Is Social the Future of Online Dating?
Online dating is not a topic usually covered by social media experts, despite its clear appeal to users all over the world. Such sites present huge marketing and business potential, untapped by marketers.
First, let's consider the numbers. Last year alone, the percentage of marriages in which the couple met on a dating site accounted for 17% of all. The number of people engaged in romantic relationships is higher. eHarmony has 20 million users, Match.com about 17 million, and the list could go on.
These are the "traditional" online sites, with dedicated users, and despite common misconceptions related to online dating, the number of women and men active on these sites is relatively equal: 52.4 % for men, and 47.6 %. For those worried that online dating sites are pools for sex offenders, statistics reveal that only 10 % of them use dating sites to meet people. This, of course, doesn't eliminate the need for caution.
Dating sites are social by default, but their level on interactivity is rather limited to "matches" calculated by relationship algorithms. The traditional sites are more popular among users for several reasons:
- They have millions of users, which give others a sense of security, or a feeling that they are not alone, and have more chances to find a match;
- They have a branding advantage, enhanced by site age, and word of mouth;
- They are included on all statistics concerning viability of online dating sites; and so on.
But traditional sites rely on an outdated business model. In recent years, more businesses emerged, offering alternative online dating options.
Coffee Meets Bagel is one of the most innovative and interesting of them all. A bit like Groupon meets dating, the site offers via email a "daily dating deal" called a "Bagel" which can be accepted or passed. They call it a fun way to spice up someone's lunch break. CMB counts on Facebook and friends of friends to find non-threatening dates. It's not enough for the receiver of the "Bagel" to like the deal - he or she needs to be liked back for a bridge of communications to be established. When reciprocity is achieved, the two can meet in real life, at a local restaurant, and CMB sweetens the deal by offering the couple a free appetizer, coffee or dessert.
This is the first example of innovation in online dating that draws on social. For Coffee Meets Bagel, the potential lies with participating restaurants and hospitality businesses, as well as entertainment businesses, like concert venues, theaters and so on, where the real live dates could might place.
As innovative as it is, Coffee Meets Bagel still relies on a third party making a "match."
Online social network On.com (feature image) offers an alternative for those who would rather "adjudge" their own matches. An Instagram-like approach to dating, this app allows users to share photos of themselves, search other users' photos, chat and send private messages as well. The approach at least allows users to see "the real person" behind a profile. The social aspect is more powerful: users can find people in their neighborhood to date, or just for parties and other social engagements. The potential for marketers is in collecting behavioral data, to understand what this demographic likes and needs. The site is currently a startup, but could become increasingly appealing to advertisers in industries like fashion, adult entertainment, hospitality, and so on.
For a completely difference take, a separatley identifiable approach is used by Tawkify. Billed as "A Personal Concierge to your Dating Life," this avante garde approach to digital dating help is far departed from what most Internet users have ever experienced before. Essentially users of this service get their own personal Cyrano de Bergerac (love helper) and some social science to help ensure the perfect date.
Addressing the whole dating thing from yet another angle, Hitch.me leverages LinkedIn profiles with additional personal info such as your height, ethnicity, and so on. Privacy filters ensure that professional profiles are only revealed to selected groups like certain industries and so on. The service monetizes partially by charging a fee to unlock someone's profile via a credit system.
In conclusion, while the human interaction involved in dating has always been a crucial part of our societal normative behavior, somehow social networking has not been fully refined as way connective conduit in this super intimate realm. Bestselling author Dan Slater, in his book entitled "Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating", discusses how online dating has profoundly affected us already. For one thing the ever widening dating pool, according to Slater, increases the alternatives we all have before us, thereby decreasing the chance of commitment.
At the end of the day however, the real chemistry that may "appear" to take place online, simply must be verified in the physical world. That is until some tech developer comes up with a virtual innovation as intense as our natural physcial attractions make up close and personal encounters so. Maybe the best advice for anyone considering these dating hubs is to make the right choices no matter how many choices you are given. What do you think?
Phil Butler is editor-in-chief of Everything PR and senior partner at Pamil Visions PR. He’s a widely cited authority on beta startups, all things social, search engines and public relations issues, and he has covered tech news since 2004. Phil has covered tech and social for ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Profy, SitePoint, Search Engine Journal, The Epoch Times, Silicon Angle and many others.
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