I tried using Tinder as a business networking platform and here’s what (did not) happen
For the ones that pay close attention to my activity on social media this article comes as no surprise — you can also say it comes in high demand. Both the people that have been following my activity mentioning Tinder in my Instagram stories during the summer, and those who came to the events where I was a speaker were equally teased by my usual declaration “I started hacking Tinder: I cannot say anything right now, follow me and you’ll get to know more about my experiment soon.”
The tease went usually far above my expectations, being one of the top things that came to mind to people when they approached me, both online and in real life: the usual “hey, you’re the one that always comes up in my LinkedIn feed with videos!” started to be paired with “…oh and I’ve read something about you and Tinder!”. Awkward for many — certainly not for me, who realized the big opportunity behind this label instead. But before digging deep into the experiment, let me take a step back and explain which was the real reason behind my brand being associated with the dating app.
It all started on February, 19th, 2019, the date of my TinderGate. I was laying down in my hotel room in Milan, after a long work day and just before getting ready for aperitivo and dinner. I was quite bored and started scrolling through my phone, opening several apps without really paying specific attention to any of them — until I found myself opening Tinder and swiping profiles. And that’s when it happened.
I bumped into the profile of a guy called Philipp — it might have looked like the random profile of a random blonde guy that was visiting Milan by the photos he had uploaded — selfies mainly — and the caption he had chosen: “Looking for my model. In Milan for two nights, better be quick.” With the Milano Fashion Week happening, that as well sounded totally random.
But there was something unusual about it all: and it was his first picture in the profile, that depicted a football player dressed in a green and white shirt in action against a… nerazzurri! My eye could not help but get caught, as an interista myself: it was the pic of a player from Rapid Vienna, the team that my favorite side from Serie A, Inter Milan, was going to face later that week in the second-leg of the double draw of the Europa League competition. The player in the picture I did not know — and that is probably one of the things that, almost unconsciously, led me to swipe right.
Yep, you heard that right. I swiped right. And guess what? He had swiped right too! For those who are not familiar: in the Tinder world, swiping right means you liked someone’s profile and would like to chat with them — but Tinder only allows you to do so if the other person liked you back — they probably do so to avoid unwanted attentions and awkward online friendzones. Basically, you need a double swipe for a match. A very different match than the one that Philipp, a midfielder in one of the top football teams in Austria, was supposed to play a couple of days later. Thinking of the pun, and the coincidence of me matching a footballer, I burst out laughing and not realizing it would be probably better to just go forward and message him in the first place, I could not help but tweet about the whole situation, which I already found hilarious:
As you might realize from the numbers and to my utter surprise, the tweet went viral and my phone suddenly became hot, really hot (you are free to give the term hot in this sentence the interpretation you prefer). The thing blew up to a point to which, just less than a couple of hours later while I was probably sipping my Crémant de Jura, I get an Instagram message from a journalist working at La Gazzetta dello Sport, the most important sports newspaper in Italy, saying something by the lines of “is this true? Like… for real?” to what he got an answer like “yes, why wouldn’t it be if I tweeted a screenshot of it?”. To be honest, and looking back, I am still 100% sure the profile was real, and the fact that when my TinderGate went viral he not only immediately proceeded to delete the chat and the profile, but also got his club to defend him with a tweet that mentioned him being in a “very happy relationship with his girlfriend for 8 years” and that was fairly doubtful to say the least, just looking like further piece of evidence to me (excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta).
Anyways, just as the tweet was not getting enough exposure, the Gazzetta decided to report the story in an article that, as you might expect by now, just increased the virality of it all and got reposted by any other sports website in Italy, as well as the other important newspapers, television and media in general. Also, for the international flavor of the case, this piece of news went well beyond the Italian frontiers, landing in websites all over Europe and the world — as an example of it, I legit received a call from a friend in Spain asking worriedly “is this you the Marta Basso I’ve been hearing about on the radio? But miarma, what have you done?!”
If you know a little bit about viral marketing you realize this piece of news would have just been forgotten in a matter of weeks, if not days, even considered the spicy details — more than a footballer using a dating app, a woman doing so, oh what a piece of news this is! -. But I realized that there was opportunity to be exploited in the platform and I was determined not to let go of it, also because of my internet nickname that had gone from “the one from LinkedIn” to “the one from LinkedIn AND Tinder”.
Using Tinder for its own original purpose, as a person that is already exposed as a personality on the internet, or at least in certain social networks, is a no-go for me. I get lots of messages from fans, which I always appreciate but which are not what I expect from my experience in the app. And not only I have missed finding (as I know of yet, at least) the love of my life there, but as a rough statistic, and for the love of data, you could say that of all of the people I’ve matched and talked to on Tinder in the past couple of years, the number of those that turned out to be real (in a literal sense if you will, not as the internet-antonym of fake) and still play an important role in my life is down to… one. Yes, just one. And mind me — this is not because dating apps are evil, it is because they expose people way more than they accept. But this might maybe be a topic of a whole new article.
