Gaining a critical mass of users is the paramount challenge for startups. Gaining users is doubly problematic when you’re launching a platform that relies on user-generated content.
To attract users to a dating app, you should make sure that you already have enough users on board from the very start.
In this article we’ll look at some tips for overcoming the chicken and egg problem, specifically for mobile dating startups. We’ll address how to acquire an initial user base, and how to keep your user base growing. How to get users for your dating app is one of the most difficult questions you have to answer.
What you should decide first
You must define three things before your get your first users onboard: 1) who your users are, 2) how they should see your app, and 3) why they will prefer your app over others.
1. Target audience
A dating app’s value is in its users. You must always keep in mind the audience that your app targets. While Tinder has taken over the mass market, many dating apps have still been able to thrive by targeting specific audiences. There are dating apps for farmers (Farmers Only), for pet owners (Twindog), for the LGBT community (Grindr, Her), for same-sex friendships (Hey! VINA, Bro), for national minorities (JSwipe), and for many other demographics.
After you’ve defined your target audience, you must understand how to communicate with them and how you want them to think about your app. You should position your app with a clear message – a message that will resonate throughout all your promotional materials.
For example, the Hinge app positions itself as an anti-Tinder for people looking for meaningful relationships and not just hookups. Hinge also tries to minimize the number of spammers, creepers, and fake accounts. To keep accounts legit, Hinge provides information from a user’s Facebook page such as their friends list, photos, marital status, and place of living and studying, and then arranges matches only between friends of friends.
[One of Yalantis's project, dating startup Bro positions itself as a social platform for men only. Source: Bro]
3. Competitive advantage
Positioning expresses the philosophy behind your app, but you must clearly articulate that positioning – for yourself and for your target audience. In other words, you must express how your app differs from other dating apps on the market. Does it eradicate creepers, spammers, and bots? What unique features does it offer? Answering these questions will help you crystallize your concept.
You can focus on just one feature that distinguishes your app from others, but keep in mind that the dating app market is crowded today. The more original features your app provides, the greater the chances that it won’t be drowned out by others. Look at the story of the Lulu app, which had an original feature that allowed women to write anonymous reviews about guys. Since some men found this feature offensive – and felt that it made the app more valuable for women than for men – the developers had to get rid of this “guy review” feature. But they had nothing to offer in its place, and so many users simply lost interest in the app altogether.
Start social media and marketing campaigns in advance
As soon as you know who your users are and what kind of app you are going to deliver to them, you can start attracting your initial user base.
Use social platforms that are popular among your target audience to find your potential users and establish an emotional connection with them. Create the app’s social network pages prior to launch. This helps you gather an audience to try your app on launch day. Post content that is valuable for your target audience and you’ll get potential users and additional visibility. This content should include not just news about your app, but also something entertaining, unique, and - most importantly - something that provides practical value for a person looking for a specific dating solution.
One of the project we worked on at Yalantis, Bro, is a dating app for men only. Bro launched their Facebook page in January 2015, though the app was only released in November of that year. During six months of Facebook activity, the app gained the attention of tens of thousands of people who populated the app’s initial user base.
Going viral on social networks is a blessing. Develop unique content or promo materials that are catchy enough to spread around the networks. OkCupid’s dating persona test is a great example of viral marketing: people started to share the test everywhere, not always even realizing that it was connected to a dating startup. In some cases, one particular feature of an app can go viral. Who hasn’t heard of Tinder’s swipe?
Launch a website
Your website is the main source of organic users coming from internet searches. To get organic users, you have to think about two major elements of the website: first, the landing page, and second, the blog.
Launching a site before your app hits app stores, you definitely need a catchy landing page with a registration form so you can collect emails and keep people informed about your app’s development and launch.
The landing page is where you position your app. The Hinge app, a Tinder for serious relationships, uses the landing page to explain the app’s idea in a series of clear messages.
After your app has launched, add visible App Store and Google Play links: if your landing page positions your product right, people will go straight to the stores and your social media pages.
This is the next most important part of your site. It’s the place where you tell a story and establish an emotional connection between potential users and your product. Blog content must address the needs of your target audience.
For example, Hinge’s blog has numerous posts with information about the app, dating habits, successfully “hinged” users, thematic surveys, events and more. One fresh dating app for iOS, The Catch, emphasizes how to manage online dating: how to organize a successful profile, how to remain safe, what information users should and shouldn’t provide, and so on.
Think about topics your target audience might be interested in and start your own blog. It’s an effective way to generate organic traffic for any startup.
Both your landing page and your blog will do their job right only if you don’t forget about a third element: search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine optimization
SEO is what makes your website visible on the internet. Start with the following SEO minimum, then extend it as your traffic begins to grow.
Choose the right keywords that your target users might search for, and put them into URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, names of images and texts of blog posts.
Among other factors that will increase your site’s visibility for search engines are internal links between related articles on your blog, use of header tags (<H1>, <H2>, <H3>), and use of bold text to highlight important information.
Note that you should use SEO techniques sensibly – keep your texts human-friendly. Your website should be user-first, not Google-first. Besides, if you over –optimize your site with too many keywords, search engines will simply ignore it.
Most importantly, you must conduct SEO activities perpetually, watch how they affect your website metrics, and try different approaches, different keywords, and different types of content.
[Hinge dating app. Source: Global dating insights]
Find a community to start with
People usually date within a close radius of where they live. That’s why dating apps normally are location-based, and they all tend to launch with a focus on a particular geographic area. For your app to have value, you need to sign up enough users within a given area. If you get 5,000 users, but they’re distributed equally throughout the US, your app might not lead to too many dates.
First, select a promising area in which to launch your app. Pick a region where your target audience lives and socializes. Then, find one or several local communities within that region and target them. Apps like Tinder usually target local campuses since they offer social communities that can easily spread an idea by word of mouth. The particular community you target at launch will depend on your app’s niche and positioning.
This community will be a ground zero from where – if the app succeeds – people will start spreading your app through various channels.
Think twice before using fake accounts
Some dating startups overcome the chicken and egg problem by creating fake accounts. The idea is to have a certain number of curated fake accounts at the launch, and then to remove them as real users join.
Although it’s the easiest way to populate a dating app, we don’t recommend this strategy since it risks your credibility as a company. Users will rightly be unhappy to discover that a new cool dating app is actually peopled by bots or dummy accounts.
All the tips given in this article are applicable to any mobile dating app. Consider them guidelines. Naturally, you must always consider an app’s specific context and your audience’s particular needs.