Dating apps are nothing new under the sun in 2022. People around the world have been using them for years, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard of Tinder, Ok Cupid, or Bumble. You’ve probably used them at least once yourself. However, in the context of a global pandemic, dating and socializing apps have really taken off, and there are now more than 1,500 such apps to choose from. It seems like every week there’s a new dating app in the app stores. And yes, it can get overwhelming at times, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Dating apps – a lifeline during times of crisis
When social distancing became a must, and mixing social bubbles is still complicated to navigate, dating and socializing apps have become a lifeline for meeting new people.
According to a Sensor Tower report, demand for dating and socializing apps skyrocketed during the pandemic, allowing new players to come onto the market, including Wizz, Wink, and Yuba, which all cater to young people looking to make friends from afar. There’s now literally an app for everyone; for instance, Twindog, which is sort of like Tinder for dogs, helps dog owners find a match for their four-legged friend. FarmersD, or Farmers Dating Only, is a dating app catering specifically to single farmers. People who feel strongly about a part of their identity, be it their job, their faith, their passion are now very likely to find a dating app that caters to their group.
The dating apps market hasn’t grown only when it comes to niches. The pandemic accelerated growth for the household names of the dating app world as well. Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Hinge, and Hily were the most downloaded dating apps in 2020, according to Sensor Tower. Tinder revealed that 2020 was the company’s busiest year, setting several usage records – in March 2020, it recorded 3 billion swipes in a single day. Hinge reportedly tripled its revenue from 2019 to 2020, OkCupid saw a 700% increase in the number of dates, and video calls on Bumble surged 70%.
The 4 main challenges of building successful dating and socializing apps
All of these apps have adapted quickly to the new normal, and many of them have even partnered with governments to add profile badges that show a user is vaccinated against Covid19. However, with so many new people joining dating and connection platforms, both the founders and the mobile app developers supporting them are facing increasingly tougher challenges when entering the market. Whether it’s crafting the best possible user experience and getting creative with your marketing to stand out from the competition, or implementing privacy and security features to protect your users from fake profiles and inappropriate conduct, building a successful dating app is not as easy as it might seem. So let’s take a look at what challenges a founder should be aware of before building that dating app they’ve been thinking about.
1. The user experience challenge
One of the toughest challenges when it comes to building a dating or connection app is related to the user experience. With so many apps competing for attention, it can be extremely difficult to stand out from the crowd and provide a UX that’s fast, seamless, and provides the best matching experience. And even if you think you’ve got it done, you never know what the next app will be coming out with.
Mobile users, especially Gen Z-ers and Millennials, who make up the bulk of the dating app user base, have little patience for apps that don’t make sense or don’t work. Moreso, the mediums they’re communicating in are much more varied today, and the old swipe left or right is not as attractive anymore. If you’re not providing the best experience for them, they’ll move on to a competitor in no time. Whether that experience translates into a matching safer matching experience (Bumble), TikTok-like videos to build your profile (Snack), memes to match based on humour (Schmooze), focusing on real-life meetings or events rather than online interactions (Thursday), the opportunities are limitless.
Once you decide the target audience and the niche of your dating app, you want to focus your mobile product on that, and work on implementing that vision into the app itself. That means putting thought into the different profile options, like badges, interests, or various fun widgets; and in the user flow where a person gets to interact with their matches.
Case study – Bumble
Bumble is one of the most-installed dating apps in the world, and it’s also one of the most unique, catering primarily to its female users. Only female users can make first contact with matched male users in heterosexual matches, which is a first for the dating app world. Bumble also offers variety, providing a BFF mode for people who just want to make friends and socialise without the pressure of building a romantic relationship. They also operate the Bumble Bizz app, a female-focused networking platform for professional women looking to expand their careers.
The cool thing about Bumble is that they’re aware that the visual aspect goes hand in hand with the product-related content to appeal to the app’s market, so they actually have content design teams in place that strategize and create relevant content for each specific division and app. Besides chats and texts, all three versions (Bumble, Bumble BFF, and Bumble Bizz) allow matched users to make in-app voice and video calls. A user can even activate a ‘virtual dating’ badge that shows they’re open to video calls.
