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How to Build a Professional Social Network

Nataly Palienko
6th Dec 2018
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Social media isn’t simply a means of staying connected with family and friends. Many businesses also benefit from professional social networks, using them for brand recognition, recruitment, sharing ideas with like-minded individuals, and attracting and retaining customers.

Reid Hoffman and his team realized the business benefits of social networks 15 years ago and decided to build a network for making meaningful business connections. Guess what? Today, this platform, which we know as LinkedIn, is the biggest professional network and operates in over 200 countries and territories.

Wondering how to build a website like LinkedIn? In this guide, we examine how to create a professional social network in detail.


Core building blocks of a successful professional social network

According to Sangeet Paul Choudary, there are three major functions that every successful platform should perform: pull, facilitate, and match.

  • The platform should pull participants to interact. It should encourage users to actively and regularly participate on the platform.
  • The platform should facilitate the exchange of value and create an ecosystem where users can collaborate with each other.
  • The platform should match producers and consumers with each other in a relevant way. To do this, the platform should provide filters.

To offer this functionality, a platform should be comprised of the following building blocks. What’s important is that none of these building blocks should be omitted. If you fail to implement one or more of these three blocks, you jeopardize your chance of success.


The magnet

Pulling producers and customers on a regular basis depends greatly on social gravity and reciprocal needs. To attract a great number of users, a platform must be beneficial for all. On LinkedIn, everyone can meet their needs: companies can promote themselves, build professional relationships, and find top talent; job seekers can hunt for and find good jobs; and employees can promote themselves as professionals, establish business connections, and stay informed about what’s happening in their industries.


The toolbox

To facilitate interactions between producers and consumers, a platform should provide certain tools and rules to encourage users to behave a certain way. LinkedIn, for example, provides a large number of handy tools for all parties to foster interactions. Recruiters can use advanced search filters, save search results, contact anyone via InMail, monitor updates of top candidates, and do much more. Job seekers can search jobs based on location, job title, industry, date posted, company, and other filters to narrow down results. Apart from tools integrated in the website, there are some LinkedIn extensions to help users interact, such as Discoverly, Linked Helper, Open Network, Dux-Soup, and dozens more. Additionally, plenty of platforms offer subtle cues, such as notifications and feedback, to motivate users to take desired actions. LinkedIn sends notifications about new messages, invites, updates in a user’s network, posts and shares, and news and articles, encouraging users to go back to the platform.


The matchmaker

A platform should strengthen the value stream by connecting producers and consumers. Data is a central element of matchmaking. The matchmaker collects data about one user and uses that data to create smart connections with other users. For example, LinkedIn is an employer-employee matchmaking platform that connects employers with job seekers based on education, skills, expertise, experience, and job titles.


How to start your professional social network

Creating a successful professional social network isn’t easy. Before you make your own platform, you need to fully understand what social networking app development entails. To make it easier, we would like to highlight some things that are critical for success.


Define your core value

It may sound a little weird, but the design of any successful platform should never start with its features or functionality. Instead, you should begin with defining the core value of your platform. Before designing a platform, ask yourself what value unit your platform will deliver and what needs to be done to foster regular interactions and production of value. Why is this important? The success of any social media platform, whether for business or friends, is based on enabling repeated interactions between users with a purpose to exchange core value. LinkedIn, for example, is a platform for making professional connections. On Kickstarter, producers such as musicians and artists can find financial support for their projects.



SOURCE: PLATFORMTHINKINGLABS.COM


To define your core value, you need to know your target audience. Your platform should meet the needs of a particular group of users who are interested in your network and are likely to turn into customers or service providers.

Let’s look at some LinkedIn alternatives that are gaining a competitive edge to find out their target audiences and main objectives:




As you can see, each of these platforms is concentrated on fulfilling the needs of a particular group of users determined by age, location, and other characteristics.


Decide on key features and functionality

Once you define your core value and your target audience, concentrate on the features and functionality that will best meet your audience’s needs. Ask yourself what issues your platform will address and what features and functionality can address them.

Even though there are individual features that are relevant only for some platforms, there are some basic features that are found in almost every networking website. Let’s walk through them using the example of Afrinection, an Africa-focused professional networking platform that SteelKiwi recently developed.



SOURCE: DRIBBBLE.COM


Profiles

In professional social networks, user profiles are crucial for helping users build and maintain relationships with others who share similar goals. A profile should include the user’s name, a picture, and links so that other users can easily connect via other popular social media sites. In Afrinection, user profiles also contain bios and background information, which lets users provide additional information on their education, skills, and expertise.



SOURCE: AFRINECTION.COM


If you want to create a LinkedIn like website, you might also consider including business profiles. These profiles can serve as good advertising for businesses and help employers share what their companies are all about, highlighting facts about the company and what makes it unique, providing special offers, addressing the target audience, and more.


SOURCE: AFRINECTION.COM


Search engine

As a platform for building business connections, Afrinection needs to offer advanced search. Users can find whoever they’re looking for by typing a name, keyword, or job title. It’s also possible to add specific details while searching by entering location or industry.


