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How to Build a Social Network Website from Scratch

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Yuri Musienko
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Featured image for How to Build a Social Network Website from Scratch

Over the past ten years, social networks have become so popular that there are almost no people left with access to the Internet and without an account on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. At the same time, people usually are not in any one network, but in several at once, which means that there is no direct competition on the market and if you want to create your own social network, you will have all chances of success.

From this article you will learn:

We will not talk about why you need to create such sites. You already know how much money Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey have, so if you have an idea for one of these projects (this is the main thing, everything else is secondary), read the article and start building your social network from scratch.

Types of social networks

If you take all the social networks and lump together, and then sort by similar and distinctive features (classify them, so to speak), then various sites of this kind can be divided into seven groups:
  1. Social connections. The most common group of social services, involving a peer-to-peer communication format (directly with each other) and allowing participants to establish connections with both familiar people and those whom they do not know in real life. Vivid examples: Facebook and Twitter.
  2. Multimedia sharing. They focus on the exchange (display) of multimedia content: photos, video, audio, and more. The most popular examples are YouTube, Flickr and Instagram.
  3. Professional. Designed to establish business and business connections. Some sites in this group provide a common platform for professional communication, while others focus on specific professions or interests. Famous examples: LinkedIn and Classroom.
  4. Informational. Consist of people who are looking for solutions to various problems. For example, when you are thinking about starting a social network or want to learn how to grow bonsai, you can search the Internet and discover sites like Reddit and Quora.
  5. Educational. Platforms on which schoolchildren and students can communicate with each other and with the teaching staff about learning, research and everything connected with it. Examples: The Student Room, ePALS School Blog and The Math Forum.
  6. Hobby. Hobby-oriented social networks are one of the most popular, since people who have found sites based on their favorite activity happily join this community and spend a lot of time there. Examples: Academia.edu and My Place on Scrapbook.com.
  7. Academic. Platforms on which scientists and researchers share the results of their work, analyze the work of colleagues and interact about current and future research. Examples: ResearchGate and Academia.edu.
When you decide on what social network you want to create, learn examples of successful platforms in the selected segment. This will help to understand your target audience, as well as what functionality is needed on the site and how it should work.

Features of the perfect social network

Today, even the simplest social network must meet certain criteria in order to stand out among competitors and win its audience. Such mandatory criteria include the following things:
  1. Depending on the country, 68 to 98% of users access social networks using mobile phones, therefore the adaptability of website design is an obligatory feature of an ideal social network.
  2. The site should encourage users to actively and regularly interact. To do this, you need to create conditions that allow network participants to meet the needs through such interaction, for example, in the process of finding a job or employee.
  3. For people to communicate, they must have the tools for this: chats, posts, comments, video calls, etc. And these tools must be comfortable, understandable, pleasant in appearance, and also protected from hacking.
  4. The social network should have functionality to connect people with each other. For example, in Facebook there is a search for people only by first name and last name (+ location). Whereas in the Russian VKontakte, created by Pavel Durov, there is a search for people by name and surname, age, date of birth, sex, marital status, place of study and several other criteria. Pavel Durov`s option is better.
  5. The platform should be protected from fake accounts. This is necessary in order to prevent fraud and black PR. Usually, this function is implemented using special notes on the account and avatar.

Steps to create a social networking site

Step 1: Key idea and target audience

First of all, you need to find the original idea and think through the concept. How will you differ from competitors? What would you suggest to attract users? It is not enough just to launch a social network, the site should make a good and strong impression on potential users and encourage them to register and communicate.

Here are examples of some successful (unfamiliar) ideas and concepts:

Kaboodle. A social network focused on people who love shopping. At the same time, the site does not sell anything, but is an ecosystem for the exchange of information, feedback, recommendations and tools for organizing purchases. Kaboodle boasts 2 million registered users.

Social Network Website from Scratch smartphones

Most Kaboodle members communicate using smartphones

Ravelry. This site is focused on knitters, weavers, spinners, designers and dyers - almost everyone who works with yarn and patterns. A great example of how to build a community around a popular hobby. Ravelry has more than 400,000 registered users (1 million visitors per month), many of whom regularly share their experiences, ideas and inspirations.

Social Network Website from Scratch Ravelry

The social network Ravelry is simple and minimalist, but captivates with its design

Classmates.com. A website linking former and current classmates. This project was the first successful social network in America, and probably based on its example, Pavel Durov created VKontakte (the most popular social network in Eastern Europe).

Social Network Website from Scratch Classmates.com

Classmates.com would be much more popular if it were not for the controversial business model, fraud and self-will of the owners
These are just three striking examples of popular social networks, sharpened for a specific audience. In fact, there are a lot of them, and in different countries there are niche sites that enjoy great success. Here are some of them:
  1. Care2 — healthy lifestyle, humanism and popularization of science.
  2. Dogster — playground for dog lovers with the ability to create a profile for your pet.
  3. Catster — same as Dogster, but for cats.
  4. Untappd — unites beer lovers who talk about the best bars in their area and around the world.
  5. Lost Zombie — social network for zombie lovers in movies, TV shows, comics, books and real life.
  6. BikerOrNot — unites bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts.
  7. LawLink — platform for lawyers, notaries and judges.
Social Network Website from Scratch HoffSpace
Social Network HoffSpace - a vivid example of a failed concept
The point is to find a unifying entity that not only appeals to many people, but is also capable of encouraging them to communicate. For example, actor David Hasselhoff has many fans, but they are unlikely to want to become members of the HoffSpace social network just because it is named after him. And if they want, how long can they communicate on the life and work of their favorite actor?

