User Engagement in Social Media by Maslow

There are over 2 billion people in the world who use social media networks and this number is constantly growing. Also growing is the time that people spend browsing social apps. The idea of free content sharing will further develop, so more and more social media apps are expected to emerge.

An overcrowded market is making it harder for app developers to compete and retain their users. People are often eager to try out new social apps, but their interest quickly fades. User retention is one of the biggest problems for social apps, even for the most popular apps out there. Surprisingly, such popular networks as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat don’t retain users as well as you might think according to the latest researches.

How can we improve user engagement rate in social networking apps? We’ll approach this question by describing the needs of the people who use them.

What do people want?

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, already answered this question in his well-known pyramid. We can take his findings in the hierarchy of human needs and apply them to the social networking use case. According to our understanding of how people use social networks, we can identify the following needs that social app users wish to satisfy:

Social Media Hierarchy

[Hierarchy of social media users' needs by Dasha Ermolova, UI designer and illustrator at Yalantis]


The basic needs in Maslow’s pyramid are physiological. We all need to breath, eat, and drink to survive on this planet. Now, tell me, when did you last spend a month without checking your Facebook page or posting a photo to Instagram? We are so drawn into our virtual social lives that we can’t really turn off this connection.

While this might sound obvious, the app should work perfectly well across all devices, and the more platforms it supports the better. Don’t get me wrong, I am not telling you to cover all platforms at once. In fact, I think you should start on one platform – iOS or Android, test your idea in that user environment and then move on to another platform.

No matter whether you’re launching on a single platform or offering a cross-channel user experience, correctness of the system behavior is the main concern in the process of app development. An app’s overall performance directly affects its user engagement rate. Perfectly implemented real-time synchronization on a system level leads to high app performance which, in turn, creates a flawless user experience and helps to retain users.


After the correctness of work, privacy is the next most desired property of a social network, and it needs careful treatment. Privacy is an individual’s right to control information they share, so the app must provide features that can leverage this right. Let’s see what exactly we can do to meet user privacy needs:

  • Profile

Most social networking apps encourage people to register and create profiles using their real names and other personal information. In return, the app should provide some level of trust to its users by keeping their data stored securely and by applying means to prevent potential privacy breaches. What’s more, a user should have convenient tools at their disposal to edit and change any personal information displayed on their profile page.

Social media privacy

  • Connections

Even though most users have no trouble disclosing their personal information to a large group of people, there are a lot of people who won’t use a social networking app unless it protects them from being screened by undesired people (e.g. employers, ex-boyfriends, or the government). 

On Instagram, for example, you can use a private account where only people you approve can see your photos and videos. On Facebook, you can block posts from certain users. However, on LinkedIn, there is no way you can escape being noticed by people whose profile page you just checked. LinkedIn has its reasons to show page visitors, but this still makes users angry.

For people who are seeking absolute privacy, there is a special category – anonymous social media. You can read about how to build an app like Yik Yak and Whisper in my previous article.

  • Feed

User-generated content gets frequently shared on social networking apps. Some users want everyone and anyone to view and interact with their content, while others prefer to comment and interact only with friends. There are also users who generate content in a social app but would rather not share it with anybody else. If you want people to generate more content in your social app, you should probably do what they’re asking for and offer privacy controls to meet each person’s privacy needs.

Facebook isn’t the most reliable network when it comes to privacy, but it gives you everything you need to have full control over your account. You can control who can view the materials that you share on Facebook, how other members can interact with your posts, what gets into your news feed, and more.


The need to belong and form attachments is universal among humans. That’s why social networks are so popular in the first place. The feeling of "belongingness" gives rise to other emphatic needs, like the desire to interact with others, recognize their significance and share common emotional states.

The recent research carried out by Global Web Index proves that staying in touch with friends and relatives and tracking their updates is truly the biggest reason why people dive into the social networking space.

Social media love and blenogliness

The following are the ways we can create social engagement loops and increase user retention in mobile apps by appealing to people’s need to belong:

  • Increasing connections 

Most people enjoy being followed and increasing their social connections. To make users even happier, we can notify them about new followers and comments via push notifications or email. By the way, have you noticed that neither popular social network notifies us about unfollowers and unfriending?

