Love in a digital age: Staying relevant as a dating app

To carve out - and keep - your niche in the super-saturated world of dating apps, you've got to get creative.

Mobile and dating seem to be a match made in heaven. All singles have to do is look to their mobile device for a multitude of match-making apps like Bumble, which enables only women to initiate conversations with matches, or Tickr, which requires users to upload a 20-second video of themselves instead of a photo.

There is also a rising sub-category of niche dating apps such as, which wants to make connections between high-end car enthusiasts, and SportsBuddy, which aims to do the same for the athletically inclined.

It’s the next generation of dating apps, fueled by new tech, increased mobile adoption, and social and demographic trends.

Andrew Bloch, founder and group MD at Frank PR, which was hired last year to help launch Tickr, says this – combined with the runaway success of Tinder, the three-year-old hookup app that has made "swipe right" synonymous with a gesture of romantic interest – "has given the market inherent news value it didn’t have before."

"You see most new dating apps immediately compared to Tinder. Now, more than ever, dating apps are looking for points of difference," he explains.

New features aren’t the only way players in the category are looking to set themselves apart from rivals.

"They’re also quickly waking up to the fact that [partnerships with] brands provide a valuable source of additional revenue, as well as an opportunity to differentiate and create PR opportunities," adds Bloch.

Tinder and gay dating app Grindr have both partnered with the music industry. Launched to coincide with Valentine’s Day, Grindr developed a contest with Madonna and her publicity team to promote her album Rebel Heart. Users who changed their profile photo to resemble Madonna on her album cover earned a chance to chat with the pop icon on Grindr.

Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai says, "The campaign with Madonna included a traditional ad buy with interstitials, but her team wanted something more, so we came up with the contest."

"It got a lot of users involved and provided tremendous PR benefits," he adds, noting coverage included a piece in Rolling Stone. Yet Simkhai says it can only ask users to change their profile pictures only so often. "It worked in this case because it was different, but we couldn’t do it for every advertiser," he continues.

"We’re thinking of other ways we can add native ads to the experience in a way that we could do more often and wouldn’t require users to activate it." Other advertisers on Grindr include Crunch Gym and Uber.

Tinder created a profile for R&B singer Jason Derulo that when swiped right gave users a link to a YouTube page where they could watch a new video.

Its parent company, InterActiveCorp’s The Match Group also owns and OkCupid, and in July purchased Vancouver-based PlentyOfFish for $575 million. IAC recently announced its intention for an IPO for The Match Group as it strives to own the dating category across multiple apps and create a network for advertisers to reach singles on the go.

"I see the space getting more interesting, especially in finding ways [to integrate consumer brands] that complement or enhance the user experience instead of distract," says Shannon Smith, PR and events specialist for PlentyOfFish, which claims to have more than 3 million active daily users – 85% of them from its apps. "Apps are the future of the industry," she adds.

Dating apps have also expanded aggressively into social networks, building communities interested in romance.

Zoosk, which originated as a Facebook app and uses behavioral analysis to present matches, is on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.

"We’ve created a lot of great content around dating, sharable images that are tied to quotes about love," says Allison Braley, Zoosk’s VP of marketing and communications. "It’s content that really excites our users and that advertisers want to be a part of."

Zoosk has worked with advertisers including Dunkin’ Donuts, integrating them into its social media content.

Behind closed doors
While many of the apps boast large user bases and impressive engagement metrics – last year Tinder users spent about 90 minutes a day on the app – it is not all good news for such services.

For instance, in August Tinder launched a Twitter tirade against Vanity Fair after the magazine ran an article that was critical of the app and the changing dating scene. Ashley Madison, a site that helps people cheat on their spouses, was targeted by hackers who cracked the user database and threatened to expose the identities of its 37 million members. The names were reportedly released onto the Dark Web in late August. Ashley Madison parent company Avid Life Media has been working with Levick Communications on its crisis response.

While other apps don’t purport to help people cheat, users still wouldn’t want their racy messages shared with the world.

Bloch says the apps needs to demonstrate how they’re making protecting users’ privacy a priority.

"Often, they are guilty of using counterintuitive privacy settings and permit serious security flaws," he says.

Bloch also notes apps such as Zoosk and Grindr use geolocation data, which in the past has been used by un-scrupulous programmers to invade people’s privacy. An app called Girls Around Me, for instance, was pulled from the App Store because it aggregated information from people’s public pages to reveal a map with real-time GPS data and pictures of women or men in their vicinity. It became known as a "stalker app."

"Online dating sites have a duty to do all they can to make sure that personal data remains confidential," Bloch says. "And they need to [make users] aware of the potential risks to their privacy and security."

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