Networking is the buzzword of this decade.
You no longer go out and just meet people – you are constantly searching for potentially beneficial relationships and professional connections whenever you are.
Mobile has made the world your oyster and over 1,968 billion of active mobile social users confirm that fact.
While there are tons of fun and casual social apps for communicating with friends, building genuine professional connections and expanding your personal network is still relatively tough.
So, there should be an app for that!
Who Needs an App For Business Networking?
Successful products are built with the end user in mind. To create a business networking application that gets tractions early on, you need to map out your ideal user profile first and settle on the exact kind of functionality they will need.
Let’s have a closer look on LinkedIn and its demographics for a start:
- The largest app audience segment is users aged 25-44.
- 41% of US-based LinkedIn users earn over $75.000 annually.
- In general, the vast majority of LinkedIn users are white-collar workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.
- 56% of users are male and 44% are female.
In general, a business networking app should be geared towards young, mobile-savvy folks, who are used to living on the go and getting instant value from each interaction. To refine the scope, we always suggest running a few market researches and user surveys.
Before starting the development, you should have a clear portrait of your ideal user. For example:
“Mary is a 32-year old Marketing Executive from NYC. She’s been working both in startups and VC companies and her current job involves closing seed funding rounds and scouting for new biz dev opportunities. Mary is really active on social media, but doesn’t like the scattered data and how time consuming it is to track down the right professional. She wishes there was an easier way to search for specific people in her area, connect with them and interact both online and offline.”
Business Networking App Development: Best Practices
Okay, so we know what Mary’s problem is – she needs more qualified leads and meaningful local connections compared to what LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media networks offer.
How can we hook up Mary to try and start using our new business networking app (and tell all about it to her vast professional network)?
If your app fails to gauge the user’s interest immediately, it won’t make it in the long run either. Hence your first app screen should immediately include the “what’s in it for me”treat:
- Include an attractive tagline and call-to-action summing up the in-app experience.
- Make registration easy by offering integration with other social media sites e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook using REST API as filling up a profile from mobile can be time-consuming.
- Offer an option to fill in your profile later on and guide the user straight to the experience.
- You may consider featuring a few user profiles; so that newcomers can instantly tap into suggestions and started browsing the app. Offer them an opportunity to explore the app before they sign up.
- Suggest content and connections. Establishing connections should be simple and instant. Offer multiple connection search options e.g. via email, social network, company, school name etc. The more connections a user has – the more time they will spend engaging within the app.
Self-Expression Through Profiles
Social networks in general are profile-centric. Users should have at least some functionality to make their profile more custom and reflect their personality better. Most commonly this is achieved the following way:
- Option to upload and edit a profile picture, or pull it automatically from another social network.
- Customizable profile layout, background photo/color and style settings.
- Customizable bio and custom hobby, professional background, education fields.
- Links to other social media profiles, personal and professional websites (Hey, networking is all about showcasing who you are and what you do in the first place).
User Feeds – Another Form of Self-Expression and Engagement
You don’t want your business networking app for entrepreneurs to look like an address book. An app where nothing happens is a quickly abandoned app.
LinkedIn in early days have existed without any means for users to curate content and share updates, however after those features were introduced, along with the LinkedIn Pulse publishing tool, the app started experiencing rapid growth.
Even if you are aiming for a mobile-only solution, allowing users to share content is essential to keeping your app engaging. Additionally, you may spice up your feed with the following information:
- New connecting of your friends.
- Events/groups your friends are now part of.
- Interesting events nearby if you plan to support geo-location services.
- Curated information from the app’s administrators.
Simplify the process of sharing content as much as possible both for in-app user-generated content e.g. photos, posts etc. and copy-pasted links and resources.
Geo-Location – a Fad or a Cool Feature to Consider?
In-app geolocation features are quickly moving from dating and social apps to business networking apps. It sounds pretty cool that you can possibly know the names and professions of people you are at the same room with during the conference? Or how about spotting that Gary Vaynerchuk is holding a master class just a few blocks away from your office later today?
We’ve implemented geo-location functionality for one of our clients – CityHour a.k.a. LinkedIn on steroids. Based on where you are in the world, the app will suggest you other professionals nearby and offer to set a meeting when both of you are free later in the day. This particular feature made the product stand out among the competition and attracted a massive amount of early adopters.
However, there’s always the “Creep Factor” rolling in – when your phone suddenly beeps and suggests you that some guy next door actively wants to connect with you or you are offered cheaper tickets for an event you’ve looked into the other day.
