How are Dating Apps ‘‘selling’’ love and dates to people during Covid-19?

You’d think that dating apps would be the last thing on people’s minds right now, in the middle of our one-year-and-counting struggle with the global pandemic.

Not really. More Americans are spending time online searching for the right match.

Pandemic era: a boom for dating apps

Popular apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge actually registered an increase in users and time spent online in 2020. Overall, eight of the biggest dating apps in America saw a 12.6% year-over-year increase in monthly active users in the final quarter of 2020.

Using our Culture AI tools, we studied data from dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Match, Grindr, Ok Cupid, Christian Mingle, eHarmony, Hinge, Happn, and Coffee Meets Bagel. Data from their social media accounts were analyzed to understand how these brands communicate with their consumers.

We also extracted 170 comments from Reddit users to learn more about their perceptions on online dating, new dating trends, and what they are ‘‘really’’ looking for.

Here’s what we found:

How do brands communicate with their consumers?

Selling the dream of finding Love

Love is unquestionably the main aspect dating apps try to sell to people. We find it nice that in an age where it feels like people are all getting a tad bit more cynical, there are still brands promoting the idea that by downloading their app, love will be found.

Hinge, for instance, uses the slogan, ‘‘the dating app designed to be deleted’’, signaling that this app isn’t only something you could use for brief, fun encounters. It’s also about finding ‘‘the one’’, thus targeting those who want to be in a serious relationship.

Crush Culture

Our tools detected the word ‘‘crush’’ several times. People are feeling bored more than ever during this pandemic, and having someone they find attractive to flirt with online can sound like an entertaining way to pass time. It allows users to ‘‘play the field’’ and distract themselves during a particularly restrictive and tough time.

Overall, we observed an underlying theme of playfulness related to crushes or finding crushes. It takes users back to the high school times when they had crushes on the sporty senior year guy or the cute girl from English class. It’s nostalgic, yet comforting for these trying times.

Dishing advice Life Coach-style

Regardless of whether people still pick up others to go on a first date in this pandemic era, people are still keen to experience the thrill and bliss of dating, and brands know this. Dating apps seem to be presenting themselves as the ‘‘life coach’’ and even ‘‘cheerleader’’ of users, helping them navigate their dating lives.

As an example, Bumble recently posted an infographic with, ‘‘normalize dating as a single parent’’ written, encouraging single mums and dads to put themselves out there, in the dating scene, despite being seen by many as something exclusive to young, child-free people.

Similarly, Coffee Meets Bagel wrote in their captions their words of wisdom when it comes to a first date: ‘‘it’s totally normal to feel all of the feelings on a first date. Yes, even those not-so-great feelings. Feeling nervous or awkward doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a bad time, it just means you’re putting yourself out there in a vulnerable situation. So don’t stress, we’re all in the same boat.’’

https://www.instagram.com/p/CMr7rfQnBlW/

Generally, it’s all about encouragement and giving people the push they need to take the next step in their love journey. Most importantly, these two brands communicate authenticity in their tone, as they know very well that consumers appreciate ‘‘wokeness’’. They stand out for recognizing diversity, mental health needs and communicating their thoughts to those who might not easily put themselves in the dating game.

Mindful Love Guru

‘‘Love quotes’’ and ‘‘words to live by’’ often appeared in Instagram communication, among several different words. Brands are using phrases like this to position themselves as knowledgeable experts, as the ones who know how to guide others to find a good match. They simply know best, and customers are keen to follow the ‘‘love guru’’. In some cases, brands also weave in mindfulness advice (another popular Instagram content genre) into their love advice.

eHarmony, as an example, advises in its Instagram’ caption for followers to focus on themselves: ‘‘whether it’s in romantic relationships or when it comes to work/life balance, you have to cultivate time and space for yourself. By only focusing your energy on other people, you may be forgetting the VIP in life…which is YOU. Take the time to treat and work on yourself whether that’s through mindfulness, an at-home spa day or just taking a quick walk. Love yourself so you can accept love from others. #datingadvice #loveyourself’’

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKj3WBNH5kL/

Spread Good Vibes

During this covid era, people are showing kindness through shared virtual movie nights, TikTok dances (with whoever they live with), and, above all, donations to those who need the most. This matters now, as more people are in a vulnerable position, and therefore, ‘‘kindness’’ is being seen as a valuable trait.

Brands that show themselves being kind not only catch potential users’ interest but get noticed for standing up for their values in relation to others.

What this shows us about post-pandemic dating

Users are not always going to be participants of Hookup Culture. People want real romance.
Now, many are choosing to date meaningfully, instead of constantly swiping right, left for the sake of it.

We see it in how Coffee Meets Bagel releases a batch of ‘‘fresh bagels’’ daily at noon, with the purpose to restrict unlimited swiping. The idea behind this is to motivate people to have more impactful conversations, as opposed to a stock ‘‘what are you up to?’’ message. Bumble understood this greater need for deeper connections and now, it offers both audio and video functions. On social, we see how the ‘‘love guru’’ and ‘‘life coach’’ communication strategy of these apps aptly meet shifting consumer needs.

Users are “shopping around” these apps to keep themselves entertained. There’s still a sizable segment of these people who are swiping for fun and may even be expecting more of these apps now that the range of fun activities they can do has been limited (whether officially or personally mandated) by pandemic health risk concerns.

Keeping themselves occupied by ‘‘simping’’ or having ‘‘crushes’’ on interesting randomers online is the way to go for this group, and we see that some are even using it as the perfect tool to have a funny night with friends.

Within this segment, we expect that there would be quite a portion of them who are window shoppers of the dating sort, who may be happily swiping for a harmless online flirt, without the intention of actually meeting these people they speak to. As such, the dating app itself becomes the final destination and the endpoint of their dating journey.

Dating apps are also being used for non-dating purposes.

People may be keen to make friends through dating apps after moving into a new city, and brands in this space have to think about how to potentially appeal to these users as well as potentially turn them into actual daters too. Bumble is ahead of the game on this front, with labeling options to ‘‘date’’, ‘‘make new friends’’ and surprisingly, ‘‘network’’.

For more detailed research findings on this, reach out to anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai

Quilt.AI creates culturally intelligent AI products to achieve impact at scale. https://quilt.ai

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