How to Create a Social Media Site

Let’s start with a question – do you know what percentage of adults in the U.S. use social media?

The answer is more than 70%! And the average person has 8.5 different social accounts. This suggests that while giants like Facebook and Instagram are the most well-known, there is plenty of room for other social networks to thrive.

Smaller social platforms typically find success by helping people to connect around a particular interest or need. Sites like Strava for exercise and Untappd for craft beer are successful examples of this.

If you have an idea for a social media website, you can be confident that there is demand. But you may not know that it’s also easy to build a social network with the features of more prominent platforms.

This article will show you how to create a social media site in five easy steps — from finding your community to growing your user base.

How to Create a Social Media Site in 5 Easy Steps

Find your community

Large sites dominate the social media market.

You won’t compete with the likes of Facebook, Linkedin, and Instagram unless you have a huge budget—and even then, it won’t be easy. Although the rapid rise of Snapchat, TikTok, and more recently Clubhouse shows it is possible.

A better option for most people is to create a social media site around smaller niches or interests. Curating a community around a group of passionate people can result in a thriving social media site.

Here are some examples:

  • Love Wellness: Women’s health brand Love Wellness built a social network to let women discuss health and access expert advice. It grew to over 10,000 users in just nine months.
  • Global Cycling Network: GCN build a social network around cycling. Users can share information about their bikes and rides, comment on posts, take part in quizzes and polls, and read news on cycling. The network has well over 100,000 users.
  • DeineTierwelt: DeineTierwelt is a platform that connects animal breeders with people looking for a new pet. It created a social network that lets pet lovers connect, discuss animals, and share knowledge.

Many people that start social networks already have access to an audience. They are often influencers, bloggers, or brands that want a better way to connect with others in their network.

If this describes you, then you’ve already found your community. You can move onto the next step in our process.

If you don’t already have a community in mind, you’ll have to find one. Consider the formal and informal networks you are already part of. These could be based on hobbies, your career, or general interests. Some of these groups may benefit from a social network.

social media site

Decide the features you need

Once you have chosen a community, you need to select features that will offer value to your members. Consider the needs of the people you want to serve and what is likely to attract them to your social network.

Be specific here. Features that solve specific problems are more likely to attract your target audience than general ones.

Here are some real-life examples:

  • Exercise app Strava encourages users to share workout information and offer support to other users. Athletes can join exercise groups in their area.
  • Marketing community MO Pros encourages users to share their expertise. Other users can continue the discussion by commenting.
  • IndieHackers helps bootstrapped entrepreneurs grow their companies and share their journeys. It has features that help people find partners, brainstorm ideas, and learn from others.

If you have access to an existing audience, ask them what they would find useful. If you don’t, head to similar social media platforms and look at the types of features they offer.

Features to consider include:

Member profiles

From Myspace to Tiktok, member profiles have always been central to the social media experience. Profiles typically store user data and show their activity on the platform. Members customize which activities are visible to others.

Activity feed

Feeds are another common feature of social media sites. Your news feed shows members what is happening inside your network. It also lets them interact with content, through comments, shares, or votes.

Discussion and sharing

Your social network needs features to enable discussion and sharing. Users should be able to make public posts with images and links. Other users should be able to comment on these posts. It is these discussions that will keep people coming back to your site.

Networking

Social media users typically join sites to connect with others in the community. Networking features enable this by letting members follow each other. Once they have linked up, they can communicate and see each other’s content.

Spaces or groups

Groups are like mini social networks within your site. Users gather in dedicated areas to discuss specific topics. Once in groups, users can build deeper connections with others who share their interests.

Gamification

Gamification features motivate users to stay engaged. Think about how effective upvotes and rewards are on Reddit, or likes are on Instagram.

Notifications

You need a way to notify users about relevant community updates. This could be new content, people interacting with their message, follow requests, and more.

You must have a good idea about the features you want to offer. These will influence your decisions in our next step.

Choose how to build your site

The platform you choose to build your site on will define the functionality you can offer. You need to choose one that will enable the features you decided to include in part three of this article.

There are four different ways you can create a social media site:

  1. Software as a Service (SaaS) providers
  2. Self-hosted social network software
  3. CMS plugins
  4. Coding a network from scratch.

Each of these options has its pros and cons. The best one for your network will depend on circumstances such as your budget, level of technical expertise, and how quickly you want to get set up.

Here is a breakdown of the main options:

Create your community using a SaaS tool

SaaS tools are the most user-friendly way to build a social network. You can create your site quickly with little (or even zero) upfront costs.

You don’t need any technical expertise as the company behind the tool takes care of all back-end development. All you need to do is choose the features you want to use in your network.

