Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, Tinder is a hugely popular mobile dating app that matches potential partners based on user data and proximity.
Since the application was launched in 2012, it has experienced explosive growth.
So what makes Tinder so special, and what can we learn from Tinder’s growth that we can apply to other businesses?
You’ve probably heard the phrase “sex sells.” That’s certainly part of the picture, but there are many other facets of Tinder’s growth engine that are worth admiring.
On a conceptual level, Tinder is ingenious.
All marketers know that consumer behavior is driven by emotions rather than logic. To be specific, people are motivated to act due to two reasons:
- The desire to move towards pleasure
- The desire to move away from pain
Tinder’s users are motivated by seeking out romantic encounters (pleasure) while simultaneously avoiding rejection (pain).
We’re not talking about mild emotions here. These are core human desires with an evolutionary basis.
It’s theorized that the fear of rejection stems from when humans lived in primitive hunter-gatherer societies. With limited amounts of potential mates in a small tribe, being rejected could entail the end of your lineage and in some cases, would lead to ostracization and death. Today, rejection is a stinging emotional experience that people don’t want to go through.
Google the term “approach anxiety” and you’ll find a library of articles on the subject – indicating how serious of a problem it is for people.
Since both parties have indicated a mutual attraction before a Tinder match is made, daters don’t need to go through the experience of approaching someone they’re attracted to while hoping the other person feels the same, and don’t have to worry about being approached by someone they have no interest in.
Additionally, Tinder uses the intermittent reward system. New matches are a “reward”. You get excited when you swipe right and it’s a match, you get the push notification telling you there’s a new match waiting for you when you open the app. When using Tinder, you likely won’t get 5+ matches a day, or even a match a day. So when matches become scarcer, they are more valued, and then when they come, it’s a huge (and addicting) reward. You get back into the app, keep swiping, keep messaging, and it becomes a “must have” in your life.
Rewards come early (the critical first few tries for a user, when it determines if they’ll be sticky, they quickly see the first signs of value from the app when they get new matches. Overtime, the rate of new matches will diminish, but by then you’re already hooked on the app. You get more matches because it’s suspected that new Tinder users are shown to more people, and thus achieve more matches.)
The emotional drivers of pleasure and pain are the cornerstones of Tinder’s success.
Even with a great concept, Tinder’s success would have been severely limited if the user experience was inadequate.
Fortunately, Tinder’s creators were wise to the fact that we’re living in a culture of instant gratification. While traditional dating sites require you to read long-winded profiles for potential dates, Tinder gives you an avalanche of potential partners that you can accept or dismiss in one hand gesture based on first impressions.
In many ways, Tinder replicates real life. People make snap judgments all the time, and you’re unlikely to get to know someone’s favorite artists or movies unless there is an initial physical attraction.
Tinder’s CEO, Sean Rad, states: “We want to create experiences that emulate human behavior. What we do on Tinder is no different than what we already do.”
In order for word of mouth marketing to be effective, it’s important for user onboarding to be smooth and efficient. If your friend has got you excited about an application but you’re having trouble logging in or understanding how to use it, then it’s not very useful.
If you have a Facebook account, you simply connect it to Tinder, pick your photos, and start swiping. You don’t even have to include photos to start swiping (but you probably should considering this is dating).
And while there’s a bio section, you don’t even have to go through the pains of creating a witty bio before you can start swiping. Tinder already looks at your Facebook Likes, Friends, and creates “shared interests” and “Mutual Friends” with potential matches.
Compare this to the wringer that most dating sites put new users through. You have to write your bio, list your favorite books, movies, what you’re looking for, etc. By the time you can actually start viewing profiles you’ve already used 20 minutes of time writing a bio that few people will read.
Unlike the desktop, the smartphone is an ideal device for Tinder’s fast-paced dating action. Swiping left or right on a smartphone just feels natural – akin to swiping through a deck of cards.
Given that smartphone displays are image-centric, you’re compelled to make snap decisions primarily based on looks. Some would argue that this is superficial, but maybe dating is more superficial than we’d like to admit?
With an excellent product, in both concept and execution, the team at Tinder deployed some powerful growth marketing tactics in order to generate attention.
The Two-Sided Network
According to Wikipedia, two-sided networks are: “economic platforms having two distinct user groups that provide each other with network benefits.”
In the case of Airbnb, the brand was only successful because there were enough hosts and guests to facilitate each other’s interests. Simple laws of supply and demand.
For Tinder, both men and women would be required to make the app work. Additionally, a significant portion of the user base needed to be attractive – otherwise there would be insufficient matches.
In order to get heterosexual men on the platform, there needed to be heterosexual women already present, and vice versa. So, which demographic would need to come first?
Tinder came up with a smart solution to this quandary.
Having enjoyed her experience in a sorority at college, Tinder’s Vice President of Marketing at the time, Whitney Wolfe, set off to acquire campus VIPs as early adopters.
Tinder also got a fair amount of publicity during the 2014 Winter Olympics when snowboarder Jamie Anderson and others revealed that they’ve been using Tinder. This added to the social proof of Tinder, which only helped its user base grow more.
Interestingly, former UFC champion Ronda Rousey stated that she didn’t have much luck with Tinder because of her fame, and actually signed up using a fake name before being found out. Given the UFC’s predominantly male fan base, I’m sure a significant number of UFC fans became Tinder users upon hearing the news.
With “high quality” models and sorority leaders using the application, this would do away with the negative stigma that digital dating is for lonely people. Instead, Tinder would be an application that social, attractive people use to make their good dating lives even better.
On a tour of numerous campuses in the United States, Wolfe gave group presentations about Tinder to sorority houses.
At the end of the presentation, Wolfe insisted that all the girls sign up for the application. Immediately afterwards, she would go to the corresponding brother fraternity and encourage the guys to sign up.
Right away, the guys would see profiles for the attractive girls that they already knew, but hadn’t had the opportunity to interact with in a romantic context.
Because campuses have a dense population of single students in close proximity, initial users had more than enough potential matches to keep them engaged with the application.
Parties and Outreach
In another display of Tinder’s marketing ingenuity, Tinder hosted a party for a USC student’s birthday and went the extra mile to make it amazing. Tinder paid the bill for the party in exchange for putting a bouncer at the door that only let people in after downloading the application.
When Wolfe returned after her college tour, Tinder’s user base jumped from 5,000 to 15,000. This is when word of mouth marketing gained momentum.
Parties would still play a prominent role in Tinder’s marketing strategy as the application expanded beyond the American college system. With launch parties in Mexico, Japan and England, Tinder brought nights of fun and entertainment to singletons around the world – while simultaneously promoting the Tinder brand.
As a result, Tinder’s user base expanded. In the initial months, 85% of Tinder’s users were within the 18-23 ages, but by the following year that same age range represented only 57% of all users.
The growth of Tinder can be attributed to a quick onboarding system, an addicting product with random rewards (matches), a unique dating product that was different than current options, and successful launch parties.
Have you used Tinder? If so, what about the application encourages you to keep coming back?
Please let me know in the comments below.
About the Author: Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world’s leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a Growth Marketer – a fusion between search, content, social, and PR. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on the Louder Online blog.
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