August 19, 2020

How to Build a Chat App: 5 Things You Need to Consider

Pronoy Roy

From Alexander Graham Bell’s first ‘Hello’ on the telephone to sending GIFs of doggos – we’ve all come a really long way. In a market that is overcrowded with chat apps, building a chat app will require more than just a send button. Even in a world where e-mail is relatively new, texting alternatives are being used for sending information. Businesses have started using Slack, gamers use Discord, every social media channel has a messaging feature, and more apps seem to pop-up every day.

The frequency at which chat apps are being developed is no coincidence. People realize that there is a market for each app and if you provide them with that unique feature that they’ve been missing, there will be several users for the app. That said, becoming an app that occupies memory in everyone’s smartphones is a major feat, not achieved in a month – or maybe even within a year.

The foundation of becoming a leading application for text messaging may not be as simple as 1-2-3, but the first step can always be identified as having a good chat API. A good chat API takes care of a majority of concerns around building a chat app. Be it user privacy, message security, or some commonly seen features amongst apps like video calling and image sharing, a good chat API has it all. That is because these features are expected of all chat apps. They aren’t revolutionary and so you shouldn’t spend hours coding something that you can just get by integrating a chat API like CometChat. Take a look on at how many people use CometChat here.

Without any further ado – here are 5 things you need to consider when building a chat app that will allow for it to succeed in today’s market:

1. The Secret Behind the Success

With any technological venture, there is one element that every entrepreneur and developer has to keep in mind. The users. If you don’t keep in mind the people who would use your chat app, it immediately becomes a generic, uninspired application. In every famous chat app, the use case is the defining element of its success. I mentioned Slack earlier. The app itself was not initially built for the general public. It was created to share files in an office that was working on building a game. It was uniquely designed keeping employees in mind and so every feature in it helped improve productivity.

Today Slack is worth over $20 Billion. The secret to their success is that in their early days, the app was developed for an office that wanted to cut time on sharing files while keeping up constant communication. When they realized that this is an issue that firms face constantly, the further developed Linefeed – the application Slack is built on, for offices.

Since then, they have seen steady growth because of its feature-rich approach. From customizable stickers to a rather long list of possible integrations, they have been constantly giving the users what they want. Slack is a really good example of what a user-centric application should look like.

A focus on user-centricity is not the only secret though. An application starts to really shine when users can obtain it easily. Let me explain what that means.  


The most common example of bad access to an application would be having to uninstall another application to make space for the new one. It is an extra step that users don’t want to take. This even led to the social media giant Facebook to create a ‘lite’ version that occupies less memory in a phone. Even though internal phone-memory is reaching new peaks, the abundance of mobile applications is responsible for a memory competing environment. This is especially true because with improving camera qualities in mobile phones, the size of images is also increasing. The ‘heavier’ the app, i.e. the more memory it occupies, the lesser the people would want it on their mobile devices.

Another example of an app with accessibility issues is when it is not cross-platform. If you want the app to be a global success, it needs to work in both iOS and Android while supporting older builds as well. This need has pushed developers to use languages that support cross-platform development, like Flutter, instead of sticking to Swift for iOS and Java for Android. In a chat app, having a cross-platform compatible app can expeditiously boost the users and sign-up on the platform.

Once you have a good grip on user-centricity and accessibility of the app, you can start thinking about how the users are going to interact with it. So, the two big things you need to initially focus on is when building your chat app, what does your target user or business persona want and how accessible is the application to them.

2. Chat App Essentials

Now that you know the secret to build a successful chat app, you get into the specifics. You’ve seen the broader picture, an app that millions of people use daily to make their life easier. The elephant in the room poses the dreaded question – how? How are you going to build a robust app that really does make the lives of people simpler? Well, in the case of a chat app, there are a few essentials you need to establish. Three to be exact.

The three chat app essentials are Data Security, App Positioning, and Multi-App Integrations. These 3 have been further explained below –

Data Security

In the last 2 years, the scrutiny of chat apps has been more than ever. In the United States and India, WhatsApp has been cracking down on the spread of misinformation. In the last year, Facebook found itself in the center of a massive scandal concerning the leaking of user data. This year, the state of California won a lawsuit against Google+ where Google was sued for letting user data get leaked.

So, if user privacy is not at the forefront of your plan, make sure it comes in the top tier priority list. If a secure foundation is not set, you’ll end up spending all your time in closing data leaks and losing your customers.  

The biggest agitation that may arise from working towards creating a secure chat app is the technical infrastructure it requires. You’re in a market where end-to-end encryption has become the security standard that apps have to meet. What’s more? That infrastructure needs to be scalable as the number of users grows. Setting up all this can be a long and arduous. This is why over 150,000 businesses have opted to use CometChat as their chat API. We offer end-to-end encryption and easy integrations. The app scales as you gain more users and is highly efficient.

