Want to Create Social Media App? There are Hidden Costs to Consider

In mid-2000s Facebook set a benchmark for social media app developers, but no one has replicated Mr. Zuckerberg’s success so far. There might be a reason for it though. If you want to build a simpler version of Facebook or Twitter, you have to plan your budget in advance taking into account the hidden costs of social media app development. Here’s how to make a social media app and stay on budget.

6 factors driving social media app development costs

Back in 2013 the Next Web interviewed several prominent designers and web developers in an attempt to find out how much it really cost to create a social media app like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Although the experts reached no agreement, they cited $ 500 thousand as the minimum budget for a Facebook clone. Considering the fact that Mark Zuckerberg started with a PHP website and HTML mobile apps, it does seem a lot. However, there are several social media features that often get overlooked by aspiring entrepreneurs – and they may significantly increase the estimate provided by the social media app development company you’re going to address.

Social connections

How to make a successful social media app? You need to connect people, of course! So, you obviously need to include the Friends option in your scope. The function, however, comes along with several less obvious features:
  • User search. In order to enable users to add people to their Friends lists, your vendor will have to develop precise search algorithms;
  • Invitation sending. Once you’ve found a user, you should be able to invite him to join your circle, right?
  • Invitation notification. You’ve got to inform users if someone wants to befriend them;
  • Invitation view. Knock-knock; who’s there? Users need an option to view pending invitations and either accept or decline them;
  • Two user profiles. There are two types of user profiles on any social network: a public profile which is visible to anyone and a private profile which can be accessed by a user’s friends only and enables its owner to manage his personal data.
If you consider building an iOS/Android application with backend capabilities, the Friends function alone will cost you at least $ 20 thousand.

Want to Create Social Media App? There are Hidden Costs to Consider

Virality & user retention

According to recent psychology studies, getting positive feedback on social networks impacts our brain’s reward center and awakens the feeling of social acceptance. The more likes we get, the stronger the feeling grows (that’s where Facebook’s 69.6% retention rate comes from).

Here’s how to create a social media app that plays to users’ weakness:

  • Enable the “like” feature;
  • The backend system should keep track of likes/shares and update the data in real time;
  • Do not allow double likes from one user account;
  • Popular content – that is, posts getting the most likes – should appear first in user news feeds.
Although the cost of implementing the Like feature depends on the size of an application (the number of affected modules is important here), you won’t arrive at a figure smaller than $ 10 thousand.
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As of January 2017, top 10 messaging applications registered almost 5 billion monthly active users – and that’s just 300 million less than the number of social media users worldwide. According to Business Insider, messengers are on track to outpace social networks in the near future, so enabling the messaging option will give you a competitive advantage over fellow social media entrepreneurs.

The hidden costs of messaging include:

  • Infrastructure costs. Additional servers will be required to handle millions of users chatting at the same time. Want them to exchange pictures and videos? Get ready to store petabytes of user-generated data in a fault-resistant storage. This alone could cost you anything between $ 10-100 thousand per month;
  • Group chats. Implementing the group chat feature requires extra coding at the backend infrastructure including the synchronization of sender/recipient data and server logic;
  • Chat history. The option to view previous messages requires additional storage space (which translates into higher server and implementation costs).


Before the introduction of newsfeeds, popular communication services such as emails and messaging apps were transactional: if a user wanted to reach out to another user, he had to log in and start a conversation. With Facebook’s News Feed, an engagement-driven social media use case has emerged. Here’s how it works. Social media users produce enormous amount of content (check-ins, status updates, links to third-party websites, images, videos, etc.). It is estimated that Facebook users, for example, generate 4 (!) million likes/shares per minute. The entries are then sorted based on trending topics, length and popularity; the most relevant posts are displayed at the top of a user’s newsfeed. The implementation of a simple newsfeed and analytical sorting algorithm will cost you up to $ 20 thousand. 
Mature social networks, however, enhance their newsfeeds with machine learning capabilities, enabling the algorithms to tell real users and bots apart, filter inappropriate content and personalize newsfeeds taking into account users’ previous in-app activities. The price of building an AI-powered newsfeed depends on the number of filters and amount of user-generated content; in any case, you should not expect charity since innovative software technologies are pricey.

Want to Create Social Media App? There are Hidden Costs to Consider


Keeping users informed is important; when done right, in-app notifications can boost user engagement by up to 88%! However, notifications should be unobtrusive, well-designed and configurable. With push notifications, the goal can be easily achieved – after all, they do contain text only. Emails is a different story, since each letter should have its own HTML template optimized for mobile and desktop and web email clients. Considering the fact that there are about 20 different types of notifications in the average social network, the feature will add extra $ 5 thousand to your estimate.


Social networking is all about being able to interact with friends anytime and anywhere, so you can’t save on infrastructure here. During Facebook’s first year, Mark Zuckerberg was reportedly spending $ 3 thousand per month on servers. By 2006, his monthly maintenance bill grew up to $ 10 million. The average social network with at least 10 million users runs on 10-20 servers (the actual number depends on user activities and the type of content they share), which will cost you $ 2 thousand per month – or more, if content delivery network (CDN) services are used.
So, what do we have here? The hidden features will cost you at least $ 70 thousand (or 14% of the entire $ 500 thousand budget). You shouldn’t jump on conclusions though. Provided you address a reliable social media web development company and create an MVP of a social media app first, you’ll be able to decide on your app’s feature set early on and optimize the dev expenses. Remember: 2004’s Facebook was not the Facebook we see today. The social network has evolved over time; its CEO made both wise (News Feed) and short-sighted (cross-platform mobile apps) business decisions. There’s no tried-and-true strategy for social network success. All you can do is launch your product, gather user feedback, add new features and…gather feedback again!
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