When developing software, we are often trying to get users to stay engaged with an app for as long as possible, while competing for the valuable attention span of users that other popular social applications have already won. 

It is hard to appeal to all users, and certain features will have different value to each user group. Knowing this, it is essential to understand which features will appeal to your target users early on in application design and development.

I’ll start by outlining the basics of social media applications, and then break down how I came to know the social media users that I develop for.

What Is Social Media?

A social media application is any internet-based platform with online communities that is used for sharing information and ideas through messages and (you guessed it!) media. They rely on user-generated content, and thus it is vitally important for social media applications to be highly appealing for users to engage with.

Who Uses Social Media And Why?

Of the 7.89 billion people in the world, 4.55 billion are on social media (57.6% of global population). The average user spends 2hr 27min per day on social media and spreads this time across an average of 7.6 different platforms per month. 

The most popular social media platforms are Facebook (2.9 billion active users) and YouTube (2.3 billion active users), followed by familiar applications like WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, WeChat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Launching a new social application requires taking on the challenge of pulling attention away from these established competitors. 

Social media users generally engage with these applications for the primary reasons of: 

  • Keeping in touch with friends and family
  • Filling up spare time
  • Reading news
  • Finding funny content
  • Seeing what is being talked about
  • Finding inspiration for things to do and buy

The Global State of Digital 2021 report published by Hootsuite ( is the comprehensive resource for these base statistics, and I highly recommend it to any developers on the journey to define their user audience.

Types Of Social Media Users 

Categories of social media users can vary greatly depending on who you are talking to. I like to describe users simply as either those who consume or create content. However, the complexity increases dramatically as soon as you consider breaking this into subgroups. 

The system that I found most intuitive classifies social media users into four groups (

  • Creators, who provide inspiration, entertainment and knowledge and have the potential to become influencers for rising brands. 
  • Social media professionals, who post curated, polished, goal-driven content. 
  • Sharers, who generally repost without the need to grow their audience. 
  • Bonders, who are focused on community-building and creating connections. 

A simple internet search will return a wide number of social media user categories (far beyond this four-group system) and suggestions of how to best engage with them. It is easy to get lost in the variety of classifications. I did find one common thread that I think is helpful to apply to any social media application development, regardless of which user category system you subscribe to. This thread of wisdom is to carefully consider how users that engage in trolling and spamming might abuse your application. Getting ahead of potential user abuse scenarios is an important success strategy for developers.  

Knowing Your Users Matters

Understanding your target audience is critical to developing features and functionality that adequately appeals to those users. One of the most important reasons to define your user groups early on is to compose a representative development team that will include their unique perspectives on how they would personally engage with the app. For example, a creator will view and engage with a platform very differently from a consumer, and understanding both experiences is important for the successful launch of a new application. 

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