All the focus on design, content, and feature variety seems to be working out for Bumble. The company filed for an IPO in January 2021, at which time the app had a monthly user base of 42 million, and 2.4 million paying users.
2. The marketing challenge
Another pressing challenge for entrepreneurs looking to launch a new dating app into the digital stratosphere relates to marketing. How do you market a product when there are so many other competing products already on app stores? How do you stand out from the crowd? These are questions that can be hard to answer, so you should instead start small and work your way to the big questions.
For starters, you need to find out how many users you need for your app to work and be successful, and where those users are located. You can probably guess the answer to this one: you want to have as many users as possible installing your app, preferably located in the same area, so that they can match, meet, and potentially find a soulmate or best friend. So, as they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.
But the questions don’t end there. How can you make your app stand out and compete with giants like Tinder or Bumble? The short answer here is to get creative, think outside the box, and narrow your focus down to a niche or a unique aspect that can appeal to users.
Case study – Thursday
Thursday is a dating app with a twist because it’s an app that only becomes active one day each week. The name is also offering couples a save for the classic question of “where did you meet?”.
The app caters to singles who are basically fed up with dating apps and are looking for a simpler, more straightforward approach. Thursday encourages users to focus on other things throughout the week. Then, every Thursday, users can access the app and find someone to match with and meet with in real life. Obviously, this app isn’t for people who aren’t willing to ‘cut the crap’ (Thursday’s words) and jump straight into a blind date.
This straightforward, no-bull approach has made Thursday very successful in a very short time. It was released in July 2021 and was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, even though it’s active just one day per week. The Thursday team capitalised quickly on that success, launching an offline event series dubbed AfterParty. These are member-only events that take place in different London and NYC bars. The company does no advertising and no marketing for these events, but not because they can’t. In fact, they can get quite creative when it comes to marketing. One of the company employees once sat on a chair in the middle of a busy London street, holding a sign that said ‘Got DUMPED. Hate dating apps. Who wants a spontaneous Thursday date? Got 5 mins? Take a seat, xoxo.’ A simple yet effective marketing campaign that really turned viral and got people talking about the app.
Another fun fact about Thursday is that users who match on a given Thursday but don’t exchange other contact information or make plans to meet won’t be able to match again. This adds a sense of urgency that motivates people to actually meet in person, which is an essential focus for the app. On other dating apps, users can chat away for weeks, and during this time, they might build up a certain image of what the other person might be like. Thursday wants to cut the crap and avoid disappointments and wasted time by encouraging users to meet as soon as…Thursday.
3. The pricing challenge
Usually, mobile apps make a profit by increasing their customer lifetime value (CLV), which means their goal is to loyalize users and keep them using the app for as long as possible. In this regard, dating apps are a bit different, because ultimately, users install such apps to find a partner and take that virtual relationship into the real world. When that happens, and the relationship is secure, they no longer have a need for the app, and might even end up uninstalling it. Customer lifetime value is not a possible monetisation objective goal here; so how does a dating app turn a profit?
Case study – Tinder
The best way to figure out how dating apps make a profit is by looking at the most popular, most-downloaded, most-well known dating app in the world. Tinder’s pricing model has come under fire many times, because the app has traditionally charged users over 30 years of age significantly more than its younger user base. For instance, as a 20-something mobile user, you’d pay $19.99 for a month of Tinder Platinum, $14.99 for Tinder Gold, and $4.99 for Tinder Plus. However, older users would have to pay $39.99 for a month of Tinder Platinum, $29.99 for Tinder Gold, and $9.99 for Tinder Plus.
Tinder Membership Pricing (If You’re Under 30 Years Old)
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Tinder Membership Pricing (If You’re Over 30 Years Old)
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A recent report by Mozilla and Consumers International found that pricing for certain features varied significantly depending on the user’s age. In fact, Tinder has been under fire for its differentiated pricing model since 2018, when a California court found it discriminatory. Tinder has announced it would eliminate its age-based pricing model by mid-2022 and will transition from subscriptions to in-app purchases of specific features.
Besides its Plus, Gold, and Platinum subscriptions, Tinder also offers a la carte features such as Boost and Super Like, and is currently testing an in-app currency called Tinder Coins. In the future, Tinder members will be able to purchase Tinder Coins and use them to activate additional features, like Passport and See Who Likes You.
