Swipe Play Love: Dating apps adapt and engage to combat isolation

Since the COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic, governments have been advising its citizens to stay at home and practise social distancing, in efforts to reduce the rate of transmission. Earlier this week, the Singapore Ministry of Health said it will be closing all entertainment venues and restricting gatherings outside of work and home to fewer than 10 people by Thursday.

With people becoming increasingly socially isolated now, one industry which has seen a rise in usage is the dating app industry.

Singapore-based dating agency Paktor Group recently said it has seen a 28% increase in its installation rates in Singapore as compared to the previous year. According to June Lim, head of corporate communications and marketing lead at Paktor, there was also a 17% increase in app engagement during this period, with users logging into the app more frequently throughout the day. But being mindful of the situation, it is always on its toes to ensure the right messaging is sent and adaptions are made on a week-to-week basis.

A Bumble spokesperson also told Marketing that there is an overall trend of increased usage of its app globally, although it declined to comment on the specific statistics. The app said the increased usage could be found through its chat, video call and voice call features, and it is expecting user behavior trends to evolve as more people look for ways to combat isolation and loneliness while practising social distancing.

Strategy-wise, Bumble has shifted its focus to online, encouraging its users to move their dates in-app with the features it provides. Last week,to get people engaging with the brand, Bumble uploaded an Instagram post which said that social distancing is not equal to loneliness. In its caption, the dating app company said that it is committed to powering positive and healthy virtual connections, and urged users to stay home and connect with its video chat function.

Meanwhile, Tinder has also seen an increase in its app engagement since mid-March. Its in-app conversation length saw an increase of 10% to 30% in Southeast Asia and Europe markets, as compared to February. Globally it has also seen daily messages increase by 10% to 15% in the United States, and an increase of up to 25% in daily conversation in Italy and Spain. These are in comparison to the last week. On the other hand, Coffee Meets Bagel’s (CMB) founder and CEO, Dawoon Kang, said it saw an initial dip in its new user signups from mid to end February in Singapore, which recovered in March. Kang added that there was no notable change in the level of app engagement during this period.

Not courting ad dollars

Despite the overall increase in app engagement, not all dating apps are looking to increase monetisation through advertisers during this period of time.

When asked if it is looking to get more advertisers on board, Lim said that Paktor does not have plans to do so during this period as it believes that many companies are conserving resources to maintain operations and business survival. Lim added that it will most likely continue to work with existing e-commerce partners to cross-sell its dating services. Paktor most recently partnered with Shopee for its Valentine's Day campaign this year.

Similarly, Bumble and Tinder told Marketing that increasing advertising opportunities is not their focus right now. Tinder added that it is currently focusing on its members. According to a financial report by Tinder's parent company, Match Group, Tinder had an average number of subscribers of 5.9 million in Q4 2019, which was an increase of 36% as compared to the Q3. Additionally, Tinder's direct revenue in 2019 was US$1.2 billion, which saw a 43% increase since 2018. 

(Read also: When love and money mix: A look at dating apps winning in monetisation in SEA)

Coupling up for new experiences 

In response to the COVID-19 and social distancing advisories, dating apps have come up with ways to keep its users engaged and informed about the COVID-19 situation. Tinder said it will be allowing all users to have free access to its Passport feature, which allows members to "transport themselves digitally to any location in the world" making it easy to swipe, match and chat with other members in that location. The Passport feature is currently a paid feature for users under Tinder’s premium subscription plans Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold.

CMB has also focused its attention on improving overall user experience during this period of social distancing. For example, while the app usually has a seven-day expiration for its chat, it has now made all its chats with active conversations (where both parties have said something within the past three days) be able to stay open indefinitely. Kang told Marketing that the seven-day chat expiration does not make sense during this period as many in-person dates are getting a rain check. Kang added that CMB is also offering ideas for virtual dates on its Instagram page, encouraging users to date their dates online instead.

Additionally, CMB also organised “CMB Community Virtual Meetups” to create a supportive space for face-to-face socialisation among CMB users. Selected users were given the opportunity to sign up to join a video chat with other CMB members, and are able to submit topics to talk about during the virtual meetup. The app found that the subject of how COVID-19 is affecting dating lives has been popular in the meetups. According to Kang, more than 90% of users who participated in the virtual meetup said they would participate again.

(Read also: Making a match: Advertising in the world of online dating)

Ensuring safety first

For Tinder and Bumble, implementing strategies to keep its users informed about the COVID-19 situation has been a priority.

Earlier this month, Tinder launched a display card in its app to ensure members were reminded of safety precautions and directed to credible updates by WHO by linking to WHO directly from the app. These updates are being refreshed depending on how the situation evolves, Tinder said.

Meanwhile, Bumble published a couple of informational posts on its blog. One of it was an interview with Seema Yasmin, the director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative and clinical assistant professor in Stanford’s department of medicine, who provided insights on how to date in this period of time. Bumble also partnered with online therapy company Talkspace for advice on managing anxiety and loneliness.

For homegrown brand Paktor, Lim said it is important for it to closely monitor how the COVID-19 situation unfolds as it allows the team to quickly adapt its marketing strategies. She added that Paktor has tweaked its marketing strategies for its offline dating agency GaiGai to incorporate more COVID-19 related content on its Instagram page. The dating agency also had to postpone its Valentine’s Day mega event in February 2020, and change it to a summer edition in May 2020 instead. “Despite the gloomy outlook, we continue to adhere to GaiGai’s brand voice and keep our content authentic and lighthearted. This has proven to be effective to deliver positive cheer to our audiences, and in turn drove favourable results,” Lim said.