App Positioning

By app-positioning I don’t mean where on the phone the app shows up. I mean is it a stand-alone app, or is it an internal feature of a much broader app. To explain this better, let us take the example of Steam and Discord.

Discord is a chat app that is majorly used by people who game on PCs. It is an app where you join a server that has been bifurcated into multiple channels where members can talk. It’s been positioned as a stand-alone app that can have an over-lay on games and the voice channels are a special feature that enables multiple users to get on a group call at a time. Other positioning features include live streaming of games and file sharing.

On the other hand, we have Steam. While Steam is designed to help people buy, download, and update games; you can also add friends on steam and chat. Their chat app is not positioned as a stand-alone. Rather, it is offered as a feature to those who use steam and make friends in games. It also offers an overlay when gaming.

When thinking about who your users are, you are going to have to figure out how they are going to come across your chat app. Is it going to be a part of a broader app that you’re building that offers chat as an incentive or is it a stand-alone that is dedicated to bringing a community closer.

Multi-App Integrations

Slack offers integrations with Google Docs, Trello, and other productivity-improving apps that folks use. These integrations act as an incentive to people who use Slack for business. They find that having an integrated working environment where all apps that they use work together more efficiently boosts productivity.

Discord brings a completely new feature called Bots. Bots are automated computer-users that are members of a server and serve certain purposes. For example, the DynoBot sends an automated message every time someone joins a discord server. There is even a Dad Bot that makes dad jokes. There are hundreds of these bots that discord users have access to for free. They make conversation more dynamic and make chatting rewarding.

In fact, multi-app integrations are not even just limited to chat apps. Dropbox has a google suite integration where instead of storing all your GSuite documents on Google, they are stored in Dropbox in the same format.

Multi-app integration is a big part of the automation industry today because apps that can talk to each other make for a smooth-running work environment, especially when they’re automated. For a successful chat app, getting multi-app integrations would be a great way to offer an incentive to your users to use your app.

3. Must-Have Features

People who have been using chat apps regularly have come to expect a few features. This is true partly because of industry standards and partly because these features truly are invaluable. About 4 years ago, people across the globe were concerned about how many minutes they were using every call. Longer calls were being equated to being more expensive with added costs around international travel as well as interstate travel.

Since then, the cellular plans ave changed so much that unlimited minutes of calling is the least you’ve come to expect from your service provider. The total cost may have been reduced but international calling is still a really expensive way to connect with someone. This is why, most chat apps now offer something known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. This is the technology that enables us to call people anywhere on earth through the internet. WhatsApp has become a leader in offering free calling service. The only catch? Have a stable internet connection.

While calling is an amazing way to connect with people, texting is still the reigning champion. I love to hear people’s voices when I’m talking to them, but my friends would rather prefer to text. Mostly because we live in different time-zones and texting allows us to keep in touch in our own time, but also because you can go back and look at the messages. This is why I believe that voice-notes is another must-have in a chat app. It makes conveying emotions easier and cracks down on message misinterpretation.

Every user has their own list of must-haves in a chat app. That is why when building a chat-app, creating something that is user-centric is the key to success. That way you have a better understanding of what your user-base requires and cater to it. That said, there is one more must-have that I consider. It can be considered a 2-in-1 feature as it is 2 features that serve one purpose – image transfer.

Any good chat app allows users to send each other images because regardless of what your user-base wants, sending images through chat is a communication-enhancer that users cannot forgo. The first feature that allows this to be possible is image compression. Cameras today click pictures that can occupy up to 2.0 MB of space per picture. The time it takes to send and receive a picture that heavy is quite large. The amount of data it takes to send multiple such images is quite high. That is why chat apps have opted to compress the image before sending it. So even images clicked on DSLR camera that can be 10 MB per image, get compressed into taking space less than 1 MB.

The other feature that allows for sending images is the multi-image selector. In the early stages of WhatsApp, you would have to send 1 image at a time. In the next phase, there was a cap of 10 images at a time. Today you can send as many as you’d like. The multi-image selector allows users to share more information faster. Between multi-image selector and image compression, a must-have exchanging images feature is built.

So, the three must-have features for any chat app are Voice-calling or VoIP, voice notes, and image sender. Other than that, the features should be created and added for the preference of your target user.

4. Standout from the Crowd

At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned how the market for chat apps is crowded. That statement isn’t entirely true. The fact is that pre-existing chat apps are being repurposed for use. For example, although Slack has been designed for offices, people still use it amongst their friend groups on PC because they find it easy to use.

To be a successful chat app in a market where people are familiar with pre-existing applications, your task comes down to stand-out from the crowd. Every application, heck, every product wants to stand out from the crowd. Many fail to do so and get lost in the rather long list of generic products. In this case, the product is a chat application. Although no formula will make sure the chat application stands out, there are certain primary points that you can focus on that help.

