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How to Make an App like Instagram: Comprehensive Guide [2021 Edition]

32 min read

Over a billion people use Instagram every month.

Video and photo-sharing applications are gaining traction today. And Instagram leads this group of social media platforms.

You’ve probably wondered what it owed its success to and how to make an app like Instagram.

In this guide, we’ve answered all your questions. You’ll learn how to create an app like Instagram and repeat its success.

Here is what’s hidden inside this guide:

  • how Instagram is successful
  • how to make an app like Instagram
  • cost to build an app like Instagram
  • KPIs for a photo-sharing app like Instagram

Let’s dive right into the article and learn how to build an app like Instagram in 2021.

How has Instagram Been Successful?

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are who you need to say thank you for the creation of the most popular social media platform in the world. In 2021, the company’s worth is over $102 billion, which is more than companies such as Nike, Goldman Sachs, Netflix, General Motors, and even American Express.

Instagram Company Worth

At the start of Instagram’s history, it was named Burbn, a solution that combined features of a check-in app and an online social game. But its founders didn’t stop there. They went further and decided to create a photo sharing app and combine it with photo editing features. Before then, such solutions existed, but only separately.

The combination of photo sharing and photo editing features was explosive. It became Instagram’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

Thanks to the first prototype, founders were able to raise $500,000 from first investors. Two months later after its release to the market, the platform gained over a million active users.

In 2012, Facebook bought out Instagram for over $1 billion and in 2013 the photo-sharing application gained its first 100 million monthly active users.

So, what stands behind the popularity of Instagram?

Instagram is a successful social media marketing tool because of its larger and growing user base. There are a few factors that ensure its never-stopping popularity:

  1. First of all, the app’s creators came up with a really unique app idea at the time that wowed users.
  2. At first, they didn’t invest all the money into the creation of a new platform. They created a photo-sharing app for iOS only and tested it for two years. Only after they witnessed huge success did they move to the development of Android and web versions.
  3. They stayed flexible enough and quickly understood when to change the first app ideas and which direction to move.
  4. The company knows both how to get new users and how to retain existing ones. It’s one of the platforms whose popularity hasn’t wavered for over 10 years now.
  5. Instagram is an app with a pretty simple app idea. The company has stuck to it throughout the years, however, it successfully added new features that the audience loved.

What is Instagram in the Nutshell?

What is Instagram?

Instagram has successfully moved past the time when it was just a photo-sharing application. Today, it’s much more than that. Let’s take a look at Instagram as a photo-sharing app, photo-editing solution, messenger, and eCommerce portal.

1. Instagram as a photo-sharing app

The key feature of Instagram is photo sharing. Considering how to make an app like Instagram, you can limit its features to just this one feature. It’s possible to make an app like Instagram starting with an MVP and then moving on by adding extra features.

The minimal feature set for such an app would be:

  • User profile
  • Uploading and deleting photos
  • Geolocation 
  • Comments
  • User tagging
  • Integration with 3rd party social media

2. Instagram as photo-editing app

As mentioned above, Instagram combines both photo-sharing and photo-editing features. Users can apply filters, change the size of a photo, adjust brightness, warmth, add text, markers, and so on. Users can create catching content right in one single application.

The MVP feature set for such an app would be:

  • User profile
  • Basic photo-editing features (cropping, resizing, filters, etc.)
  • Advanced features (adding text, frames, stickers, etc.)

3. Instagram as a messenger app

Today, it’s difficult to imagine Instagram without the built-in messenger. This feature allows users to interact with each other, share highlights, reactions, and messages.

Must-have features would be:

  • User profile
  • Text and audio chats
  • Ability to delete and usend messages
  • Feature for blocking users

4. Instagram as an eCommerce platform

Instagram never stands still. From a photo-sharing app, it grew into something more. Today, businesses use Instagram as an eCommerce platform. The number of business accounts is around 25 million. Merchants can post products, promote and advertise them as well as to sell and interact with buyers.

The minimal number of features would be:

  • Business profiles
  • Product listings
  • Targeted ads
  • Paid posts
  • eCommerce analytics tools

Despite more than 10 years of history, Instagram continues to evolve. The list of the most recent features includes Instagram Reels, IGTV, and shoppable posts. 

Don’t know where to start to create an app like Instagram?

Reach out to us for a more detailed discussion of your project. We’ll be happy to help you build the next Instagram.

How to Make an App Like Instagram: 10-Step Guide

How to Make an App Like Instagram Step by Step

This part of the article covers the key aspects to consider to make an app like Instagram.

The process of app development doesn’t start with coding. It starts much earlier with market exploration and competitors’ analysis.

