Swiping right: Tinder CEO Sean Rad on 'bringing the world together'
It’s the dating app that’s captured the mood of a time-starved and attention-poor generation; what could be simpler than the swipe of a finger to show you’re interested in someone? Now, brands want in on the Tinder action. Jen Faull catches up with reinstated chief executive Sean Rad to discuss bringing the world together.
“Hey – fancy a Rosé ;-)” This is the first message I receive on Tinder. I’m not single; my signing up is purely for research en route to meet the dating app’s co-founder Sean Rad in Cannes. He’s flown in for the festival to woo advertisers and show them his platform is not about one-night stands. My first interaction – with Stu, 29, also from London but in Cannes for the week – suggests otherwise.
Perhaps I’m sceptical, and too quick to read the ‘winky face’ as an innuendo-laden emoticon rather than a friendly invitation. Or perhaps I’ve read too many articles, back when Tinder first arrived on the scene, which detailed the brief encounters of fellow 20-somethings that the app had facilitated.
Regardless, today it seems like if you’re single, you’re on it. A GlobalWebIndex (GWI) survey suggested it has around 50 million users, 45 per cent of whom are between 25 and 34. Four per cent (still the equivalent of two million people) are over 45. With 16,000 swipes happening every second around the world, resulting in about 300 matches a second, 2015 could be the year Tinder reaches critical mass.
The digital equivalent of meeting in a bar
I meet Rad at the Cannes penthouse of SapientNitro, just one of the digital marketing companies he’s been holding talks with. I’m joined by the agency’s chief strategy officer Neil Dawson, who’s similarly keen to hear more about the platform’s evolution.
Rad is quick to talk about the psychology behind Tinder’s success. It arrived at a time when internet dating had existed long enough to be normalised, and people were more comfortable having personal details online. Unlike these sites – which require significant financial and emotional investment (the sign up process to eHarmony alone is a 150 question process) – Tinder is about speed, reacting to an instant physical attraction, and moving on if it’s not reciprocated. This happens in a matter of seconds.
After signing in via Facebook – to prove you’re a real person and so an algorithm can pull in background information like hobbies and the music you like – you set your preferences (gender, age, proximity) before being served up potential matches. All you see is their profile picture and age. You can click though for more images, perhaps a bio if they’ve bothered to write one, and some of their most recent Instagram pictures.
Not interested? Swipe left and they disappear. Want to chat? Swipe right. But only if your desired date also swipes right will a chat box appear to take things further. For a price, you can ‘Reverse’ if you change your mind, and if you rattle through your allocated matches too quickly you can buy more. It’s like a game which, from experience, can get very addictive very quickly. Rad, however, describes it in a slightly more romantic way, comparing it to going out to a bar. “It’s difficult to walk up to somebody and interrupt them when they’re with their friends or put yourself out there and potentially get rejected,” he says.
“Tinder is kind of like giving a look. Looking across the room is a swipe right and a match is when you walk up to someone and strike a conversation with them. It’s emulated that moment.”
It has, he believes, taken the fear out of making new connections. Those connections are front of mind for millennials, who’ve grown up on social networks, which declare exactly how many you have.
“But much of the conversation is how to connect with people I already know, not how to expand my network. That’s something we focus solely on,” he adds.
Tinder’s mission then is somewhat evolving. “We want to break down barriers and bring the world together,” says Rad. That will inevitably see it move beyond being just “optimised for dating”.
According to Rad, there’s already cases of people using it when they travel and want restaurant recommendations, or students in their first year of university wanting to make new friends.
“The other night I was speaking to a girl who was looking for other girls on Tinder. Not for romance, but to meet new people. It wasn’t built for that, but she wanted to use it that way,” he says.
In the future, Rad wants to make this kind of hack more structured and is learning from those edu-case behaviours to map the best strategy.
A recent tie-up with Forbes seems to point in the non-romantic direction it wants to take. Forbes wanted a social network app to bring together the 2,000 or so people who’ve at some point made its 30 Under 30 list; Rad wanted Tinder to get into the business networking space. The outcome of the experiment is yet to be seen, but it shows innovation is fifirmly on the agenda.
Ultimately, behind this desire to “connect the world” is the fundamental need to make it a profifitable business. Dawson says the evolution from dating app to a social discovery network will massively open up its potential as an advertising platform.
“There is definitely potential in terms of significant reach and high levels of engagement for brands in sectors such as music, alcoholic drinks, travel and fashion – all of whom are contextually relevant.
“The challenge is that in Tinder’s quest for monetisation it doesn’t pollute the environment and alienate its users. Advertisers may want Tinder more than vice versa.”
Swiping right on advertisers
The attraction for advertisers goes back to psychology. Tinder has been cautious in opening it up to brands; it is currently only working with a few select partners already engaged with the platform’s demographic.
Branded profiles has been its main experiment so far. Advertisers can upload a profifile identical to those created by users and it will appear in a stream where people can swipe right to learn more about the brand. It was used by Fox to promote The Mindy Project, where the TV show’s main characters were given profifiles.
According to Rad, branded profiles received about a 20 per cent swipe right rate, meaning people liked it. “The engagement levels that Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are seeing pale in comparison to what we’re seeing,” he claims.
So in a landscape of branded Tinder profiles, how would the approach differ from ad content created for other social platforms? For one, the speed with which people make a decision in Tinder means the challenge for brands is to craft something that requires a response but that doesn’t take up more than a couple of seconds of a user’s time.
It’s a highly visual environment, says Dawson, that lends itself to discovery-based campaigns like new product launches – and brands can push the creative boundaries to grab attention.
There’s no denying Tinder has sparked the attention of the millennial generation, so the attraction for brands is obvious – an engaged user base ripe for interaction. The fit is natural, says Rad.
“On Tinder, users are in the frame of mind where they want to discover and connect with people and concepts they don’t know, so it’s a great place to introduce new concepts.”
This article was first published in The Drum's 19 August issue.