Many SaaS solutions offer a high level of front-end customization. You can choose features, add your branding, host your site on a custom domain, and connect with other apps. Your users will have no idea that you didn’t develop the software in-house.

If the tool you choose offers API access, you can even embed the software into your existing application. This allows companies to add social elements to their existing products, which can be a powerful form of growth. Think about how the social elements on YouTube make it much more than just a video hosting site.

Another benefit is that you don’t need to worry about maintaining the software. The SaaS provider will take care of this.

Each SaaS platform puts its own spin on the types of social networks users can create. So be sure to choose a platform that offers the features you need.

SaaS social media site builders are great if:
✔️ You want to get started quickly.

✔️ You need some level of customizability.

✔️ You want someone else to maintain the software.

✔️ You need access to features based on social media best practices.

Tribe is a great example of a community platform that allows you to build social networks for your brand.

Use a self-hosted solution

Self-hosted social media software is that which you run and operate yourself. These solutions provide a framework with many features already created. Just choose the ones you want to add to your site.

Many self-hosted solutions are open source. They provide a high level of customizability, as users can edit the source code template to add unique features. But to do so, you’ll need technical expertise or access to a developer.

As these tools are self-hosted, you’re in charge of keeping the software up to date. You’ll also need to take steps to ensure your community is always secure.

Some self-hosted solutions are free to download, but at the very least, you’ll have to pay for (or already have access to) a server to host the network.

Self-hosted social media site builders are great if:
✔️ You have the technical expertise required to add advanced features.

✔️ You have a server to host the tool on.

✔️ You want to create a social network for internal use.

Elgg is a great example of a self-hosted social media framework

Use a CMS plugin

If you already have a website on a popular CMS like WordPress or Joomla, you can use a plugin to add social media features to your existing site.

It’s just a case of choosing the plugin that offers the features you want and then setting them up on your website. This is typically easy to do through your CMS.

Plugins require a medium level of technical expertise as you’ll need to set them up on your website and ensure they run properly. Many plugins offer free versions with paid upgrades, so they can be affordable.

CMS social media plugins are great if:
✔️ You want to manage your network through your CMS.

✔️ You want an affordable solution.

✔️ You have the technical team to maintain and make changes.

BuddyPress is an example of a CMS social media site plugin for WordPress

Custom-built solution

A custom-built solution is a way to go if you can’t find the exact features you want using the above methods.

But, it’s not cheap to create a social media site from scratch. It is estimated that creating a multi-featured mobile app costs between $50,000 and $150,000.

Much of this budget will go to developers. But you’ll also need to pay for graphic designers, copywriters, and servers.

Remember that the costs don’t end at launch. You have to pay your web development team to maintain your site, keep it secure, fix bugs, and add additional features.

This is the least accessible way to build a social media site. But, if you want a unique product, then it’s the only way to go. And startups who succeed in building a social media site via this method can be very successful.

Custom-built social media sites are great if:
✔️ You want a completely unique solution.

✔️ You have the budget available to pay someone to develop your idea.

✔️ You have the skills to develop the idea yourself.

✔️ Existing solutions don’t provide the functionality you need.

Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are custom-built social media sites

Build your platform

The next step in the process is building your social media site. How you do this will vary depending on the platform you chose in the above step.

We can’t go through the process of how to build a site using each method. So, this section will show you to build a social network using Tribe.

The great news is that this is super easy to do. You can have a basic version of your social network up and running in minutes.

If you want to follow this guide, head over to our signup page and create a free account.

Create an account

First, fill in your details on the signup page. At this stage, we will provide you with a completely free subdomain you can use to host your community. If you’d rather use your domain, it’s easy to switch your community’s URL later in the process.

Tribe Sign Up
Tribe Sign Up

A basic version of your community will be live as soon as you finish the setup.

Check community settings

Now your site is live, you need to customize your social networking website so it reflects your needs.

On the community settings page of your admin area, you can add a logo, change the name of your community, and add a privacy policy.

You can also set whether you want your community to be private, public, or invite-only. If you choose the latter, you can allow users to invite people to the community.

save settings

Add your branding

You can customize the look and feel of your community in the branding section. Change the colors so they complement your existing brand—if you have one. If you don’t, experiment with colors until you find a design you like. Use a tool like Coolers to generate a palette.

At this stage, you can also adjust the menus people will see on your site. All your changes are instantly reflected in the preview panel.

navigation customization
CUSTOMIZATION

Choose how people will create an account

Now you have to choose how people will register and log in to your site. Make it easy for users to join by letting them use login details from existing social accounts.

Or you can choose to enable Single Sign-On. This is beneficial if users already have an account with another part of your company. For example, an eCommerce store could let users sign up to its social networking platform with the same credentials they use when shopping.

Create new spaces

Next, create the groups or spaces that you will use in your community.