Here is how to make an app like Instagram in 10 steps:

  1. Conduct market research
  2. Make competitor analysis
  3. Validate an app idea
  4. Create app design
  5. Choose a technology stack
  6. Decide on features
  7. Choose monetization strategy
  8. App development
  9. Deployment, launch, and ongoing development
  10. Marketing and promotion

Let’s review each of the steps to make an app like Instagram in more detail.

1. Conduct Market Research

It’s impossible to decide how to make an app like Instagram without understanding the current situation on the market of photo-sharing and social media applications. The first and most logical step is to conduct market research.

The key purpose of this step is to analyze the market of similar applications. As you are working on your research, try to find answers to the following questions, which will help you make an app like Instagram that users will love:

  • Where will you launch your application?
  • What do users like and dislike?
  • How do users interact with similar apps? Which features do they use the most?
  • What are the demographics (female-male ratio, age, income, location, etc.)?
  • Where will you launch your application?

Answers to these questions will help you answer the most important question: Who is your target audience? After you identify it, you will understand how to make your app appealing to them.

2. Make Competitor Analysis

Competitive analysis of apps like Instagram will help you define the vision of your own project. You need to learn from your competition, check their functionality, key strengths and weaknesses, and monetization methods.

During this stage, try to answer the following questions:

  • What is the USP of competitive apps?
  • What do users love about those apps the most?
  • What features are competitors offering?
  • How do competitors monetize their apps?

The key purpose of competitor analysis is to understand how you can stand out with your own app.

The table below lists the top 10 photo-sharing apps with key insights about them.

 

  Application Details Platforms USP & Features
  •  
Instagram

1+ billion monthly active users (MAU)

500+ million daily active users (DAUs)

iOS, Android, Web

Photo & video sharing

Photo & video editing

IGTV, reels

Photo filters

  •  
Retrica

190+ filters available

250 million users

Available in 102 countries

Android, iOS

Photo & video sharing

Add filters to photos made with the front camera before taking a shot

Make GIFs from collages and videos

  •  
Flickr

60+ million monthly users

100+ registered photographers

25+ million photos uploaded every day

10+ billion photos shared since launch

Available in 63 countries

iOS, Android, Web

Photo sharing

Creation of photo albums in the cloud

Professional photo editing tools

Private sharing with a close circle

  •  
Hipstamatic

Not a social network

4+ million users

iOS

A large suite of tools for creating vintage photos

Add filters to photos before taking a shot

  •  
Pinterest

459 million MAU

Users watch around 1 billion videos every day

iOS, Android, Web

Share & view images

Segregation by topics

Save or repin pins

  •  
Yummi

Available in 100+ countries

50+ restaurants listed

iOS, Android

Photos sharing platform dedicated to food and restaurants

Restaurant recommendations

Friends recommendations

Food diary

  •  
VSCO

4 million paying users

30 million registered users

iOS, Android

Photo sharing app without social media experience

Advanced photo-editing capabilities

Ability to share photos in VSCO or on other social media platforms

  •  
Snapchat

280 million of DAU

5+ billion snaps created every day

18+ billion daily snaps views

iOS, Android

Auto-disappearing shares (snaps)

Group stories

Augmented Reality features

  •  
Dispo

Raised $20 million in investment

Company value of $200 million

iOS

Next-day automatic delayed posting of photos

Only via-invite joining

No photo editing, no hashtags

  •  
Unsplash

3.1+ million uploaded photos

3.6+ billion photo downloads

264+ contributors

Web

Photo-sharing features

Free downloading of images

Daily hand-selected photos

3. Validate Instagram-Like App Idea

Creating new applications is a risky venture as you never know how the target audience will react to it.

One of the ways to ensure its success is to ask your potential users how to make an app like Instagram that they will love to use. The choice of the tool is up to you: you can create polls, get in touch with the target audience and ask them questions directly. After you get answers, it will be easier to finalize the USP of your photo-sharing app and create a business model canvas.

A business model canvas usually contains nine blocks, each dedicated to one aspect of your application idea:

  • Audience segment
  • The main problem that users are dealing with
  • Unique selling proposition
  • Your solution
  • The advantage of your app
  • Cost
  • Key performance indicators
  • Revenue channels
  • Advertising channels

Below you can find a draft of such a business model canvas with a short description for each of the blocks. Filling out these blocks will help you better understand how to make an app like Instagram that will meet both customer expectations and your business requirements.

Business Model Canvas for an App Like Instagram

4․ Create Photo Sharing App Design

In the era where users ‘buy’ with their eyes, you can’t make the mistake of underestimating the importance of app design.

