Love in the Time of Corona: How Dating Apps have Successfully Adapted

Dating apps have been able to leverage their digital capabilities to remain competitive by offering new video features and growing their customer funnel.

Online dating apps, such as Hinge, OkCupid, and Bumble, act as a two-sided marketplace, where potential partners can “match” with each other. Their definition of success, however, has always relied on users being able to connect in the “real world” and eventually move off-app. So when COVID-19 hit and isolation orders were instated around the world, in person dates quickly became impossible. But while the pandemic has had a major impact on dating apps’ value chain, these companies have been able to leverage their digital capabilities to remain competitive in this new normal by offering new features and growing their customer funnel.

 

The Value Chain

If we think about the old value chain of dating apps, they started with generating users (having people join the app), pre-validation via in-app chatting, and then final validation via in-person dates. What COVID-19 has done is broken this final step in the value chain. The traditional definition of success, getting users to form relationships and delete their apps, has become impossible. Interestingly though, the pandemic has added to the first part of the value chain – generating users. Stay-at-home orders have led to a lot of people (and a lot of singles who tend to live alone) feeling isolated, anxious, lonely and bored. Now more than ever are people craving social connection, romantic and platonic. Thus, the incentives to join the platforms has actually increased and put more users in the customer funnel.

 

Successful Adaptations

How have these apps adapted? First, they’ve added new features. According to Fast Company, “the world’s biggest dating brands have reprioritized their road maps to bring format to the forefront and have rolled out new in-app video calling features.” Video chat wasn’t a priority before the pandemic, when only 6% of users expressed interest in the feature. Due to the lack of other options, that interest has spiked to 69%. Dating apps have also rolled out “virtual happy hours” as well as offering “online date” suggestions and hotlines to dating experts. Hinge has pushed out a new feature called “Date from Home” and many dating apps have removed “location locks” allowing users to connect with anyone anywhere in the world. And it’s not just for dating – as these apps recognize the need for social connection, some are pivoting to offering platonic friendship building; Tinder, a notorious “hook-up” app, is offering their “Passport” feature for free allowing users to find friends across the globe.

Prime Positioning

Dating apps were well positioned to respond to the pandemic so quickly. These companies utilized digital business models from the start, being “tech companies first” from the beginning. With fleets of software engineers behind the scenes, these companies are well known for being nimble enough to roll out new features as they please. Also, with competition so fierce, these companies are used to competing for users with innovative content and offers – since dating apps rely heavily on network effects, being able to attract the most users and keep them on the platform was always a top priority. It’s also worth noting that COVID-19 didn’t significantly disrupt their product when compared to other products and industries. In fact, dating apps’ supply (people desiring to connect with other people) AND demand have both increased. Perhaps the biggest disruption in terms of their supply/demand has been user’s willingness to pay – many individuals have found themselves strapped for cash during these times, so subscribing to premium versions of apps is not an option for many. It seems like dating apps aren’t too concerned with this at the moment; they have begun offering premium features for free and appear to be more focused on capturing the increase in supply & demand (again.. investing in those important network effects).

Photo: Techcrunch

 

Current Impacts

The pivots and innovations dating apps have made during COVID-19 will likely serve them in the long run. For many years, users were averse to video chatting as a way of dating. These companies see this as a time to “encourage and normalize and show people that it’s okay to do video dating,” says Hinge CEO Justin McLeod. If the trends today can normalize video dating, then in a post-pandemic world video chats could still be used as a way to vet people before meeting up in person. In this way, dating apps are using this time to prepare for the post-COVID world, whether we as a society become more comfortable with digital options in our lives or whether we “go back to normal.” In fact, there is an argument to be made that these new dating app features may actually improve dating as new features could help people make more meaningful connections with each other.

 

Future Risks

The biggest risks dating apps may face is the decrease in user’s willingness to pay. This would restrict the companies cash flows, forcing them to float themselves for a period of time. This may be fine in the short term but poses a risk to the financial health of these companies in the long run as we don’t know yet when this pandemic will end. It’s worth leaning out the companies, reducing headcount, sooner rather than later to preserve what cash they have. Also, in the long-term people may “buy-out” of the premium options and become more satisfied with the free features. User’s dating experiences during COVID-19 may result in users becoming more patient in dating (thus becoming OK with the limited number of matches offered in the free version of the apps), more location agnostic (thus reducing the need for “location” matching), and less tolerant of the speed of dating based on easily observable characteristics. Still, dating apps would likely be able to pivot again and roll out new premium features that are attractive to the post-pandemic user.