I am instead giving you a hint about my Tinder experience up to that point to shed light on how strong of a missed opportunity I perceived it laid in my use of the dating app, especially after the TinderGate. What could be a potential new, or at least different use of Tinder for me “the one from Linkedin AND Tinder”? And then it struck me like a thunder in mid-summer: professional networking.
For many of you that are reading, especially not coming from the US or the UK which we can define as two almost-mature markets for dating apps, this might come not only as a surprise but as something very, very weird. What if I am on Tinder because I legit want to f…ornicate and hang out with hot boys and girls, and then I match someone like this random gal Marta Basso that just wants to network with me?!
If this looks unfair to you, be aware that many people already do it in a very subtle way — meaning that they do not advertise it the way I did, because their purpose is not a social experiment, whereas a legitimate will to meet new people for their work (which also a goal of mine, by the way). For example, photographers and video-makers use Tinder and dating apps in general to meet new clients or especially new models; artists promote (without actually promoting it, because Tinder does not allow it) their music or work in general through links and small video-teasers; CEOs of small startups and companies, most of all working in the digital industry, make their ways through profiles they find interesting to try and see what can happen from there. I know they do — not only I’ve seen this a lot on Tinder, but I personally know people that have benefited from this approach in the app. Bear in mind that of the couple of options that Tinder lets you arbitrarily fill with data in your profile, one is “education” and the other is “work”. There must be a reason why — and maybe it is not just gold-digging (!).
Given all the pieces of data considered, I made up my mind and decided to go all in — and little did I know of, I would learn the exact meaning of this sentence in this context way earlier than I expected. But first things first — experiments must be scientific. This would have meant not only collecting data and interpreting them, but doing so with a fixed set of rules that would allow me to proceed cautiously and correctly throughout the whole process.
The rules I set for my “Tinder Surprise” experiment were simple. First of all, I needed my Tinder setting to be wide open. Actually, as open as possible. I set my preferences to:
- Sex: men and women
- Age: 18–65+
- Location: 250km+
For anyone that uses Tinder, they know this is the furthest you can go. Literally, I could match with anyone with those settings — which for the aim of my experiment, was the least I could do to create conditions for a favorable outcome.
After having prepared the battlefield, the strategy had to come into play. And my strategy was plain: every day for one month, roughly at the same time of the day, no matter my location at that moment, I needed to:
- Swipe right (“like”) the first 50 people that appeared on my feed;
- Keep track of how many matches I got;
- Start a conversation with at least 25–30% of the matches;
- Keep track of any anomalies or interesting happenings around my experiment.
I did so in a black notebook where for each day from day 1 to day 30 I would have my data reported. Also — of course! — I kept a couple of interesting screenshots. To give you better insights of how my strategy would turn into action, this timeline might be useful:
Phase 1: SWIPE
In this phase, I swipe 50 people every day.
Duration of the phase: 30 days
Phase 2: MATCH
In this phase, I get matches with people I swiped.
Duration of the phase: around 35 days
(30 days of the phase 1 + 5 “lag days” during which those who did not open the Tinder app right away might find my earlier swipe and match with me)
Phase 3: NETWORK
In this phase, I network with my matches in DM.
Duration of the phase: around 60 days
Phase 4: REPORT
In this phase, I write this article.
Duration of the phase: 15 days
I started my experiment in Milan in a hot day in July around 4.30pm and despite my very busy life have tried to keep up with the same timing, every day, all along the duration of this test. I can safely say I almost went through the whole of phase 1, which as we will learn in a second, abruptely ended in Sardinia around mid-August.
Some pieces of data for the benefit of the reader — and the mental equilibrium of the writer, who almost broke her right-hand thumb for the sake of swiping right so much — before rushing into the outcomes:
- 1,400 people right-swiped
- 45% swipe right / match ratio (average)
- 600 matches (circa)
- 300 conversations (pending answer or not)
- 900 km between Northern and Southern experiment point
- 800 km between Eastern and Western experiment point
- 3,5/1 men / women match ratio (average)
- 6 hours spent in total on the experiment (circa, and excluding this article)
As you might see, the quantity and quality of this data does already reveal a pretty evident problem: if you calculate 50 matches x 30 days the result is definitely not 1,400 but 1,500. This suggests that my experiment might have ended early. And unfortunately, this is exactly what happened.
I was enjoying my summer holidays in Sardinia and had just reached a friend in Alghero, a historically Catalan town in the western coast of the island. Later that day, he asked about my Tinder experiment so I decided to go through the daily procedure with him. To my utter surprise, the result of me trying to open the app was this:
I was baffled. How come they blocked my account? On the basis of which violation of the terms and conditions, or the community guidelines? And most importantly: why do they not block the great part of maniacs and stalkers that send unwanted d***pics to people and block me, trying to use the platform for its own original purpose, networking, instead?!
