head start in the social networking game. Originally intended for college-aged folks, it attracted people who felt they had outgrown MySpace — the most popular social site on the market at the time. People gravitated toward the new, more mature-feeling social network called Facebook.
LinkedIn: One big thing missing from the social networking space in the mid-2000s was a space to professionally network with peers. Enter LinkedIn. It's now become one of the largest professional networking sites and online job boards.
2. Content Sharing Apps
On a content sharing app, the focus is usually on photos or videos where users can add a caption or commentary. On most of the apps, users can also apply filters, text, and other basic edits to their content, directly within the app.
One of the biggest considerations when building a content sharing app is trying to strike a balance between data compression (i.e., reducing the file size of photos and videos when posted) and quality. On apps like Twitter and Facebook, some users have complained about the poor quality of uploaded images.
Users should also have the ability to promote, share, and repost other users' photos and videos.
|The photo and video sharing segment is growing.||It’s a saturated space with many popular apps already in play.|
|There are opportunities for niche-interest content sharing apps — like a travel-related one, for example.||Servers that can handle large amounts of video and photo data have a high cost.|
Instagram: As Facebook started to evolve from solely text-based posts to being able to add photos and videos, Instagram joined the scene with its photo-centric model and reached one million users in just two months. At the time, Instagram offered a unique user experience where people could snap, edit, and share visual snippets of their life with other people.
TikTok: TikTok has been versatile for its users. One of the key drivers of TikTok's success is that users can reply to other videos and comments with their own videos. The company took the "tweet" and "retweet" format of Twitter and made it fun, visual, and interactive.
Pinterest: Pinterest was a unique offering in the social media space at the time it launched. In the mid-2010s, people were infatuated with creating their own "mood boards" and collages for inspiration on a variety of topics — home decor, clothing, recipes, and more. Pinterest capitalized on that with a virtual space where users could have dozens or hundreds of their own boards on any topic they want.
3. Messaging Apps
Messaging apps are the most similar to standard texting platforms. Users primarily send text messages, but these platforms have expanded to incorporate photos, videos, gifs, audio, and more.
The foundation of any messaging app needs to be robust chat functionality. It should provide users with a cohesive experience that is easy to use. Within the chat function, chat moderation is important too. Chat moderation keeps your chat app safe and enjoyable for users. Automated moderation is especially useful for apps with a lot of DAUs, making human moderation unfeasible.
You should also prioritize convenience features that most other messaging apps already have, like presence indication, typing indicators, thread replies, and push notifications.
|There are many opportunities for specialized messaging apps (e.g., in specific industries like gaming).||Two large competitors (WhatsApp and Messenger) are both owned by Meta.|
|Flexible app building: As long as it has a secure chat function as the foundation, the rest of the way the app functions is flexible.||Smartphones now have messaging functions within their operating systems. Your app has to offer something new that the user’s default text app (i.e., iMessage) doesn’t already do for them.|
WhatsApp: When WhatsApp became popular, it also became a necessity for a lot of people. People were able to chat for free with just a Wi-Fi connection, no phone plan needed. WhatsApp makes messaging, calling, and video chatting more accessible to people everywhere around the world.
Discord: Discord was popular in the gaming community, and then when it partnered with massive titles like Fortnite and Rocket League, it started to reach people outside of the gaming circle. Now, more people are flocking to the app to start other niche communities or just connect with like-minded friends. People can chat freely with no ads or subscription costs.
Slack: Slack revolutionized the way employees internally communicate and collaborate with each other. Slack made communication more spontaneous and flexible for colleagues who need to work on projects together or sync on a specific task. While it gained a lot of traction in the 2010s, it became more of a necessity in 2020 when businesses around the world shifted toward remote work.
4. Blogging & Microblogging Apps
Blogging apps like Medium and Substack are places where users can write or read full blogs written by other users. On microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr, users can write their thoughts in one short post or multiple short posts, called threads. Users can also add photos and videos to their posts.
When users sign up on a blog or a microblog website, one of the first things they're asked is what topics they're interested in. This is an important feature since it tells the app which topics and content to show each user, so users are more engaged with the app.