Most dating apps use a ‘freemium’ subscription-based pricing model, allowing mobile users to play around with the app for free before making a purchase. For instance, Tinder offers non-paying users around 25 swipes per day, Hinge offers 8 to 10 such actions, while Bumble also has a daily limit of roughly 30-35. After hitting their daily limit without finding a match, users will be likely to pay for a subscription to continue using the app, getting more swipes per day, and unlocking extra features. A paying Bumble user will be able to rematch with expired connections, extend the 24-hour window to contact a match, and even backtrack on accidental left swipes.
Basically, dating apps make a profit by monetizing additional features that allow users to do more on the app: everything from badges, widgets, backtracking, unlimited swipes, and security and safety features.
4. The user safety challenge
Last but certainly not least is the user safety challenge. This is perhaps the biggest issue dating apps have to deal with nowadays, and a very tricky one to navigate. You might have seen countless news reports on the number of fake profiles, sex offenders, and other creepers that might be lurking on dating apps. After all, technology has a habit of mimicking society’s issues, and relationship and domestic violence issues are still pervasive.
Women are the most vulnerable segment of users, and more likely to receive inappropriate messages while chatting on a dating app. A bad experience on such an app can deter users from ever installing a dating app again, and many people aren’t even inclined to try one out at all. With all the negative news stories surrounding dating apps making the rounds, it’s not hard to understand why some people are reluctant to use them. So, how can dating apps protect users?
Case study – Tinder
Once again, we head over to Tinder to highlight the ways in which dating apps are taking measures against fake profiles or aggressive users. After numerous harassment, sexual assault cases and even murders were connected to dating apps, Tinder decided to step up and add extra security and safety features to protect its app users.
In January 2020, the company announced it would be implementing several security features, including an integration with personal safety app Noonlight, connecting users to personal emergency services; Photo Verification that allows users to self-authenticate photos, to increase trust in member profiles; as well as an in-app Safety Center. The app also rolled out a feature dubbed Does This Bother You?, which allows users to flag inappropriate messages and even report the user, and Are You Sure?, which detects potentially offensive messages before they are sent, and alerts users that they might want to change their approach. Other security features implemented to protect dating app users include panic buttons, blocking and reporting features, and even background checks.
Tinder parent company Match Group is also partnering with background-check non-profit Garbo to integrate a feature allowing Tinder app users to run background checks on potential matches. The feature would also eventually be added to other apps owned by Match Group, like Hinge and OkCupid. However, it will not be free; users will have to pay for the service, which has already stirred some controversy in the digital realm.
What can you, as an entrepreneur looking to launch your own dating or socialising app, learn from apps like Tinder or Bumble? You can’t start the development process without having a clear ‘to-do’ list that includes the following aspects:
- Product positioning – what is your niche and who is your target audience? To stand out in the ever-expanding crowd of dating apps, you must have a unique angle and approach and focus on a particular user segment. After that, you can decide on how you want your app to look and feel to match your objective and start thinking about innovative and effective marketing campaigns that will drive user acquisition.
- A budget for the first 12 months – Be ready to invest in the first year of your dating app, and be prepared for additional costs and tweaks in the first months of its life. Set a clear budget for the next 12 months and make sure you can afford adjustments along the way; whether that means tweaking the app’s features, the design and UX, or adjusting your marketing budget, you should be sure that you can cover the unforeseen expenses. Moreso than in other verticals, the success of dating apps is driven by the size of their user base, so be ready to invest a lot in user acquisition.
- Location, location, location – We’ve previously mentioned that location is a crucial aspect when it comes to launching a new dating app. You want users of your app to be able to meet up in real life, or maybe you’ll want to organise members-only events in the future – this means narrowing down your focus to a specific location, and targeting users in that area. Over time, as your user base grows and your mobile product gains traction, you can expand your app to other cities or countries, and add extra features like virtual dating or video chats.
Are you ready to launch your own dating app? If you are looking for a dedicated product partner that will guide you along the entire process and work with you throughout the entire lifecycle of your product, don’t hesitate to reach out to Tapptitide. Our team is ready and eager to work with you to build the best possible dating app to compete with the likes of Tinder!