Consider basing these around the topics you expect people to discuss. For example, a gaming community could create boards around different games or consoles.

Remember, you can always add more groups later in the development process. Each space you create will be added to the sidebar so community members can easily access them.

Spaces

While each space is separate, conversations will also appear in the General tab unless you choose to set the space as private.

Note that in the case of Tribe, Spaces are much more extensible and customizable than groups used for categorizing content. Community admins have the ability to install apps into spaces to add additional functionality.

Use apps to add extra features

Tribe lets you add extra features to your social media site by connecting third-party apps. At this stage in the process, you can choose the apps that provide the functionality you need.

Some examples of features you can add include:

  • Virtual currency to reward members and increase engagement.
  • Google Analytics to track user metrics.
  • Notifications via Facebook Messenger or Slack.
  • Content translation options via Google Translate.

Bear in mind that you will need a premium account to add apps to your site.

Move the site to a new domain

At the moment, your site is hosted on a Tribe subdomain. If you want to use your domain or a subdomain of an existing site, you can easily do so.

Just head to the “Domain” section, add the relevant URL to the “New domain” box, and then press “Move community.”

If you don’t have a domain yet, you can easily purchase one using a domain name registrar.

Setup moderation

Moderation is a big challenge for social media sites of all sizes. If you plan to grow your site, you should have plans to manage the content.

Tribe has automated moderation features that help. For example, you can blacklist posts that contain chosen words or phrases. You can also only allow posts once you’ve checked them.

Add your first members

Your social media site should now be taking shape. It’s time to add your first users.

Just head to the “Members” section, click “Invite members,” and then add the email addresses of everyone you want to invite.

You can also generate a link and share it on your social platforms. The link will direct people to your signup page.

Once your first members are active, it’s time to move onto the next step.

5. Grow your community

Growing your social networking user base is perhaps the most challenging part of getting started.

It is easiest if you have access to an existing audience. Then you can promote your app to the people that follow you. Mention your network on your social feeds, blog posts, videos, and more.

When promoting the product, marketers should highlight a specific reason why people might join.

Here are some great examples:

  • The Global Cycling Network promotes its network on its YouTube videos. Its marketing strategy highlights that you can share pictures of your bike and let people rate it.
  • LetsUpgrade promotes its social network website on its homepage. It’s marketed as a place to connect with other learners.
  • Customer Relationship Management software Salesforce promotes its Trailblazer user community in blog posts. It’s marketed as a place to get support and share ideas.

Another powerful way to grow a community is to ensure that public discussions are indexed on Google. When people search for a topic or question that people in your community have discussed, they may discover it and then become a user.

Developer community Stack Overflow is an excellent example of a social networking site that benefits from SEO.

The site gets around 30 million unique visits from Google Search every month, according to SEO tool Ubersuggest.

The majority of this content seems to come from user-generated questions and answers.

If the site can convert even a small percentage of these visitors into community members, it will gain many new users every month.

Social media growth: quality over quantity?
Not all social network sites benefit from a large number of active users. Some may provide a better experience by staying small and having a high-quality, engaged group of members. Some sites even limit who joins your community to ensure this is the case.

Creating a social media network is easier than ever

As you’ve seen in this article, it’s easier to start your own social network than ever before. There are plenty of platforms that provide all the functionality you need to create and grow a site of active users.

We think that Tribe is a great solution. Here is a roundup of the reasons why:

  • We take care of everything technical, including updates, data storage, and security. You can focus on building a valuable experience.
  • Our platform enables the powerful social media features you need to grow an engaged audience. You can add more via apps.
  • It’s easy to customize our platform and add your own branding. Users won’t know you’re using a third-party platform.
  • You can set up your community exceptionally quickly. It’s possible to have a version of your social network up and running in just hours or days.
  • When you build a social network with Tribe, you own all your data. Export it to third-party tools as you see fit.
  • Tribe is cost-effective. We have plans to suit all budgets, and there’s no need to pay for a costly developer.

You can see how our platform works and even get started for free by following this link.

How to create a social media site FAQ

How to create a social media website for free?

Tribe has a free plan that lets you set up a fully functioning site on a custom domain without any cost to you. The plan has no user limits. If you choose, it’s easy to upgrade as your site grows.

How to create a social media site?

There are four main ways to create a social media site. Using a SaaS solution, self-hosted software, a CMS plugin, or coding a site from scratch. Each method has pros and cons.

How hard is it to build a social media app?

This depends on the method you choose. Building a social media site with a SaaS tool is easy and you can be set up in just hours. Developing a site from scratch requires specific coding skills and takes far longer.

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Duncan Elder

Duncan is a content marketer with a passion for all things digital marketing, SaaS, and online communities.

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