Why your social networking app idea will probably fail (and how to increase your chances of succeeding)

by Tim Bornholdt · Published on July 22, 2015

For every Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Williams, and Kevin Systrom in the world, there are an untold number of people who have come roughly $1 billion short of a $1 billion acquisition. As a mobile app development consultancy, we've seen our share of social networking apps successes and failures. Here are a few points to consider before pursuing your dream of launching the Next Big Thing:

The culture around startups is excruciating.

This holds true for all types of businesses, but we find this to be particularly true with social network apps. The most successful people we have worked with have been incredibly passionate about their idea and had an unrelenting drive to succeed.

Here's a good test for determining your chances at success: imagine yourself at your current full time job. Now, in addition to that work, imagine working 4-5 nights a week and every weekend for three years, sacrificing all of your free time, making absolutely zero money, talking to every single person you can about your app and sinking several thousand of your own dollars into marketing and gaining users.

If that image makes you sick to your stomach, you might want to skip pursing this particular dream.

However, if you find yourself thinking about your app non-stop, and the thought of all that hard work is motivating, then you stand a much better chance of running a successful social network!

Tip #1: Make sure you're invested in the startup life before starting up a social network.

"My app is [App 1] + [App 2]" is not good enough.

It's true: everything is a remix. Most apps are described as "Pinterest meets Ping" because when it comes down to it, most apps do similar things.

For social networks to really take off, though, they need to be 10 times more compelling than the incumbents. It's not enough to say "My app idea is Yo! + Snapchat + Jabber". Nobody wants to join "the next Facebook". Facebook already exists, why should a user uproot themselves and move to your platform?

In order for you to gain traction with your social network, you need to have a compelling reason for people to use your network over Facebook, Twitter and all of the other big dogs. The best way we've seen this work is with targeting a unique demographic instead of targeting the general population.

For example, Cravi provides a marketplace for foodies and restaurant enthusiasts to come together and share their food experiences together. It's not something that's competing directly with Facebook or Twitter; Cravi is a service which pairs well with its user's other online hangouts.

Tip #2: Find a way for your social network to fit into the lives of your users without making them choose between you and the established social networks.

These apps are difficult and expensive to build.

The amount of engineering power that goes into building social networks is incredible. It takes a complex set of servers which can process a ton of data in the blink of an eye. In addition to the servers, the most successful social networks all have native apps. If you have an idea to build a social network, don't be surprised if your cost for a minimum viable product (MVP) is into the six figures.

There are some ways to cut costs and create a useable MVP, such as only launching on a single mobile platform or stripping out features. However, a lot of the failures we've seen have come from hiring development teams that can't handle the complexity of building a social network.

Be sure your development team has developed complex social networking apps before committing to work with them. Ask for references, play around with their portfolio apps and ask them what their plan is for development. A well-built, scalable social networking backend should take a few months to build out properly, and the app front ends should also take a few months to create.

Tip #3: You'll need a good chunk of change and time to create a good social network. Spend those resources on a good tech team.

Nice idea, but how are you gonna pull it off?

As the founder of the social network, you don't necessarily need to know how to technically develop your app. However, you do need to bring something to the table other than just the idea. At a minimum, you need to have a good answer for these questions:

  • How will this social network make money?
  • How will it remain relevant in a sea of more than a million other apps?
  • How will we get our first set of returning users to the platform?

We're not suggesting that you answer these questions in a vacuum: your development team should have some thoughts as to what revenue models are working in the marketplace today, as well as some ideas as to how to market the app.

However, the most successful social networks we've seen have motivated and focused CEOs at the helm who know what direction to steer the platform.

Tip #4: Ideas are a dime a dozen: come to the table with a strategy for success for your social network.

Social networks are among the most difficult apps we've built. If you want to build the next big network, you need to be ready to sacrifice a lot of time, money and energy in order to get it off the ground.

If you read through this whole article and are still fired up to build a social network, then by golly, we want to talk to you! Contact us today!