Here’s the deal – apps with geo component snoop on our location way more often than we actually think, which posses a lot of privacy concerns from the user’s perspective. App developers, on the other hand, often have zero ideas of their app’s behavior and may choose to work with the libraries that offer integration with ads or other hidden services.
Bottom line: be very attentive when you choosing 3rd party services and think if your users really need this kind of feature in the first product version.
Build for The User’s Ego – Address Their Self-Esteem
Networking is the art of showing the best of you without appearing too bluntly self-promotional (and annoying for the matter). People share content and try to get more followers/like or other accolades to leverage their status, authority and expertise.
You can retain users inside the app more effectively by offering the next functionality:
- Premium accounts to unlock bonus features (LinkedIn Model)
- Badges, levels and special statuses when a certain goal is achieved (e.g. 500 connections = top networker accolade).
- Actual tangible rewards e.g. special discounts, vouchers or coupons from partners.
Gamifying your in-app experience can help you boost your app’s community size. Each interaction happening within the app (review, like, comment, highlight etc.) should be supported by a push notification prompting the user to open an app.
Additionally, in-app interactions in an excellent way to increase the amount of connections people have within your app – as value should always come first. Speaking of interactions, here are the most common ways to map those out.
Define The In-App Interactions
A networking app for a business should allow your users to quickly group all the connections they have to make the communication flow more organized. You have two main options here:
- Allow users to define groups themselves.
- Create automatic grouping.
Each option has its own pros and cons, but in case with an app – automatic pre-suggested grouping makes more sense, as it’s less time-consuming. Users should be able to instantly assign a specific tag to a new content e.g. lead, employer, colleague, potential partner etc. and adapt the setting accordingly if applicable.
Make Communication Easy-Peasy
You can propose to communication options within your app: private and public.
Private messaging should be reserved for existing connections and new contacts (with permission). You can add group chat functionality, voice or video messages, allow attaching files, images or stickers from 3rd party providers to make the communication more interactive.
Group talk can be structured in form of:
- Comments and interactions under public statuses/posts.
- A dedicated public group space where anyone is free to contribute and interact (think of how Quora or Inbound.org works).
Now as you have some ideas of how your new app may look like, let’s talk of the less glamorous, yet equally important part of the development – backend and data bases.
Backend Development for Business Networking Application: Core Technologies
To develop a business networking application, you should first decide on the platform – iOS or Android.
Obviously, each one has its pros and cons, we’ve already covered in this post. To sum it up:
- iPhone owners don’t mind paying for apps and in general tend to spend more than Android users.
- Deeside on your primary target market – Northern America, Western Europe and Oceania have a higher percentage of iPhone users, whereas the rest of the world is on Android team.
- Project timescale – Android app development tends to take more time (and more testing) compared to iOS development.
In general, when considering various backend options, pay special attention to the following:
Single Database: A weak, non-scalable database will be your first chokepoint. We recommend starting with a classic well-supported MySQL or PostgreSQL database for structured data. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter use MySQL to process some of their data. To manage more dynamic data with multiple entries and huge number of relationships since early days, it’s best to opt for a noSQL database e.g. MongoDB.
SSL: SSL certificates add an extra layer of encryption to your user data. After the recent set of data breaches and hacks, you can’t neglect those for sure. However, SSL will also add around 20% of extra load to your servers, meaning you’ll need more capacity to serve the same amount of traffic. Take this fact into account.
CDN: An efficient content delivery network should be capable to take off some in-app load. Good solutions are capable of reducing the duplication (when 10 of your friends shared the same cat picture). Your CDN should spread the wealth equally.
Data Size: Don’t underestimate the amount of data even 10 users can generate within the app by sharing just 10 updates. Find a robust solution to process and store all the produced data. It should be an easy-to-scale one as well.
These are just a few essential points to think over. Alty team can advise you in advance on the best practices and technology stack to adopt for a business networking app.
The Cost to Create a Business Networking App
Okay, so you want to know how much exactly will a social networking app cost you. I wish I could give you the exact price tag straight of the bat, but that’s merely impossible.
In general the costs of building such app can range can be somewhere between $25.000 to $250.000.
Well, an app development company needs to know what exactly do you want to have in a product. Here’s a great illustration from Clutch breaking down the pricing correlations:
Obviously, the more features you like and the more robust infrastructure you plan to implement – the higher the app development costs will be. For instance, here are some approximate development cost estimates of the most popular social networks:
- Instagram-like product: $100.000 – $300.000
- WhatsUp: $120.000
- Pinterest: $120.000
- Vine: $125.000-$175.000
Obviously, smaller apps and MVPs will cost you at least half of that. If you want to get a precise quote for your project, shoot a quick “hi” to our team!