For some people, regaining old or lost connections might be the main reason to use a social media app. By analyzing personal user information we can provide recommended connections that help users find people they lost track of.

  • Joining groups

By belonging to social groups and communities people avoid loneliness and anxiety. A social app can help users share interests with other people around the world within dedicated communities by posting their content to multiple news feeds, suggesting groups that a user may join, or letting them choose the group they want to be part of. In Entourage, the app we developed a few months ago, users may browse groups anonymously and swipe right to express their wish to join. You can check out the case study we wrote about developing the Entourage app here.

On LinkedIn, users may choose from a great variety of groups and get into discussions with their members. SoundCloud, originally created as a network for musicians, now connects millions of music lovers, acting both as a community and a promotional platform; and don’t forget that Facebook used to be a limited network for Harvard students once upon a time.

  • Feed interactions

Features, such as likes, emojis, reposts, and commenting, as well as more ingenious forms of content interactions (video, audio, etc.) provide manifold possibilities for conveying emotions, thoughts, and personal attachments. Have you ever wondered why Snapchat is so popular? It helps users convey emotions quickly and expressively.

  • Private messaging

Modern technology can do miracles, but it can’t really substitute for the emotional connection inherent in face to face communication. When people talk to each other, they don’t only deliver information, but they also hear a person’s voice and see his or her facial expressions and body language. One of our clients, a founder of the messaging app Voki, came up with a great idea to encourage people to leave voice messages and live video messages in the app to get that emotional connection.

Private messaging with the potential to use different kinds of media in the conversation help people to connect more meaningfully and satisfy their need to form intimate attachments with others.


We’re all egoists. Let’s acknowledge that. Even when it seems that we do stuff for others, we, in fact, do it for ourselves in the first place. We need people to recognize our significance in this world, appreciate and respect our unique personality and acknowledge what we do so that we can feel important and loved. Cultivation of self-esteem and prestige is what social networking apps can do so well!

The way to satisfy people’s egoistic needs is by rewarding their activities on social networks. Instant gratification in Instagram comes in the form of immediate likes and comments on photos and videos, and has contributed to the app’s success. Favoriting user content on Twitter can also be seen as gratification of a sort.

Along with indulging users with more followers and likes, a social app can offer more tangible rewards like virtual currency, points, gifts, levels, and so on.

Read also: How do you develop a social app?


Expressing creativity, questing for spiritual enlightenment, pursuing of knowledge, and desiring to give to society are examples of the most advanced need – a need for self-actualization.

Some users engage with social media for the purpose of gaining useful information and knowledge. is a great example of a social media network that keeps people glued to their screens consuming high-quality video content delivered to the world audience through live-held events. The founders of don’t even need to come up with cool ways of user engagement, because the content that their service provides is so engaging that people come back to it over and over again.

There are a lot of other useful social apps which can substitute for news publishers and other quality content providers. Millennials are largely drawn to Facebook for getting news. Twitter is also a great platform for finding news and information that you’re interested in. YouTube has thousands of educative and “how to do” videos that have been uploaded by its users.

The need for self-actualization is especially acute for creative people who are willing to expose their works, such as writing, drawings, digital art, music, videos, films, and any other original content. Tapping into a niche of talented people might be the most winning strategy for a social app. If you manage to attract enough creatives to fill the feeds of your social app, it will almost automatically attract other people in search of inspiration, entertainment, and valuable resources.

Social networks self-actualization

Read also: Social networks for professionals

People use social apps because they satisfy their psychological needs and provide access to interesting content. Offering engaging and easy ways to fulfill people’s wishes can motivate them to stick with a social app for the long-term.

Read also:

4.6/ 5.0
Article rating
Remember those Facebook reactions? Well, we aren't Facebook but we love reactions too. They can give us valuable insights on how to improve what we're doing. Would you tell us how you feel about this article?
Want to know more about social apps?

Check out how we developed Halaa, an Instagram for voice and video with sound effects

Contact us

We use cookies to personalize our service and to improve your experience on the website and its subdomains. We also use this information for analytics.