Instagram is one of the world’s most famous social media applications.
Launched in 2010 as a small product with just one key feature, it quickly transformed into a popular service.
As of today, it offers photo-editing, e-commerce, and messaging functionality.
If you want to create your own social network app, you should consider the experience of such a successful service like Instagram.
Let’s get started!
Instagram success story
Instagram was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Having experience in app development, Kevin designed a prototype he called Burnb, a mobile check-in service. With this product, he managed to raise $500,000 in seed funding from venture capitalist firms.
As Systrom needed help to extend the product, he engaged Mike Krieger, who became a Co-Founder and CTO at Instagram. Under Krieger as CTO, Instagram grew from a million users to 1 billion monthly active users.
Since Burnb was similar to other apps on the market, like Foursquare, they decided to concentrate on one idea—communication through images.
This was the birth of an Instagram's MVP (minimum viable product) that included photo uploading, adhering it to a square with a few filters, and liking functionality.
Thanks to this unique selling proposition, the new social photo-sharing app attracted 1 million users within two months. In 2012, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger sold their business to Facebook for $1 billion.
Many startups and product owners were inspired by the outstanding success story of Instagram. This spurred a wave of new social media applications that also gained popularity, such as Snapchat, Vine, Flickr, and Swipe.
What comprises Instagram functionality
At the moment, Instagram is a complex social media service with multiple features. The application is used not only by individuals but by various businesses.
Emerging nearly 10 years ago, it has quickly become one of the most popular advertising and photo-sharing platforms.
Plenty of new professions have appeared due to this product: bloggers, their assistants, Instagram copywriters, content managers, and story creators.
Packing rich functionality, Instagram can be considered as a social photo-editing app, messenger, and an e-commerce platform:
Instagram provides people with numerous filters to create beautiful photos tailored to personal preferences.
Users can change various things that involve image contrast, brightness, warmth, etc., as well as put text, emojis, and other elements on them.
- Messaging application
Like other famous social media applications, Instagram has its own messaging functionality too.
Users can communicate in direct messages (text and audio), create group chats, and comment posts. The app also supports video calling.
- E-commerce platform
Businesses and individuals are able to launch advertising campaigns to promote their goods and services. Instagram receives a commission from each transaction carried out through the app.
Organizations create profiles to demonstrate their products, share industry and company insights, increase customer loyalty, and build an HR brand to attract new employees.
How to create an app with Instagram-like functionality
If you’ve decided to make an app like Instagram, you should take a look at the key functionality of this digital product.
- User authorization
To improve user experience, you can let them quickly register and log in with an email account, user name, phone number, or Google account.
- User profile creation and editing
A basic feature that is included in most mobile apps. Users should have the ability to optionally fill out fields such as their names, age, gender, phone number, avatar, short biography, website, interests, etc. Also making the information in these fields editable.
- Photo and video uploading
To build an app like Instagram, allow the audience to publish posts containing images or videos, exchange photos or video files in messages, and create stories with them.
You can also let users upload images and videos in the comments. Complement this functionality with post preview, tags, and content saving.
- Photo editing
Instagram is known for numerous capabilities of photo adjusting: a range of filters, a variety of image editing parameters, and elements.
Messaging is the core of any social networking service. Instagram allows text, audio, and video communication. Integrate private and group chats into your mobile application.
If you want to make an app like Instagram, add this feature. Users like discussing various topics, sharing, and exchanging opinions.
- Push notifications
Embed push notifications in your product, so that users are automatically alerted about new messages, likes, and comments.
Liking (or upvoting like in ‘Reddit’, for example) helps users to interact with each other, showing that they enjoy someone’s content.
This is a must-have feature for any social network solution.
Instagram employs machine learning algorithms to analyze user behavior (including likes) and make personalized recommendations based on that data.
Focusing on communication, a social media application should enable users to search for content (audio, video, posts) and people.
Instagram includes search by liked posts, tags, places, and accounts.
Include in your app to let users share places—on photos, videos—where they have been and are at the moment. This feature is common for not only social media but for dating apps, too.
Users should be able to adjust settings as they need, choosing the language, turning notifications on/off, making accounts private, changing profile information, etc.
This feature allows sharing moments—photos and videos—with their followers. They are visible for only 24 hours and then disappear if the user doesn’t save them to highlights (i.e. collections of moments).
Although other people can’t watch the story after a certain time period, the owner can access it in their archive.
- Story editing
Instagram lets users edit stories with a range of stickers, emojis, live face filters, and other engaging elements.
- Instagram TV
IGTV is a feature of vertical video sharing that now offers the opportunity to create a personal channel.
- Shoppable posts
Thanks to shopping tags placed on the posts, users are able to make purchases via the platform.
This is especially useful for businesses that want to open a new sales channel.
How much does it cost to make an app like Instagram?
Instagram has rich functionality that is hard to develop from scratch. The app founders started by building a minimum viable product and then extended it based on user feedback. We recommend taking the same approach.