Step 2: Choosing and checking the domain name

When you choose an idea and concept, you can ponder the name. Ideally, it should be one or two short words that are easy to pronounce and remember, like the names of Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp or iPhone. At the same time in the title it is desirable to somehow play up the idea and concept, but it is not necessary.

More specific advice on what the ideal name of a social network should be, cannot be given, but it can be said how it should not be:

  • violate copyrights (you need to check the domain and trademark, perhaps someone has already registered interesting names for you);
  • be like the names of other social networks, sites, brands;
  • have negative connotations (propagandize fascism, sexual discrimination, religious intolerance, etc.);
  • deceive, for example, when the domain is called CatCommunity, but the site is dedicated to dogs or western lowland gorillas;
  • associate with content 18+.

Step 3: Site Requirements

The list of site requirements is based on the needs of the target audience and analysis of competitors. Ideally, your social network should stand out, provide additional features and bring about a WOW effect. To achieve this, consider the following things:
  • user scenarios (how participants will use the site);
  • design (fonts, colors, visual effects, design of the main page);
  • functional potential (avatars, dialogs, virtual albums);
  • the ability to store and retrieve data about other participants (the border between confidentiality and transparency of information);
  • principles of using services and penalties for violations of the rules (temporary and permanent ban, prosecution through law enforcement agencies).

An important point in creating any social network is the development of the User Agreement. This document will protect you from liability in case of violation of the law by users or force majeure situations, so take it seriously. And better hire a lawyer, let him do everything.

Step 4: Technology stack

Sample Solution. Development with the help of special tools that allow you to use template solutions with minimal design and functionality settings. These can be themes for wordpress or white label solutions. This approach is cheaper, but with its help it is almost impossible to create a truly unique website.

Social Network Website from Scratch Cons

Development from scratch. The best option if you want to stand out among competitors, creating a unique solution. It is more expensive and longer, but the return on this approach is much greater. All successful social networks are designs from scratch.

Social Network Website from Scratch Pros

Step 5: Planning and Design

At this stage you need to develop:
  • information architecture;
  • interface and design concept;
  • plans for MVP, prototype;
  • technical design.

If you decide to hire a company to outsource, then these things need to develop with them. If you decide to use template solutions, most of these things will already be solved before you (template developers), you just have to choose a specific template and personalize the design.

Step 6: Development and Testing

Depending on the approach, the development process may take from an hour to a year of real time. If you do everything yourself, do not forget about testing the site. This is important, because buried or slow projects push people away and create a negative reputation, which will be very difficult to fix in the future - many companies had to rebrand to launder their project.

Step 7: Commissioning

This stage includes the following:
  1. Setting up hosting. Ensure that the operator and the dedicated channel are able to withstand heavy loads or the service can increase power when needed.
  2. Download and configure the project. If you do not know how to do this, ask for help from the hosting platform specialists, usually it is included in the cost of even the most basic package.
  3. Configure analytics tools. You need to connect Google Analytics and Google tools, as well as Google My Business to promote.
  4. Final testing. Pre-release site health check, preferably with maximum loads and a large number of users.

Step 8: Support Team

For the site to function normally after launch, you need to take care in advance to create a support service that will handle system maintenance, catching errors and fixing them. And since this is a social network, the list of support service specialists, among others, should be present:
  1. Content expert. His responsibilities include checking user pages, groups and advertisements for compliance with the User Agreement and the presence of prohibited content.
  2. Head of communication platform. Its primary responsibility is to ensure optimal network community performance.

Step 9: Social Media Marketing

The easiest way to promote a social network is to use other social networks. If you have a niche project, for example, about computer games, then look for groups on this topic and promote your site on these sites. You can still run:
  1. Targeted advertising - shows ads to a certain group of people, selected according to certain criteria (gender, age, place of study, marital status, participation in certain groups, etc.).
  2. Marketing Impact - using media personalities to promote a project. In practice, this is an order of advertising with the participation of popular people, such as show business stars and bloggers.
  3. Content marketing - using articles, videos, pictures and other things.
  4. Organic advertising, or paid seeding - placement of advertisements in popular public groups.
  5. Other: widgets, games, applications, contests, tests, cross-promo, etc.

Step 10: Monetization

If you created a social network not just like that, but for the sake of money, you have several ways to monetize your resource:
  1. Advertising (contextual and banner). The easiest and most profitable way to monetize. To use it, you need to pre-build in the interface of the site space for ads, banners and recommendations.
  2. Paid features. Access to specific tools, filters or features for a fee or by subscription.
  3. Premium Content. Paid access to certain content or to its version in high quality.

Merehead does professional development of Social Network Website. If you have questions, contact us for a free consultation.

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