I rushed to write to Tinder support with all my utter disappointment. I also tweeted a rant about it. As my friends that were present with me that night in Sardinia can say, I was enraged. You can tell this by my miserably failed efforts to remain calm and diplomatic in such situation while writing to Tinder support to ask them more information about the inconvenience:
I honestly did not remember being this furious and right now it makes me giggle, but trust me I truly wanted to understand what was going on — ultimately, to tell you all in this article. Then, a guy named Carl popped up in my inbox:
Given the empathy of his answer, I still do not know to this day if Carl is a real person or a bot. I also tried to email Carl a couple of other times, roughly once a day in the coming days, but never heard back from him or any of his colleagues, human or artificial as they might be, at Tinder support.
Therefore, I did what no human being has ever done, and if they have, they are the only ones that can claim a spot in paradise for their afterlife:
Yes, yes I did — I decided to study the terms and conditions AND the community guidelines myself.
At the first read, I did not find anything possibly related to my case (and at this point, you can imagine my chill on this one). Then I re-read it a couple of other times, and stumbled upon this:
I still do not understand how Tinder does not explain why it decides to suspend an account, therefore my only option is guessing and my guesses boil down to two:
1) Tinder thinks I used a bot to match with 50 people a day;
2) Tinder thinks I used its platform to conduct research and probably use the data with some third party for any purpose different than networking whatsoever.
I find the first point hilarious: do you really think if I had a bot, I would have matched only 50 people a day? About the second one, I admit things can be blurrier. While it is true that I was in theory conducting research, what I was really doing is using the platform for its original purpose: create relationships. And the reason I underline this is that Tinder decided to suspend my account while I was still in phase 1, entering phase 2, therefore, I had not started networking in the way I meant it yet.
For this reason, I think the real explanation lays in point 1. Considered I never automatized anything in the platform (nor I know how to do it), might I suggest Tinder to review its control mechanisms on this one — 50 accounts a day can be a normal number (at least for a random male in his twenties, or is my different demographics the problem?).
Nevertheless, as Chris Martin would sing just before getting into commercial hits — and back when I still liked his music:
“just because I’m losing,
doesn’t mean I’m lost
doesn’t mean I’ll stop,
doesn’t mean I will cross.”
The fact that Tinder banned me from exploring its opportunities as a networking platform does not mean it is all gone. The opportunity is there, and I find ludicrous that Tinder does not see it. The good news is, as I mentioned earlier, other dating apps are in fact going down this path — because even though networking might not be the main focus of your business, it might bring business to your main focus. The difference is not only in a pun but in purpose and practice.
Let me reverse engineer it — do you think that, if Tinder had allowed me to continue using its platform, I would have continued to be a non-paying user? Maybe, but unlikely. I would probably have just got so caught up in the mechanism, and I would have just wanted more out of it, that I probably would have bought a subscription. Maybe just for the sake of trying it out and experimenting? Maybe. Maybe I could also have found the love of my life! But I guess now I will need to look somewhere else. See? Purpose and practice.
Companies need to innovate and evolve, especially if they are doing good, because they inherently are in a better position to do so. The sad story of the corporate that got disrupted by a small startup with no cash and no connections has almost already become old-fashioned, and still many of us do not accept the narrative of it. I am perfectly aware that Tinder has had good business so far, just as the sector as a whole (find an industry report here), but this is no reason to stick to the same business model and impede any other interaction that does not involve the f word — and I say the latter as a joke, but what else would I think, as a blocked user, when there are tens of thousands of people that send unsolicited explicit material on the platform whose active user position is unthreatened?
Nevertheless, going back to our analysis, some reports suggest that the growth of the online dating industry might slow down in the next couple of years if not months. Analysts say this is probably caused by the fact that people do not use dating apps for the first time anymore, they rather switch between them (from Tinder to Bumble, from Bumble to Tinder, from Match to Bumble, etc.). Clearly, this might be the case for diversification, because why else would a rational user switch platforms if not to explore different options? And where do you think he or she will stay, in the end?
This does not mean that people do in fact look for business networking on platforms such as Tinder. It just means they potentially could — and I know for a fact some of us actually do. This is the ultimate reason why to me it is unbelievable that a platform like Tinder could limit its interactions at this point.
To wrap up with the same tune, just because I lost this one does not mean I will stop. I will not stop investigating, I will not stop telling the stories of my investigations, and I will not stop using the stories of my investigations to find innovation patterns — my fondest love, by the way. Maybe it will not be Tinder. Maybe it will be another app, or the whole industry. Maybe I will do it alone, maybe not. Maybe I will write an article about it, maybe I will do a podcast or a live stream. Maybe it will lead to just a little something, or maybe it will lead to a project, a company, or the love of my life.
Also, just because Tinder is losing opportunities now does not mean it will lose them forever — and I suggest this might be the right time to explore innovation, even and especially in places where you did not think you could find it. (I am available, Tinder, even though you interrupted my research without even warning me. You might have even exploited my experience to brainstorm on the design of something…).
And the most important lesson that I got from my TinderGate and Tinder Surprise I want to share with you: never stop looking for opportunities, especially where other people tell you there is none. It is harder to find water in the desert, but it is way more precious there than in a house that sits right next to a river.
This is a long-term game, do not let your short term battle outcomes dictate your lifelong war.