There are two parts of app design that you should take care of:

  • User experience (UX) – defines user flows, how users interact with your application and move through app screens.
  • User interface (UI) – the visual representation of your app that should support the app’s functionality.

Study the latest trends in app design, explore the latest innovations and consider using them for your application. Today, no one wants to interact with an app with an outdated and too complicated design.

When designing for iOS and Android, make sure you are familiar with and follow Human Interface Guidelines by Apple and Material Design Guidelines by Google.

5. Choose the Right Technology Stack

You can’t create a photo-sharing app without knowing the tools that make Instagram running. 

Based on your business needs, we can offer native app development or Flutter app development.

Instagram Tech Stack

So, the Instagram technology stack includes the following technologies:

  • Python/Django on the server-side
  • JavaScript and React.js for front-end development
  • React Native for Android and iOS native applications
  • PostgreSQL for database
  • Amazon S3, Amazon EBS, Amazon EC2 for cloud computing

Instagram app is designed to handle huge amounts of data while providing high performance.

As you decide how to make an app like Instagram, you will need to decide on its technology stack. Every project is unique and it doesn’t mean that the Instagram tech stack will be sufficient for your application. Based on your business needs, we can offer native app development or Flutter app development.

Don’t know how to choose the right technology stack for your Instagram-like app?

We’re a team of developers with extensive experience in social media applications development. Get in touch with us and we’ll help you decide on the best set of features and technologies.

6. Decide on Features

Features to Create a Photo-Sharing app

Instagram was introduced as a photo-sharing application and had a basic set of features. After successfully testing the app idea and seeing positive feedback from the audience, its creators added more advanced functionality.

Let’s review how to make an app like Instagram by analyzing which features you can add to your application – both basic features needed for MVP and advanced functionality required for further product implementations.

how to make an app like Instagram
  • Registration & authorization

The first step of interaction with an app like Instagram is the registration of a user account. When you create a photo sharing app, add multiple options for user sign-ups and sign-ins: such as with an email account, phone number, Google, and the most popular social media platforms.

The worst thing you can possibly do is to force users to fill out a long form manually. The best thing to do is to simplify the process and bring it down to a few seconds.

It’s also possible to make your app registration-free but only for some features. For example, you may allow users to watch some content without registration but further interaction with it will require them to sign up.

  • Profile editing

Exploring how to make an app like Instagram, don’t forget to add the profile editing capabilities to the list of features. Users should be able to log into their account and change personal information, such as name, phone number, email address, profile picture, profile description, and so on.

For this feature to work, you will need to create an interaction between the client and server-side of your application.

  • Uploading photos & videos

Uploading photos and videos is the most essential feature to add for Instagram development. There are different ways of how you can implement such a feature. Think about adding the ability to preview content, upload existing photos and videos from a phone, or taking photos with the camera right inside the app.

  • Photo editing & management

Photo uploading combined with robust photo editing features is one of the reasons why Instagram became popular in the first place. This is a must-have feature for Instagram-like applications. You can approach their creation in different ways. For example, at the start, you can add only some basic capabilities, like adding stickers and text to the uploaded photos. If you want to know how to make an app like Instagram that users will fall in love with right away, consider developing more advanced functionality, such as the ability to adjust colors and tones, delete unnecessary objects, and so one right inside your application.

  • Linking with social networks

Creating a connection with other social media networks will help users stay in touch with their friends and share content throughout all the networks. It’s a nice-to-have feature that you can also consider adding to create a photo-sharing app.

  • Geo-location

Instagram, first of all, is a social media platform. Users don’t only share their photos, they share their favorite places, best vacation spots, etc. Adding GPS is an essential step as it will make your application more useful and interesting for users.

When developing the feature, you need to add auto geolocation detection and the ability to set up the location manually for situations and locations when the GPS signal is weak.

  • Search

You can’t make an app like Instagram without providing users with the ability to search for other users, groups, content, tagged photos, the latest news, and so on.

  • Messaging and commenting

Real-time messaging is one of the features that makes Instagram tick. Users need to have the ability to communicate with their friends via direct messages and comments on each other’s photos. 

  • Push notifications

You might want to leave this feature for further improvements to your applications. Adding the ability for the app to notify users when they receive likes, comments or new messaging will incentify them to interact with your app more.

  • Instagram feed

Instagram wouldn’t be itself without its feed with photos. This is a must-have feature that allows users to view all the content in a profile without the need to open each photo.

  • App adjust setting

Depending on your business goals, you might need to launch your app in different countries. Thus, users would need to have the ability to manually adjust the app’s settings, such as language. Also, they should also have the ability to enable and disable push notifications, configure the account’s privacy settings, and so on.

