In many ways, it seems the story of online dating sites should tell itself.
"When you build an app that allows you to have an affair anywhere because it locates people who want to have an affair by GPS, that's probably a story the media will be interested in," says Noel Biderman, CEO and founder of AshleyMadison.com, the dating website that caters to people who are already in a relationship, but looking to have an affair or cheat.
In the beginning, online dating had a stigma that made publicizing it dubious. Some would argue that's still true. But the digital world is more omnipresent than ever and a slew of new, niche, and established online dating websites is fueling PR opportunities and challenges.
"Get three single girls together at a bar and they discuss the guys they're dating," says Sam Yagan, CEO and cofounder of free on-line dating site OkCupid. "It's the ultimate topic, but so many sites struggle to talk about it."
But talk about it they must, especially as competition increases and millions more look to the Web for romance.
"One of the biggest things we continue to do is differentiate eHarmony," says Paul Breton, director of corporate communications at the dating website launched in 2000.
Where AshleyMadison caters to people in relationships, or other sites might cater to specific ethnicities or fetishes, eHarmony plays up its scientific formula with a 258-question personality test and research that facilitates a healthy, long-term relationship.
"It's not a site where you show up and just start browsing through a bunch of profiles trying to find people who look attractive," says Breton. "We are not just looking to get you in a quick, casual relationship."
Yagan doesn't look to position OkCupid as a serious, one-stop shop for love and marriage. He talks about his site as putting the fun back in dating, no more, no less.
"We never talk about our features," he emphasizes. "The biggest feature on your dating website is other users."
With his dating sites, including CougarLife, a site for older women on the prowl for younger men, Biderman says he's building services for people taking the road less traveled.
Need for honesty
If honest communication is key to a healthy relationship, the same rule applies to dating websites communicating to consumers.
Biderman uses a number of different PR agencies across the globe to strategically communicate his dating website brands.
He also likes to tell stories to the media based on user data. For instance, the number of visitors to AshleyMadison triples the day after Valentine's Day, he says.
There is a free advice site on eHarmony where members, non-members, and the company engage on its services. It also has a Facebook page with more than 27,000 fans featuring couples united through the site. There, users and the company have conversations.
Tapping its "success couples" for PR has also proved effective for eHarmony. "They are willing to do many things for us," says Pam Holmgren, director of corporate communications at eHarmony. The company also communicates new features of the service on its corporate blog.
OkCupid highlights the vast data and interactions between users on its company blog, which helps establish recognition and trust among users, says Yagan.
"We don't do any outbound PR other than we write a really interesting blog," he notes. "If you look at so many of our competitors, they have talking points. Get away from talking points."
"Think about how varied people's desires are," adds Yagan. "Coordinating a story that appeals to everyone is very hard."
At the same time, a GPS app for affairs is a story that's very hard to ignore.Site statistics eHarmony
• Site expanded globally, launching in Brazil in 2010 with Japan scheduled for early this year
• Mobile applications for iOS and Android devices launched last year and now account for about 20% of global site visitsSource: eHarmony
• Acquired in February by Match.com for $50 million
• About 3.8 million US visitors each month, 4.4 million globally; 62% are male; 46% are between 18 to 34 years old; 33% are 35 to 49Source: Quantcast