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Inside The Online Dating Industry
by Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine

Online Dating Industry Praises (and Viral Marketing Techniques for Services)


In last week's column we explored several "concerns" about the online dating industry. This week will be a contrast as we look at "praises" and things specific services are doing well.

It's no secret that online dating has become the preferred method to find dates, relationships, and that potential "soul mate". hasn't been shy about releasing its marriage numbers - 33,000 in one year according to a study they commissioned. Online Dating Magazine estimates that more than 100,000 people marry a year as a result of meeting on an online dating service.

There are several things that many online dating services are doing right - here are a few:

First Date Planning was launched by to compete with in one of the five types of online dating services - relationship services. One cool feature introduced was First-Meeting(tm). This feature helps you plan your first date (mostly aimed at local coffee house suggestions) along with agreeing on the date and time. After your first date, First-Meeting allows you to input feedback (for your own viewing) about that date, the chemistry, and your experience. Then it allows you to send a message on whether you'd like to continue dating. It's a great new tool in the online dating process.

Search by New Photos
Some online dating services, like True, are allowing easy access to search local profiles by those who have recently updated (or uploaded) new photos. This is a great concept because it encourages people to post new photos to get the greatest exposure.

Money Back Guarantee
Some online dating services are now using a "money back guarantee" as part of promotions. Even uses a "14-day money back guarantee" in one of its promotions. sometimes uses a "7-day money back guarantee" in promotions. Unfortunately its not easy, with either service, to find out how to actually get your money back. We'd like to see online dating services offer this as a standard, versus just in temporary promotions to select groups.

Duel Interest
I like online dating service features that have some sort of way of presenting a matching interest. For example, with American Singles, when viewing a profile you can select whether or not you feel you'd "click" with that person. That person is then emailed several profiles for them to review, including yours, and if they select that they think they'd click with you then both people are sent an email that they might be a great match. It makes it easier to know that you'll get a response when sending that first email!

Per Communication Option
One thing I like about LavaLife is that you have the options of conducting your communications with credits per communication versus paying an entire monthly fee. This really sets LavaLife apart in how billing is handled. And since your credits are purchased in advance, you are never "automatically rebilled for your convenience" like other dating services do.

Respond for Free
On our online dating services page, the monthly price for an online dating service membership is in red or green. Red equals services that force you to pay in order to respond to a paid member. Green indicates that it is free to respond to a paid member inquiry. I have high praise for those that allow a person to respond for free to a paid member inquiry. The reason why is because it removes deceit from how many members you can truly communicate with and it decreases the ration of inquiries to responses.

Releasing More Details
When released study details of how many of its members marry a year, it was a huge step in helping to erase the still-lingering stigma some attach to online dating. It also was a great publicity move, especially since was the first to commission such a revealing study.

Last week I revealed that a study found customer satisfaction low with online dating services. From that same study, customers expressed concern about the lack of organization and poor search functionality on some sites. When services do things to improve the ease of connecting, customer service, and customer satisfaction, they are contributing to a more positive image of online dating. Hopefully there will be a ton of more praise-worthy things to discuss in the very near future.

Tip of the Week
This week's tip is on one of the most vital methods of marketing in order to increase traffic and user base. It is a term that many marketers are familiar with, but those without a marketing background have probably not heard of - viral marketing.

Tip #10: Understand and Learn to Implement Viral Marketing
Viral marketing is the concept of your marketing message/tip being replicated by others in order to bring the greatest amount of business to you. You are providing people with something that they'll want to pass on to others. It creates interest and buzz.

Last week we talked about Webdate's mega-successful promotional campaign, using humor in videos to draw interest in Webdate. This alone, isn't viral marketing. But two thinks they did turned it into a mega-successful viral marketing campaign.

If you go to just under the video display you'll see "link to us" and "embed player" both with easy to copy code. This, combined with the creative video approach, is viral marketing. They make it easy to pass along the promotions to others, creating a growing buzz.

So how can you apply viral marketing to your online dating service? Well, here's one method I thought of right off the top of my head:

If you have a good tracking program, you could offer free monthly memberships to members who get their friends (or site visitors) to sign up as paid subscribers. It's somewhat like an affiliate program (which we'll discuss in a future tip), but a bit different. Here's how it works:

1) Within your member area there is a tab called "Earn a Free Paid Membership".

2) A person clicks on the tab/ad to get more information on the program, easily described as "earn a free month for every paid member you refer."

3) Signup is easy. The person just clicks "sign me up" and is given a referral code (connected to his/her username). The person can put that referral code on their Website, blog, or send it to friends.

4) Every time a member they refer pays for a membership, the referer gets a free paid month!

Best of all there are many variations to this. For example, "Refer 10 paying subscribers and get a free lifetime membership!" Another example is earning points towards actual prizes (in addition to the free membership). The more enticing the program, the more successful it will be. Best of all, it keeps on growing. Let's say one member referred 10 people who paid (and received his/her free lifetime membership) Now lets say three of his referrals signed up for the program and began promoting your site. As you can see, the potential for a strong viral marketing program is there if it is implemented right. It just keeps growing.

Put your thinking cap on and come up with some viral marketing concepts that will help your site achieve greater success.

Note: My column will be on hiatus until April 2007.

Joe Tracy is publisher of Online Dating Magazine and is often quoted by the media in relation to online dating topics. His Inside the Online Dating Industry column is published every Friday.

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