Online dating is a minefield. Some people swear by it — lucky enough to have swiped right on their one true love. Others maintain it’s a disaster, backed up by hilariously awful dating horror stories.
Many non-believers point to hook-up apps like Tinder, where appearance comes first and real relationships seem to be few and far between. But not every dating app is the same. With the tagline of being “designed to be deleted”, Hinge has been breaking the mold since 2013.
With users encouraged to focus on personality traits rather than solely on appearance when browsing potential matches, Hinge allows them to “like” specific photos or text prompts. Unlike the typical “double opt-in” matching system of other apps, Hinge users can reach out to other members without first matching — though no one is required to respond.
Hinge also allows users to filter matches based on certain traits or criteria, such as religion or family plans, in order to find matches that better fit their lifestyle. And over the years, Hinge has worked hard to improve its compatibility algorithm and live up to its tagline.
So, let’s take a deeper look into Hinge’s story to see what other brands can learn from the dating app’s successes, as well as missteps.
Hinge’s Growth Story
Source: Hinge Press Kit
Hinge was founded in 2013, but, technically, the brand’s first incarnation goes back to 2011 when CEO Justin McLeod launched “Secret Agent Cupid” — an app that allowed users to connect to Facebook and identify which of their friends they had crushes on.
Unfortunately, this version didn’t really take off. So, with a bit of time and a total redesign, the Hinge app as we know it was launched in 2013. From the start, it differentiated itself by claiming to be less superficial than rivals like Tinder. But the company almost ran out of funding — as it hadn’t yet gained enough users to sustain the business.
Thankfully, a lavish launch party in Washington D.C. allowed McLeod to obtain the next round of funding, thereby saving Hinge from insolvency.
By 2017, Hinge was really earning its title as “the relationship app”, getting more mentions in the “Weddings” section of . It got even more popular when presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg shared that he met his husband on Hinge.
In 2018, Hinge introduced a new feature called “We Met”, which allows users “to give feedback that the company will use in order to improve the potential matches they're shown in the future.” This information makes it possible for the Hinge algorithm to improve its future matches, and is “the first time a dating app has invited user data and applied it to its algorithm.”
In an interview with Elite Daily, CEO Justin McLeod explained:
"What we're trying to do is bring the best dating experience possible to users. With dating apps, the whole point is to go out on great dates, but most don't really know what happens after matching.
“We're trying to continually improve our service by making sure we're tracking who's going out on dates and if the dates are actually good."
And in July of the same year, Hinge released its “Most Compatible” feature, which utilizes the Gale-Shipley algorithm “to identify the matches you’re most likely to hit it off with and put one at the top of your Discover each day.”
Hinge is able to create these potential pairings because “the app learns a user’s preferences through their liking and passing activity and uses that to pair them with a match whose preferences best align.” By using past data gathered from users’ activities on the app — in addition to the data they gather through the “We Met” feature — Hinge is able to deliver users increasingly better matches over time.
In 2019, the company went even further into its data when it announced the “Hinge Lab”, which researches the app’s successful matches in order to fine-tune its compatibility algorithm.
Yet another sign to users that Hinge is serious about being “designed to be deleted” — McLeod dubbed the Hinge Lab “a brand-new data department” which is comprised of “a data scientist, to extract the information from successful users, both scientific and anecdotal, and a research team, to pull valuable insights from the data to find out what’s working.”
This intense, data-driven approach is, perhaps, what really sets Hinge apart from the competition, showing a true dedication to helping users find love. The data that the Hinge Lab produces is used by the marketing team to craft articles and advice, as well as the product team to “fine-tune the algorithm and innovate features based on findings.”
In many ways, Hinge sees itself as the “personal trainer of the dating world” — using data, user feedback, and advanced algorithms to help users get the most out of online dating.
If It Looks Like A Monopoly And Quacks like a Monopoly…
…it’s probably a monopoly? That’s how that saying goes, right?
As early as 2017, industry giant The Match Group — which also owns Match.com, Tinder, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, and more — made investments into Hinge. By June 2018, Match Group had successfully acquired 51% ownership of Hinge — with the rights to acquire all remaining shares within a year.
Thus, Match Group became the parent company of Hinge in the first quarter of 2019, thereby adding it to its already overflowing portfolio of global dating companies.
The purchase wasn’t particularly surprising to anyone. This had been the Match Group’s strategy for years — identify an up-and-coming dating app, purchase stock, take it over, and add to its growing portfolio. However, it did draw some criticism from antitrust advocates, who saw this purchase as “indicative of a larger trend toward monopolization in the technology industry”.
For many, this is rightly a troubling concept. In its most basic form, a monopoly is the “control of a commodity or service in a particular market, making possible the manipulation of pricing”. In the case of the Match Group, the conglomerate currently owns 45 global dating companies, including a lot of big-name brands.
And because the Match Group owns, and thus controls, some of the most popular dating apps in the world, it can exert a wider influence than any other individual dating brand and even manipulate pricing, should it wish to.
Now, monopolies themselves aren’t illegal in the US. After all, it would be difficult to stop a brand from making strategic purchases while keeping to capitalistic morals. However, it is illegal to make it impossible for competitors to enter the marketplace — although this is tricky to prove.
So far, the Match Group hasn’t explicitly prohibited other companies from entering the dating app market. But, the consistent buying up of successful dating companies is a slightly worrying trend — one which Hinge fell prey to in 2019.