  • Stories

This is one of the key features that Instagram has today. Stories allow users to share some interesting moments from their lives that you don’t want to add to your feed. Stories automatically disappear after 24 hours if users don’t save them.

Stores are photos and videos with texts, stickers, filters, and so on. Between 2017 and 2018, Instagram took this feature and moved it to the next level. Today, stories have a huge number of additional features, such as the ability to make boomerangs, superzooms, add question stickers, create story highlights, share shoppable posts, add hashtags and nametags, and much more.

Instagram serves as a great example of fast-growing and innovative apps. If you are wondering how to make an app like Instagram, study its history and how it evolved throughout the years. You would be surprised to see how swiftly Instagram adapts to new realities and how it is the key trendsetter in the industry of social media apps.

7. Choose Instagram Monetization Strategy

instagram monetization

Instagram hadn’t always been on the list of the Fortune 500 companies. In fact, during the first two years of its existence, Instagram didn’t even have a monetization strategy

The first monetization capabilities were added after Facebook bought the company. What started as a sponsored posts feature later turned into a full-fledged advertisement system. Today, users can create a feed, carousel, story, and video ads.

So, how do apps like Instagram make money? Below you can find an overview of the key principles of its monetization strategy.

  • Sponsored posts

Instagram generates the majority of revenue from sponsored posts. Sponsored posts are like an ordinary post that contains a CTA button.

  • Carousel ads

Carousel ads are just like posts but contain a number of images. Such carousels are great when advertisements want to tell a story with their posts.

Check our article explaining how free apps make money in an article prepared by our team:

How do Free Apps Make Money? [Best Strategies for 2021]

  • Stories

Ads in stories are not the invention of Instagram. The company adopted the idea from Snapchat showing sponsored stories while users are watching the stories posted by profiles they are following.

  • Social eCommerce

This is one of the recent features that allows users to buy products by following links in Instagram posts and stories. Social eCommerce is a relatively new niche but one that has a huge potential, so it might be good to consider such functionality for your future application.

Learn more about creating mobile selling apps in our extensive guide:

How to Make Online Selling App: Tech & Business Details, Technologies, & Processes [2021]

  • Facebook ads

Facebook ads are a part of the Instagram revenue model. Advertisers can place an ad on Instagram through Facebook, even if they don’t have an Instagram account.

There are numerous ways of how you can create a photo-sharing app and make money from it. Just stay creative and find new monetization opportunities.

8. Start Instagram Development Process

After you’ve successfully identified features for the first version of your solution and chosen the technology stack, you can start the development process.

At first, you might want to start building an app like Instagram for iOS or Android only. During the research, identify what type of device is most popular among your target audience.

The development stage is usually divided into a number of phases:

  • Coding – the creation of the app’s codebase, integration with APIs, SDKs, and third-party solutions.
  • QA & testing – application testing to identify and solve any bugs.

Deployment – release of the developed app to the market.

Check our article what MVP development is and in which situations it’s better to start the process with the creation of a minimum viable product: ​​

What is MVP Development: Benefits, Dangers & Examples

9. Deployment, Launch, & Ongoing Development

When your app like Instagram is ready, it’s time to launch it to the market. Remember that the development process stops with this step. The key secret of successful applications is content improvements.

Just take a look at Instagram. If its creators stuck to the first version of the app, we wouldn’t have had such an app today.

Marketing & Promotion

The marketing strategy for the app’s promotion isn’t created in a single day. You should start working on it long before you launch the version of the app to the market – while your app is still in the development phase.

There is a number of marketing channels that you can use:

  • Paid ads
  • SEO and content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Participation in events

The main goal of a marketing strategy is to put your app in front of potential customers and make them want to try it. Analysis of results provides valuable insights into how an app is performing. Feedback from users is the most important data that you can acquire and use for further app improvements. It’s the only way to create a high-in-demand photo-sharing application, even if the final solution will be very different from your first concept.

How Much Does It Cost to Make an App Like Instagram?

The cost to build an app like Instagram can be very different depending on the complexity of the app, the number of features, and who will develop it.

Usually, the development of a photo-sharing app ranges between $50,000-$250,000. The final cost will depend on the number of custom features that you need to implement, UX and UI design, the place to where you outsource app development.

For example, the cost for app development services is around $100 per hour in the USA. The same services in Europe cost around $35 per hour, while you get the same quality and level of technical expertise.

To calculate the final cost, use the formula presented below.

Cost to Create a Photo Sharing App

If you need more detailed estimates, check the table below with an approximate time calculation for the creation of every major feature.