This will allow you to tailor a social media application to the needs and preferences of your audience and therefore, fill an underserved niche in the market. Furthermore, beginning with MVP development is significantly cheaper and less time-consuming.
Let’s estimate how much it costs to launch a social network service with basic Instagram functionality.
The main features and their development time in hours:
- Account authorization (70-75 hours)
- Profile creation and editing (50-55)
- Photo sharing and customization (140-400)
- Messaging (140-145)
- Geolocation (50-55)
- Push notifications (65-70)
- User settings (100-135)
- Search parameters (25-50)
- Calculating the overall time for implementing this functionality, we project 640 to 985 development hours, which is between $44,800 - $68,950 in the USA.
- That is without UI/UX design costs, which are not included in this estimate.
- If you decide to outsource such a project to Eastern Europe, say, Poland, you will need a budget of $19,200 - $29,550.
Instagram technology stack
Instagram uses a range of technologies. The front-end (client-side) part—what people see on the screens—is written in React Native, a cross-platform app development tool that allows creating one app for iOS and Android instead of two.
The back-end (server-side) is powered by Python and Django, a Python-based framework. Using Python, software engineers implemented machine learning algorithms.
Therefore, the main programming languages and frameworks used by Instagram are:
- React Native
In order to ensure efficient infrastructure maintenance and high load support, the company employs Amazon cloud computing services like Amazon S3 and Amazon EC2.
In addition, Instagram uses a PostgreSQL database for storing and managing user information including likes and comments.
Instagram monetization strategy
Instagram is a social photo-sharing service, which is available on iOS and Android for free.
Although users don’t have to pay for installing and using a mobile application, it generates huge profits due to an effective monetization strategy.
Like Facebook, the product generates revenue primarily from advertising.
Have a look:
- Sponsored posts
A sponsored post generally looks like an ordinary post but includes an CTA (call-to-action) button in conjunction with a sponsored tag.
This is the primary source of revenue. Facebook also successfully employs this monetization model.
- Carousel ads
This kind of post is similar to a general publication but involves a few images that ad creators apply to tell a story.
This feature is widely used by companies for advertising their goods and services.
Short promotion videos pop up while the app users are watching stories of people they are subscribed to.
If you’re developing a social network service, it’s reasonable to make it free. Since the market is full of similar digital products, it’s hard to convince the user to purchase the application without trying it.
So you should choose a monetization strategy, for instance, in-app purchases (e.g., stickers, emoticons, filters), ads (businesses pay you for placing their advertisements in your product), or cross-promotion (you generate income from other mobile apps by advertising them on your social media platform).
How can you make your social media app unique?
Don’t copy world-famous products or competitors when creating your own social media app.
The market is full of similar solutions with Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and WhatsApp among other matured competitors fighting for users.
While it’s reasonable to examine their experience, replication will just push users away.
The most popular mobile social media applications in the USA as of September 2019 (by monthly users)
Provide your audience with unique value or a mix of features lacking in other products.
When Instagram was invented, photo sharing and editing were used in different apps but separately.
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger combined them in their service and achieved success. See what you can add to your mobile application.
- Short-lived posts
Short-lived or ephemeral content—content that automatically disappears after a certain period of time - is another trending feature that you can add to your social media app.
A great example is Instagram and Facebook stories: after publication, a photo or video uploaded as a story is seen to users for 24 hours.
Businesses, influencers, and bloggers use this feature to introduce their services, promote goods, and boost customer loyalty.
Individuals can use it to share glimpses of their life and highlight exciting moments.
You can allow the audience to set the time when their content will expire: in 30 minutes, a day, two, or more.
- Short-lived messages
This feature is being widely employed in modern mobile apps.
Allowing people to communicate with self-destructing messages significantly increases the level of product privacy.
Provide users with the ability to save content they like.
They can also create their personal collections and publish posts with links and images.
Although when Google+ included this feature it fell into the shade, you can build upon this idea to add value to your social network application.
Mix, formerly StumbleUpon, offers collections by interests. For example, art, culture, and technology.
Instagram also allows subscribing to users’ other profiles on different platforms.
YouTube—to channels (we consider YouTube as a type of a social media service as it includes features such as commenting and content sharing), Facebook, Linkedin, and Reddit offer subscriptions to groups.
What’s more, users can publish their own posts in them.
- Personalized emojis
If you want to entertain your audience and improve user engagement, think about integrating this feature.
There are two possible options.
First, you can allow users to create their own emoticons and stickers with the help of various elements.
Secondly, employing face recognition, developers can let people make cool emojis based on their own photos and use them in posts, profiles, and communication with friends.
Summing it up
It took over 5 years for Instagram to transform from a simple photo-sharing application into a leading social media and advertising platform.
However, due to their unique selling proposition, it attracted a million users within two months after launch. This tremendous success demonstrates the importance of market research and the value that you add to customers.