SOURCE: DRIBBBLE.COM


When developing a job matching platform, you might also consider implementing automatic matching. This can help businesses find potential employees based on expertise indicated in user profiles. We implemented this feature in the Jobmatchit project by means of a PostgreSQL database. This feature enables employers to focus on employees who fit their requirements.


Real-time chat

Users should be allowed to communicate in real time with other users via text messages. This enables businesses to interact with clients, employees, job seekers, and like-minded companies. Any work social network should provide users with personal chats and group conversations.


News feed

When creating a social media app, it’s important to ensure that the application generates a constant flow of content — such as vacancies, news, pictures, videos, and articles — to increase user engagement. To ensure that content is relevant to users, a lot of social platforms including LinkedIn use algorithms. For example, LinkedIn offers users trending, recommended for you, and popular news itemsfiltered by previous actions and likes, and if users see that a news item doesn’t meet their needs, they’re free to click a not the right person/company button.


Interaction feed

User interactions with content is a crucial point for every social network. By letting users like, comment on, and share content, you create an ecosystem that enhances user engagement. Users should be allowed to create, upload, and share different pieces of content including texts, pictures, videos, and articles. A professional networking website should also enable posting status updates. This lets recruiters maximize their chances of success when searching for employees by posting current vacancies in their statuses so that job seekers can apply for jobs directly.


Choose the right technology stack

Once you’ve clearly identified your core value, target audience, and essential features to meet users’ needs, you should choose what technologies to implement. You can build a social network using either a ready-made content management system (CMS) or a framework.


What is a CMS?

A content management system is software that helps you create and manage the content on your platform without a lot of technical support. These systems provide site templates and core features and functionality. A CMS allows you to manage content with easy formatting, publishing, history editing, and indexing,. Drupal, Joomla, Wordpress, Magento, and Vbulletin are all examples of CMSs.

NOTE: A CMS IS OFTEN BUILT ON A FRAMEWORK.


What are frameworks?

Another solution for developing a networking website is a framework. A framework is a software tool that facilitates development of software solutions compared to programming languages. Frameworks allow developers to build more customized platforms. However, it takes technical expertise to manage these platforms. Frameworks are plentiful. The most popular are Django, Ruby on Rails, Backbone.js, Bootstrap, Laravel, and Express.js.


Which technology is best for you?

This depends on what you want to achieve. You first need to carefully examine your aims and objectives. If your platform is going to be more informational, you might consider building it with a CMS. However, if you want to create a platform like Afrinection to accomplish more complex tasks, it’s better to use a framework and build the platform from scratch. Our team used the Django framework for Afrinection, as the project was massive and had plenty of features.


How do professional social networks make money?

Each platform may have a different approach to monetization. Still, the monetization strategy of any platform should be grounded in its core value. This means that you can generate revenue from users for successful transactions, accessing the market, using particular tools, and curating content.

For LinkedIn, the company’s major sources of revenue are recruitment services, marketing, and premium memberships. Almost three-quarters of LinkedIn’s total revenue comes from “talent solutions,” or in other words recruitment services. As LinkedIn’s core value is making professional connections, the company offers different sets of tools for employers and employees to facilitate matching. However, only businesses are charged for access to search tools. LinkedIn’s recruitment toolkit consists of advanced search filters and spotlights, smart suggestions, and tools to prioritize candidates. Marketing and premium subscriptions — the other two sources of revenue — equally contribute to the platform’s total income. LinkedIn charges users for premium memberships that let them take on-demand courses to expand their expertise, contact other users via InMail, and see who has viewed their profiles. Marketing on LinkedIn comprises advertisements and sponsored content, which allows businesses to list their services in a professional news feed.


A new vision of professional social networks

To be a success, your platform must offer something fresh. There’s no need to duplicate existing platforms and simply build a professional website like LinkedIn. Take the example of beBee. By helping users establish relationships with more than just business contacts, the company has already gained great success in just a year. beBee is all about making business relationships through personal and professional interests and hobbies. This makes beBee different from other social networks for business and unique at the same time.


What do you pay for when creating a professional platform?

The cost for building social network will vary depending on a number of factors including type, design, features, and complexity. Afrinection, for example, took us 1,570 hours in total to create.

  • Documentation: 25 hours
  • Wireframes: 54 hours
  • UI/UX design: 118 hours
  • Frontend development: 180 hours
  • Backend development: 954 hours
  • Testing: 236 hours

Afrinection now operates in Africa and helps job seekers, recruiters, employers, and employees find new job opportunities and make business connections. So far, we’ve had two releases. For the first release, our team introduced a professional social network where users could create profiles, chat, subscribe to users they find interesting, and read news. For the second release, we added functionality so that businesses can post job ads and get feedback from applicants.


Conclusion

Remember that your platform is all about addressing your users’ needs — this is the platform’s core value. Everything else — features, functionality, and design — should be built around your core value.

If you have any questions or need advice on how to make a social media website, please let us know.

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