Feature iOS/Android Backend
Authorization (social network) 15-25 10-20
Authorization (email) 40-55 15-25
Profile 15-25 5-10
Post creation 40-60 30-65
Feed 40-60 25-40
Image customization 35-100
Geolocation 15-35 15-25
Social features 10-20 10-20
Notifications (basic) 10-20 15-35
Search 25-35 50-80
Direct messaging 40-85 40-85
Total (hours) 285-520 224-405

The design of a photo-sharing application will also impact the final cost:

  • UX will take around 50-100 hours 
  • UI will take around 50-80 hours

Additionally, you might need to create a logo and some custom images. Such works can add up to 50 hours to the development cost.

Here is a more helicopter-view representation of Instagram app development cost.

  Dev hours iOS Android Hybrid
Backend 400 $14,000 $12,000 $16,000
Development 1800 $63,000 $54,000 $117,000
Design/UX 100 $3,500 $3,000 $6,500
Web/desktop 1000 $35,000 $35,000 $35,000
QA/PM 100 $3,500 $3,000 $6,500
Total cost 3400 $119,000 $107,000 $181,000

Read our article if you want to know more about the cost of app design:

How Much Does It Cost to Design a Mobile App in 2021?

How to Find the Best-fitting Instagram KPIs

As mentioned before, you will need to measure how your app performs after launch. During the development, you need to keep in mind the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for an app like Instagram. The success factors in the case with such apps will be users, engagement, and retention.

  • Users

The number of active users is the best measurement of an app’s success. If the number is steadily growing, it’s the main indicator that you are taking an app in the right direction.

Social media marketing, paid ads, and influencer marketing is one of the best ways to get early users and steadily grow the user base throughout all stages of the app’s lifecycle.

  • Engagement

Impossible to measure the success of an app just on the number of users. There are other factors to take into account, such as the time they usually spend interacting with an app, how much time they login into the app during a day, the number of photos they upload, messages share and likes give. All these factors show that users are actively involved with your app and continue to use it days, months, or even years after installation,

  • Retention

Getting users is the first part of the goal. Keeping them is an entirely different task.

You need to be good at keeping users engaged with your app. One of the ways to do that is to use push notifications. That’s why we usually recommend adding such functionality to our client’s applications. However, before you start sending them right and left, study the audience of your app and identify timeslots at which users are more likely to interact with the app.

Delighting customers with innovative features is also one of the ways to make them use your app. It’s also possible to organize different contests and allow users to monetize the shared content to keep their devotion.

Make an App Like Instagram in 2021: Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to make an app like Instagram, it’s time to sum up everything said above.

The plan to make an app like Instagram should include the following steps:

  1. Market research to identify your target audience
  2. Competitor analysis to evaluate the competition
  3. App idea validation to finalize your app idea
  4. Design to create a visual representation of your app
  5. Technology stack to implement all features
  6. Features that will form the basis of your app
  7. Monetization strategy to decide on how to make money with your app
  8. Development process to create the code base of the solution
  9. Ongoing development to quickly adapt to latest changes and trends
  10. Marketing and promotion to get and increase the user base

Do you want to create a photo-sharing app like Instagram but don’t know where to start?

Get in touch with our team for a free initial consultation and discussion of your project.

How does Instagram make money?

Instagram hasn’t always been a successful business project. During the two first years of its history, it didn’t make money. Today, the platform has a robust monetization strategy that allowed it to secure a place on the list of the Fortune 500 companies.

Instagram makes money with sponsored posts, carousel, feed, story, and video ads.

How much does it cost to make an app like Instagram?

The average cost to create an app like Instagram varies from $50,000 and $300,000+. The final cost depends on a number of factors, such as the complexity of custom features, integration of third-party solutions, and the place to which you outsource app development.

What is Instagram’s technology stack?

Instagram uses Python/Django on the server-side, JavaScript and React.js for front-end development, React Native for iOS and Android app development, PostgreSQL for databases, Amazon S3, Amazon EBS, Amazon EC2 for cloud computing.

How can I make an app like Instagram?

To create a photo-sharing app like Instagram, you will need to follow a 10-step process: start with conducting market research and competitor analysis, validate your app idea, create the app’s design, decide on the technology stack and features, choose the best-fitting monetization strategy, start the development process, launch the app to the market, work on ongoing development, and promote the app among potential users.

What are the competitors of Instagram?

There are a lot of apps like Instagram on the market, including Retrica, VSCO, Snapchat, Flickr, Hipstamatic, Pinterest, and many others. Even though TikTok has a different format, it’s also considered as one of the main rivals of Instagram that erode Instagram’s standing as the main social media platform in the world.

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