But one competitor that stood firm and turned down the Match Group’s offer of a buyout is feminist dating app Bumble — which rejected the Match Group’s $450 million acquisition offer in 2017. And a year later, the Match Group actually sued Bumble for “violating its patents and trademarks, and for misuse of trade secrets.”
However, Bumble didn’t take this lying down and countered with a lawsuit of its own — accusing the Match Group of “asking Bumble to reveal confidential information under the guide that Match might purchase it”. Unsurprisingly, the Match Group was not successful in its attempt to purchase Bumble.
3 Lessons to Learn From Hinge
Source: Hinge Press Kit
In many ways, Hinge is breaking the dating app mold by introducing more complex data science and incorporating more detailed user feedback. Let’s take a look at three lessons other brands can learn from Hinge’s success.
1. Data Science is Your Friend
Every dating app uses some sort of algorithm to enhance its service. But few go as deep as Hinge does — especially with the fascinating “Most Compatible” feature. Most dating apps learn what a user is interested in based on their likes and dislikes and then just gives them more of what they like.
So, let’s say you’re a heterosexual white man who swipes right on mostly white, blonde women. Chances are, you’ll start to see almost exclusively white, blonde women as time goes on — as the algorithm is learning your preferences and giving you what you say you want.
According to Cornell researchers, this is a fault in traditional algorithms, as “apps may also create biases (because) algorithms can introduce discrimination, intentionally or not.”
These researchers believe that “letting users search, sort and filter potential partners by race not only allows people to easily act on discriminatory preferences, it stops them from connecting with partners they may not have realized they’d like.”
Thankfully, Hinge takes a slightly different approach with the “Most Compatible” feature. Logan Ury, Hinge’s Director of Relationship Science, told Vice:
“It’s not just based on who you are likely to like, it’s also based on who is likely to like you back. It’s all about pairing people who are likely to mutually like one another. Over time, we see who do you like, who do you send comments to, who are you having conversations with. This gives us a clue to, not just to who you’re looking at, but who you are actually engaging with.”
However, Hinge still does allow users to filter by ethnicity — in the app’s own words, they “created the ethnicity preference option to support people of color looking to find a partner with shared cultural experiences and background.”
So, while the ability to sort by ethnicity exists, it doesn’t play a monumental role in the app’s algorithm — which, instead, uses many different data points to try and identify not only a potential match you’d like but who would like you back. This approach allows users to consider people who they wouldn’t traditionally consider as “their type” — thereby branching out and potentially finding love in unexpected places.
2. Go Beyond the Expected
Most dating apps have no idea what happens after two matched people swap numbers and move their conversation off-app. Did they meet up? Fall in love and get married? Never speak to one another?
Hinge wanted to go beyond this normal dating app boundary — and did so with the “We Met” feature, which allows users to help correct this blind spot for the app by offering up feedback on matches.
Hinge found that, on average, matched meet up in the real world four days after swapping numbers. Therefore, four days after the app has detected that two users have exchanged numbers, it prompts them to answer a simple, two-question survey.
Source: Hinge Press Kit
In the survey, “users can confirm if they actually met up with their match. If they did, they move to a second screen, where they can weigh in on whether their date is ‘the type of person (they'd) see again.’ (It's not an open-ended question; the options are "no" and "yes.") The feedback is private — their date will never see it.”
According to McLeod, Hinge is trying to “bring the best dating experience possible to users”. He goes on to explain, stating:
“With dating apps, the whole point is to go out on great dates, but most don't really know what happens after matching. We're trying to continually improve our service by making sure we're tracking who's going out on dates and if the dates are actually good."
Hinge claims that this data will allow the app to be an even better dating coach in the future — figuring out if there are consistent reasons users don’t want second dates and suggesting ways members can improve their profiles to increase their chances of finding love.
3. Keep Saftey At The Core of Your Offering
Online dating can be dangerous — especially for women, people of color, and queer folks. According to a survey from Consumer Research, “57 percent of women and 21 percent of men report experiences of harassment in online dating”.
While all people are at risk of sexual harassment on apps, a study from Pew Research found that “found that young women, ages 18 to 24, experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels; 26 percent say they have been stalked, and 25 percent say they have been sexually harassed online.”
Furthremore, “more than half of LGB online daters (56%) say they have received a sexually explicit message or image they did not ask for, compared with 32% of straight online daters who say the same.”
In order to prioritize the safety of its users, Hinge offers a few important features to create a safe space for all members to get to know each other. First, all chats and video calls are fully encrypted — which provides users with a sense of security that their messages are safe.
Furthermore, video chats are encouraged to be utilized as an additional safety measure — allowing Hinge members to confirm the identity of potential dates before meeting up in real life.
Source: Hinge Press Kit
Hinge also uses a feature called Safe Message Filters, which employs “automated tools to scan interactions like messages solely for indications of harmful or illegal behavior” in order to protect users from harassment.
Finally, Hinge has an entire section of its website dedicated to Safe Dating Advice, with tips on meeting in person, sexual health and consent, and a host of resources for those that need additional support.
Source: Hinge Safe Dating Advice
No dating app is perfect — there will always be people who love them and others that hate them. But forward-thinking apps like Hinge allow users to form more genuine connections with people they may never have previously considered.
While Hinge is currently a jewel in the Match Group’s enormous (and ever-growing) crown, it still operates in the same lane as before — as an app meant to be deleted once users find real, long-lasting love. Through the use of advanced data science and intensive user feedback, Hinge will surely continue to improve upon its algorithm and user experience.
And if you’re interested in gathering your own consumer insights & access to reliable, accurate data to improve your brand strategy, then we recommend trying out brand monitoring software sooner rather than later.