You don’t have to be the next Mark Zuckerberg to create a social media platform these days.

In fact, you don’t need to aim for anywhere near the size or scale of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to make a success of it either.

All you need is a good idea, a plan, a decent-sized market, and the right community builder to suit your needs.

This article is your ultimate guide on why you should consider creating your own social media platform and the steps you should take to do it.

Why create a social media platform?

There are some pretty compelling reasons to create a social media app or community, rather than relying on social media giants such as Facebook.

  • More trustworthy – People are rapidly losing faith in big social media platforms. Between 2017 and 2019, Facebook lost over 15 million users. The reason for this decline is that people don’t trust social media giants to do the right thing, but they’re more likely to trust a smaller, independent community.
  • Higher engagement – If you create a unique social media platform that is focused on people’s specific interests and encouraging sharing of valuable content and stimulating conversation, you’re onto a winner. Engagement is key to success in today’s online world, and with highly targeted content, you can capitalise on that.
  • Superior privacy and data ownership – The Cambridge Analytica scandal dispelled any notion that the social media giants care about our data or privacy. With your own platform, you can maintain high levels of privacy, and also control and analyse all the data.
  • Greater customisation – You can shape the social media to look and feel the way you want it to be. You can make sure that it will appeal to your target users and also matches any branding that you already have.

What types of social networking sites are there?

Before rushing off to set up your very own social media platform, it’s important to understand that there are several different types of social networking sites, all with a slightly different focus.

Here are the main different types, along with their main focus:

  • Social relationship networking sites – to connect with people – e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn
  • Discussion forums – to share ideas and news – e.g. Reddit, Twitter
  • Media sharing networks – to share photos, videos, music, etc. – e.g. Instagram
  • Content sharing and curation networks – to discover and share new content – e.g. Pinterest, Medium
  • Consumer or user review networks – to share reviews of services and businesses – e.g. Trip Advisor, Goodreads
  • Interest or hobby-based networks – to discuss or participate in hobbies or interests – e.g. Mumsnet.

This is just a small selection, there are others such as anonymous social networks, eCommerce networks (to share shopping tips and promote brands), and sharing economy networks (to encourage people to reuse and recycle).

It’s important to recognise these different types of social network, so you can decide where yours fits, and how to go about making a success of it.

4 Steps to plan your social media platform

Once you’ve got a good idea of the type of social media platform you want to create, the next action point is to begin planning it out.

But where do you start?

Don’t worry, we’ve put together four easy-to-follow steps that will help you to plan your strategy.

1. Understand your audience

To make a success of your social network, you need to understand your audience inside out. You need to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick. What their passions are, what they enjoy, what they hate, what turns them off. The easiest way to do this is to draw up an “avatar” or profile of your ideal member – age, social status, interests and dislikes.

To do this you can use your own experience, or go to the places where your ideal members hang out online – forums, blogs, YouTube channels, etc. Read their comments. Get to know how they talk and what they want. You can even try and form “mini focus groups” by inviting people to a private discussion to talk about relevant topics.

2. Research your competition

Find out who your main competitors are (there’s likely to be some) and write down what each is doing well, and what they’re not doing so well. You probably have some ideas of your own on how your social network should be. Compare those ideas to those of your competitors. Do they stand up well against them? Will your network appeal more or less to the target audience?

3. Plan how to make your network stand out from the crowd

You want to create a social media platform that will engage people, and make them want to keep coming back for more. How can you achieve this? The most important thing is to give people what they want. Use the results from your market research in step one, combined with your competitor analysis from step two, to come up with the perfect recipe.

For example, if you want to build a social media platform around lifestyle and wellness, you want to make sure the platform has a relaxed, positive, life-affirming vibe. You’ll want to be able to share written content and videos easily. The option to host live streams will be helpful so that you can train and coach people in mindfulness, healthy eating, yoga, meditation, and other wellbeing techniques.

4. Find a social media or community builder and get it made!

The final step is to get your social media platform built. You’ll need to look for a community builder that includes all the features you want and need. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section.

Essential features to include in your social network

Of course, the features you want to include will vary somewhat depending on the focus of your platform. But there are some essential features that are common to most types of social media platform, to ensure the best possible user experience.

  • Chat and messaging: Forum or thread style chat, as well as private or group messaging.
  • Personal profiles: People like to be able to personalise their profile, by adding an image and personal details. Just make sure you also give people the option to keep their information private if desired.
  • Newsfeeds: Who doesn’t like to stay up to date with news and information that is relevant to them?
  • Sharing content: Make it easy to share content between users and within groups.
  • Live streams: Live streams are an enjoyable way for people to connect with you or other community members. They can be great for showcasing ideas, or teaching a skill to others in the community. For instance, on a social media platform based on make-up and cosmetics, live streams can be used to demonstrate new brands of make-up, or to teach people how to apply it well.

As well as important features for community members, it’s also important to consider what features are essential for you to be able to manage the platform.

  • Easy to monetise

Let’s face it – you’re running a business here. There are a number of ways to monetise a social media platform. You can encourage people to pay for exclusive content, tutorials or courses. You can seek sponsorship or use product placement.

  • Data analytics

Having full access to and control of your community’s data is one of the main advantages over using traditional social media platforms. The big platforms keep the data for themselves and often sell it on to thirds parties. This is bad for both community owners and members. You should be able to control your own data and gain insights from it, such as which content is the most popular, how long people spend checking out your content, etc. Therefore, look for a platform with full data access, and preferably built-in analytical tools.

  • Push notifications

As most people use social media on mobile devices these days, push notifications are really important for keeping people engaged. You can let them know when an exclusive live stream is starting for instance, or keep them up to date with any breaking news. This is a great way to ensure that your message makes it through unlike on traditional social media platforms where multiple notifications can easily get lost.

How to choose the right social media creator

Social media platform creators or community builders are becoming a popular way to create your own network these days.

Whether you have an existing business and want to complement it with a social media app, or you’re looking to build a social community, there are certain things to look out for when choosing a social media creator.

Ease-of-use

The whole point of using a community builder or social media creator is to make your life easier. You shouldn’t need a degree in computer science to be able to use it! Social media creators such as Disciple and Buddypress are simple and intuitive to use. They are easily customisable and you can add all the features you need without complications.

Appropriate for your needs

Different social media creators generally cater to different types of business. For instance, Unily is set up to be ideal for larger enterprises, with a more formal and less customisable approach. Disciple is suited to any size of business, typically interest-based, such as fitness coaches, lifestyle coaches, musicians, artists, hobbyists, etc.

Mobile friendly

Pretty much everyone has one or more mobile devices these days. In the USA, adults spend an average of 2 hours 55 minutes on mobile devices each day. Make sure you create a social media platform that can be used as a mobile app. Disciple is fully designed for mobile use, but many others are not, so choose wisely.

Final Words

If you are considering setting up a community, now is a great time to create a social media app.

People are moving away from the bigger social media sites and looking for more bespoke, specialist experiences, based on personal interests or career related communities. Users of traditional social media sites are fed up of too much intrusion, lack of security, and too much advertising, among other factors.

In order to create a social media platform that succeeds, you need to plan it thoroughly, choose the right social media creator, and nurture your audience with engaging features and content.