One way to help get users more interested in your app is by giving them the ability to create and join communities in different industries and topics, as Twitter does with Twitter Communities.
|You can more easily monetize than with other apps since several blogging sites, like Medium, require subscriptions for readers.||In order to gain viewership, blog content needs to be monitored in some way so that people aren’t posting harmful or harassing content. That can be time consuming to monitor.|
|These are simple to design and can start as a website and transform into an app.||You have to find a really unique selling point beyond users being able to post blogs and share them. It has to have some other benefit in order to get users to post on your app instead of the others.|
Twitter: Twitter's conversational UI design has helped it become a place where people look for and share opinions. Users can reply to tweets, retweet content they agree with or have a comment on, and share content they're interested in with their friends and followers.
Medium: While many blogging sites, like Twitter and Tumblr, keep their basic service free, Medium charges a small fee of $5 (for readers; it's free for writers). This fee is so that Medium can keep its site ad-free. And if you think that the $5 fee is keeping users away, think again. As of 2021, the company had 725,000 active subscribers.
Substack: Substack has gained traction because it pays its writers through subscriptions. And to drive readership, they've used some interesting tactics like paying for big-name commentators and comic book creators to launch their own microblogs on the platform.
5. Forums & Post-based Apps
Forums and post-based apps are platforms that facilitate conversations. Users ask questions, post prompts, and solicit answers or input from others. These apps allow for more detailed conversations around specific questions and ideas.
These apps should have a conversation-style design where users can easily see answers to questions or post responses for questions they know the answer to. Users should also have the ability to "boost" responses and answers that are most accurate. This type of functionality can help keep the most accurate answers in front of the people who need them.
|These have a fairly simple-to-design wireframe compared to other apps on the list. As long as it allows users to ask and answer questions, that’s all that’s needed to start.||Reddit has a stronghold on the forum and post-based app market.|
|They have a lower cost to build compared to others on the list that are more feature-rich.||It can take a long time for your app to gain traction as a reputable place to get answers or information.|
Reddit: One of the biggest draws for Reddit is that it was designed for anonymity. People can ask questions or get advice about a topic without having to reveal who they are. It also prioritizes user feedback. Users can "downvote" or "upvote" a Reddit post or comment, making it lose or gain traction, respectively, in the Reddit algorithm.
Quora: The heart of Quora is asking questions that you need an answer to. The reason Quora still works is that it has garnered a strong and educated user community to answer queries. It also has an advanced process that highlights the top responses that most accurately answer the questions from the community.
6. Interest-based Social Apps
Consider building an app that caters to specific interests, hobbies, or lifestyles. On these apps, users can connect with other people who are interested in the same things they are.
Interest-based social apps usually have sub-interests within them. For example, Likewise users can find books, TV shows, movies, or podcasts they'd be interested in based on others they've liked. So, interest-based apps need a strong search function so users can find the specific content they're most interested in.
Users of these apps should also have the ability to interact with other users — whether through reactions, comments, and/or chat.
Targeting a specific niche requires you to base your success on just one topic, and if your niche fades away or gets hit with a scandal, you don't have a lot of room to pivot to something else.
|You can target a specific audience that is currently underserved.||It requires a lot of research and resources upfront to find out what niche, lifestyle, or hobby to target.|
|You can build a community of loyal and engaged users who are already interested in what your app is about.||Targeting a specific niche requires you to base your success on just one topic, and if your niche fades away or gets hit with a scandal, you don’t have a lot of room to pivot to something else.|
Goodreads: As of 2019, Goodreads has over 125 million users. Goodreads capitalized on the fact that there was no place online where book lovers could connect and share the books they've read with other book lovers. Users can find over 3.5 billion books in the database, and once they read a book, they can mark it as read, rate it, and leave a review.
The Future of Social Media Apps Is Innovation
As the social media space evolves, there will be more opportunities to enter the space with innovative components that users want. We'll start to see features that use more AI, augmented and virtual reality, smarter algorithms, and more security features without limiting user capabilities.
As a product manager, you should stay on top of these trends and find out which features users are most interested in and which audiences are most underserved. Focusing on these details, and applying them to one of the app types described above, can help you create a successful product with an engaged user base.