 

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10 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Corona: How Dating Apps have Successfully Adapted

  1. This is a very fascinating area! As you mentioned, these apps are well positioned in this pandemic to support their users needs. I also was impressed with the founder of Bumble’s offering of funds to other female businesses to support them during this time. Bumble appears to be the only one which offers videochat built into their app, and I wonder if they can use it to do additional analytics on their users to provide an even more intimate dating app experience. Apps which gain more insight into their users could do a better job matching them with potential matches, or even giving them advice. They could also experiment with connecting people with a dating coach, or give each other advice on their dating search. It’s always nice to have someone to talk to about your relationships, and they could engage their users even more with this service over video. As far as seeking another source of revenue, they could look into turning special concepts like Love Is Blind into app-delivered experiences which require an entry fee before gaining access to a set of people who you can only communicate with over audio or text. Or, they could offer special in-video call services like games, karaoke, or live music which one user could buy to impress / woo the other. These alternative dating groups or date experiences could be an option which people are interested in paying to try.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Cherish! It’s really interesting to think about how some of the new features, such as video chatting, will continue to be used in a post-COVID world. I imagine that some users would want to continue to use video chats as an easy way to “pre-screen” potential dates prior to actually meeting them in person (which requires significantly more effort). I could see apps monetizing these chats by adding them to the premium paid subscriptions or potentially allowing users to send their date a coffee by delivery (which the app could take a portion of the fee) to add some fun and connection to the chat. I would also be interested to see if users would prefer to have a video chat as the first means of communication, similar to speed dating, rather than going through the process of instant messaging and waiting for the other person to respond.

  3. Great article! The reduced WTP of customers is a serious challenge for dating companies especially amid the pandemic. I wonder if offering video chat features should have been a priority for these companies though given the many alternatives we have (Zoom, hangouts, and if people are comfortable sharing numbers Whatsapp..). I think they should be focusing on a great matching algorithm which would be the key differentiator that will be able to drive the WTP.

  4. Interesting to hear that premium features are increasingly being rolled out for free. Do you think this is sustainable long term? For instance would it work to move their operating model to generating revenue through say ads (opposed to subscriptions). Also I find it interesting that COVID has accelerated digital trends such as video dating. Do you believe this trends will sustain post COVID and if not how can these apps work to continue these trends?

  5. Really great article – I find it interesting to think about how normalized video dating (without meeting) can become and advance dating apps even further in the future. Thinking back even 10 years, these apps were not yet normalized, so I could see this being the next step in their advancement. I also agree with the point around monetization, but I don’t know if it’s different that it was in the past – apps have had trouble monetizing the meetings since they lose their value once the connection is made, and the same fact exists if people use video to complete that “meeting”. On the other hand, since they could potentially have more users, more connections all over the world, they might be able to charge more for the use, so I see some opportunity. Will be interesting to see what happens!

  6. This is a fascinating read! It is so interesting that this pandemic is helping many companies to run multiple experiments such as Passport Feature of Tinder to try different operating models, which might bring long-term success to these companies. And I totally agree with the argument that the nimble and experiment-like culture of these companies helped them be ‘pandemic-ready’ and hopefully, these sites will stride high with the pandemic waves.

  7. Great article Cherish! It’s very interesting to understand how the dating apps have been able to adapt so quickly, and it shows that they are very good at understanding its customer during this crisis. It seems like the growth has been due to those who are feeling isolated because of social distancing and wanting to “connect” more with others versus “dating”. I’m curious to see after the pandemic if the dating apps will be able to retain its new users that started to use it due to social distancing.

  8. Great article and really interesting topic. I would be curious to see if “video dating” does end up picking up after the pandemic and changes the way these apps deliver features and services.

  9. Very interesting read! A couple of opportunities and one watch-out came to mind after reading:

    (1) Have any of the platforms formed partnerships with online video conferencing software to provide a deluxe experience for users? I wonder how working with an expert in that area could make video dating more high-quality and seamless for users?

    (2) What additional data points can dating apps now collect given that people are interacting more online vs. in-person. I imagine it would be good to be able to collect some data beyond who you swipe on to improve recommendations, but think there’s a fine line between helpful and creepy.

    (3) How will dating apps know when to encourage in-person interactions again and how will they get people back out there? With different guidelines in every state I think it will require a good grasp of policy to ensure that the platform isn’t encouraging bad behavior. At the same time, I think people are going to be more weary of meeting up with strangers after the crisis so a lot of advertising is going to be needed to get folks back out.

  10. Thank you for the interesting post, Cherish!
    I think the video chat or potential shot video streaming might be a very good revenue source for dating apps to attract paid users.

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