These prime points are design, marketing, price-points. Standing out from the crowd essentially means getting seen. You can have the world’s best features and you still wouldn’t have users on the application if they don’t know about it. So let’s get into how these three elements can help you stand out from the crowd.

Design

Today phones focus on a 90Hz refresh rate on screens for smoother scrolls, thinner models, and smooth body finishes. Phone companies like Apple and OnePlus understand that the better a device looks, the more people are willing to get it. The premium look for products makes it seem refined and polished. People equate looks to quality.

‘The better it looks, the more it sells ‘ is a philosophy applied to all products. The slightest blemish on a perfectly good apple can be the reason that no one buys it. Packaging and looks of a product is a marketing strategy that companies have been using for the longest time now. Good product design does not just mean that it’s good to look at. It also needs to be easy to use.

Take a loot at Dribble. This website is a place for graphic designers who design apps, websites, and products. There are wonderful examples on the website for beautiful looking applications. Although the website is chock-full of them, the ones that have received the most love on the website are the ones with some of the most simple designs. Shapes and boxes that users are familiar with. The familiarity with even a brand new app makes it easy to use. The easier to use, the more people are going to recommend it to others.

Marketing

When building a chat application, it’s important to have some resources dedicated to market it. The idea that a product sells itself is an idealistic want. That is not the case with almost all products. A product that is a need, like salt, may seem like it sells itself, but even there the better-marketed products get sold more because people have a choice.

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To come out on top, marketing strategies need to be applied. An example from 2020 is when TikTok got banned in the US. TikTok was owned by a company called ByteDance. When the news of its ban spread, Byte, a competitor of TikTok immediately launched a marketing campaign where multiple meme pages posted about using an app called Byte as an alternative. While this tactic seems a lot like paid advertising, the genius is who they chose to pay. Byte could have paid Instagram to run ads, but their target audience was people who enjoy short-form content in the form of videos and images.

This user persona fits the bill perfectly for a Byte user. This kind of a well though marketing will bring eyes on the product quickly and you can expect a higher sign-up rate.

Price-Points

When you are building a business or developing a product like a chat app, you expect to get some revenue from such an endeavor. Having a competitive price model is essential to put yourself in the limelight. A good amount of market research and comparative business models can help understand how you could price yourself better than your competitors.

For example, WhatsApp charges businesses per message, you could create a similar model for cheaper. Creating a competitive price point can help you stand out from the crowd.

Having talked about getting revenue from an application, the last thing you should be taking into consideration when building a chat app is the monetization strategy.

5. Monetization Strategies

After having put in so much energy and effort into a massive project, the completed product does seem rewarding, but turning it into a business is the entire award show. To create revenue out of an application is a great feeling and an extremely good indicator of having a good product. It also helps recover the cost went into development.

Monetization is the final element of developing a chat app. Monetizing can be done through various strategies. With CometChat, there 4 highly advisable strategies.

Business Accounts

If your app has many users of a community, you can approach businesses that would like to target those people. These businesses can hold a business account, much like WhatsApp, where businesses pay to be able to talk to customers, add automation in messaging, and run customer-care through the app.


Individual Accounts

This method is a ‘pay-to-message’ system. You can charge folks according to their monthly messaging volume, or the amount of data transferred over the app. This method may not work very well because alternatives offer this for free, but this is a fairly aggressive monetization strategy.

Advertising

This is the most commonly used form of monetization amongst chat apps. Users get to watch non-intrusive advertising while using your services and you can get paid per view. You could unlock features by watching ads and amazing points. This form of gamification can also keep a user engaged.

Feature-Store

The last monetization strategy I want to touch upon is a features store. Steam currently gives points to its users who have spent a certain amount of money. Then the users can use their points to buy emojis, profile avatars, and backgrounds. One could repurpose a similar system where users get to buy points if they would like to access certain features.

These are some monetization strategies currently seen in the market and how you could use them.

Conclusion

In this piece, we have looked at 5 things you need to consider when building a chat app. The first one focuses on becoming a user-centric application. The more it caters to your users, the more it becomes beneficial to them. Then there were the chat app essentials and what are the must-haves in a chat app. The top 3 concerns that one must have while developing a chat explained the kind of ground that needs to be established before one can shape the chat app. The must-have features of the app bring it to commonly seen industry standards. That said, just meeting industry standards is not enough. The methods to stand out from the crowd were discussed were design, marketing, and price-points act as pillars to help the app succeed. And finally, the monetization strategy comes into play that helps the app reach fruition and establish a revenue model.

If you follow these 5 things and make user-centric choices, your app is very likely to succeed. If you liked this blog, stay tuned for more such blogs on CometChat.