Coronavirus has had a “dramatic” effect on the way people use the dating app Tinder, its boss has told BBC News, though the changes may suit plans he already had in store for the platform.
The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown conditions have brought mixed fortunes to online-dating platforms like Tinder, according to its chief executive Elie Seidman.
On the one hand, user engagement is up, a trend other dating apps have reported too.
Tinder users made 3 billion swipes worldwide on Sunday 29 March, the most the app has ever recorded in a single day. In the UK, daily conversations rose by 12% between mid-February and the end of March.
There has been a “dramatic shift” in behaviour metrics which are normally stable, says Mr Seidman.
However, the economic impact of lockdown means people have less money to spend.
This is not such good news for Tinder, which is free but relies on premium subscriptions for its revenue.
“The [US] unemployment figures are hard to see,” says Mr Seidman. “I’m very concerned about what happens economically for our society and the impact it will have on so many of our members.”
Tinder has been downloaded more than 340 million times since its launch in 2012. But the vast majority of its revenues come from just 6 million subscribers who pay for the “gold” service. The rate at which it picked up those precious paying-users declined as lockdown struck.
The company’s data show that new sign-ups for premium membership pick up where lockdowns start to ease, says Mr Siedman.
“You can literally see the comeback on a state by state basis [in the US], as things come out and start to loosen up, as the peak crisis starts to pass.”
Other platforms which offer free sign-up have noticed something similar during lockdown.
“We’ve seen a surge in activity,” says Charlie Lester, dating expert for The Inner Circle platform. “Matches have risen by 15% and the number of messages sent is up by 10%, but we’ve also noticed less willingness to pay.”
Mr Siedman says you might have to wait two or three financial quarters to see the full economic impact on Tinder, as the scale of the global crisis becomes clear.
The other issue that will become clear with time is whether the popularity of virtual dating, by video call, is here to stay, once physical meet-ups with strangers become more possible.
Platforms like eHarmony, OKCupid and Match have reported a big rise in video dates.
Tinder is planning to roll out its own video dating function in June, says Mr Seidman.
The video call service will operate on a double opt-in policy, so both sides of the match would have to agree to it. It will be free and supported by a team of moderators.
The changes to dating brought in by coronavirus lockdowns have merely accelerated a generational change the company was already tracking in focus groups, says Mr Seidman.
The 18-year-olds joining the app now, unlike their predecessors who joined in 2012, have grown up immersed in social media apps and see that virtual world as something quite natural, he explains.
For this generation online matches aren’t just about organising a meet-up in real life, they are about having fulfilling online experiences too.
For this reason the company has been working on making Tinder less of a place to organise “hook ups” offline and more of a place to hang out online, to get to know people. It is trialling virtual spaces and live events where people can meet and match on the platform, like Swipe Nights and quizzes.
Mr Seidman sums up the creed of the new young crop of Tinder users: “Your digital life is as important as your social life in the physical world.”
In a world of continued social distancing, this creed may also have to be embraced to some extent by older daters too.
You can follow reporter Dougal on Twitter: @dougalshawbbc
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