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Brand Deep DivesSeptember 12, 2022

Community, Controversy, & (Virtual) Currency: The Skout Story

September 12, 2022
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Cory Schröder
Senior Content Marketing Manager

Styled as a community platform for making friends and expanding one’s social network, Skout was also one of the first location-based dating services to have found worldwide success.

The brand asserts users can “discover new friends at the local neighborhood bar, at a concert at Madison Square Garden or on a bus tour in Barcelona” — and with a community that spans over 100 countries, it seems the possibilities are endless.

Founded in 2007, Skout’s goal from the beginning was to “develop software products that take online social interaction further than anyone had thought possible in the past.” Today, the Skout app allows users to meet new people by filtering for proximity and preference — allowing for both potential romantic and platonic connections to be forged.

Acquired in 2016 for $55 million, Skout is a part of the Meet Group’s vast dating empire and offers both free and paid subscriptions. According to the brand’s Crunchbase profile, it facilitated more the 680 million connections and more the 16 million virtual journeys using the Skout Travel feature in 2015 alone — making it a real rival for more well-known dating apps.

In this deep dive, we’ll take a closer look at Skout’s story, as well as provide a few tips other brands can apply to their own growth journey.

Skout’s Growth Story

Source: Unsplash

Co-founded by first-time entrepreneurs Christian Wiklund and Niklas Lindstrom in 2007, Skout’s early days didn’t seem too promising. Just two years after its launch, the company was down to “a skeleton crew of three people after burning much of the $4.6 million it had raised since” its founding, and it hadn’t found the foothold it needed just yet.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Wiklund shared:

“We were close to going under. We had no traction. But we were really stubborn and there was no way we were going to let that happen.”

While Skout started out as a standard social network, it was around 2009 that the co-founders decided to reinvent the app as a location-based dating service — “revamping its homepage to reflect its new goals” and to better meet the intent of its user base.

In a 2009 interview with TechCrunch, Wiklund stated that “83% of Skout’s 20,000 active users were using the network for dating and flirting already, so the switch shouldn’t be too jarring.” Furthermore, the co-founders brought in some extra assistance in the form of founder, Gary Kremen, to “help guide its new position as a dating site”.

Skout’s new offering arrived on the scene at a fortuitous time, when it “hadn’t yet become brutally expensive to climb the charts in the app store” — meaning Skout was able to achieve and keep a top 25 spot in the App Store’s social networking category.

This coveted spot in the App Store allowed the brand to generate tens of millions of downloads over the next few months — and users were engaging with the app “eight to nine times a day”, spending on average “45 minutes chatting, exchanging gifts and posting photos.”

By 2012, the app was signing up around 1 million users per month and, with these kinds of numbers, was able to start generating profit. In the same year, Skout raised an additional $22 million in a funding round led by US venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, to further scale its offerings.

While Skout was by no means alone in the growing online dating space, Andreessen Horowitz's general partner Scott Weiss thought the app was worth betting on — as it had found an idea “product-market fit in flirting and dating.”

You see, what made Skout stand out for investors like Andreessen Horowitz was the way in which the app monetized. While other mobile dating apps relied on profits generated by selling ads or subscriptions, Skout “has a healthy revenue stream from in-app purchases” — which allow people to pay for points that can be used to “send virtual gifts, see who is viewing their profile, and send ‘wink bombs’.”

With the ability to chat, go live, and meet up, Skout makes it easy to establish and develop romantic and platonic connections with other users — which is one of the app’s USPs.

As described by writer Katie Way in her 2017 article for Inverse as “the Frankenstein’s monster of dating apps”, joining Skout is to “experience sensory overload”. Unlike other dating apps, Skout users can request to chat with anyone who shows up on their “Meet” tab, which shows users’ photos and ages.

When another user “checks you out”, you receive a banner notification and there’s even a Tinder-esque swiping option under the “Interested” panel. Unlike a vast majority of the competition, Skout’s users don’t have to indicate mutual interest in order to be connected.

In the words of Way:

“What I saw as a flaw, however, might ultimately be the factor that draws users to Skout. Because there are no obstacles like mutual attraction or geography in the way of forming connections, users are free to message anyone that catches their eye.”

This definitely sets Skout apart from double-opt-in apps like Tinder, Bumble, eHarmony, and more — and allows it to occupy a unique space in the dating app market. It’s an option for people who want to connect more casually, don’t want to be held back by geographic limitations, and perhaps also want to make some new friends along the way.

In 2016, Skout was officially acquired by the Meet Group for $54.6 million in cash and stock, though it continued to operate as a stand-alone brand. According to Venture Beat, the Meet Group hoped that this acquisition would allow the company to “leverage Skout’s technology to improve its recommendation engine, chat, and other services, while adding to its user count.”

One of the ways it did this was by advertising MeetMe (now the Meet Group) on the free version of Skout’s app — hoping to draw in new users. Meet Group CEO Geoff Cook revealed that “combined with Skout, its mobile monthly active user count will grow 69 percent to 8.5 million, and it’ll expect 96 percent more daily chats to be sent, from 29.2 million to 57.2 million.”

Clearly, the Meet Group had some lofty goals for its merging with Skout — but not everything went as smoothly as planned. In 2017, the UK police issued a warning about the danger of those under 18 using Skout, as it was reported that pedophiles were using the app to contact children.

Using the “shake to chat” feature, which puts users in touch with a nearby person at random who is also using the “shake to chat” feature, you have “a minute of anonymity before your profile is revealed.” The app also offers a virtual travel feature, called Skout Travel. According to Yahoo Finance:

“Skout Travel has an easy-to-use UX that mimics purchasing an airline ticket in the real world. Skout users are able to choose a city, and then purchase, using Skout Points, a ticket to that city that is valid for 24 hours.

“The ticket switches the location of the user's phone to the chosen city allowing them to see the local buzz, chat with local Skout users and interact as though they are virtually in that city.”

Understandably, these kinds of features can lead to trouble when used incorrectly. And while users aged 13-17 are placed in the teen section of the app, Skout has no way to verify users’ true age — meaning adults can enter the teen section and vice versa.

While Skout’s ability to transform from a dating platform to a place to meet new people is a plus for some users, it can make interactions a bit more complicated — which has led to issues in the past.

However, the app is still successful in 2022. SensorTower reported 90k downloads and $200,000 in revenue over the last month for Skout, Inc. — as well as total mobile app revenue of $6 million in June 2022 for the Meet Group as a whole.

3 Lessons to Learn From Skout

Source: App Store

1. Variety Is The Spice of Life…

While most dating apps only allow users to find potential romantic partners in areas close by, Skout offers more possibilities. Of course, users can and do connect with others who they’re romantically interested in — meeting up for dates, having video calls, and even finding love.

But Skout’s members can also use the app to meet new people all over the world, use the Skout Travel feature to check out far away cities, and build up a group of friends. It positions itself as more than just a dating app, but a positive community for enhanced social interaction.

When creating a product or service for your own brand, it’s always a good idea to offer a little variety. Modern consumers are easily bored and it can be difficult for brands to hold their attention and retain their loyalty.

That’s why it makes sense to be willing to shake things up every now and then. But don’t just make changes for the sake of making changes. Instead, you should rely on consumer data and insights to see what it is your target audience wants from you.

When you can add variety to your product line and fulfill consumer desires, you’ll have a sure-fire recipe for success. But to get access to accurate, reliable data, you’ll need to invest in advanced brand monitoring software. With access to millions of consumers in 200+ countries worldwide, a tool like Latana can provide the insights your brand needs to succeed.

2. …But Safety Needs To Come First

Offering a fun, exciting service is wonderful. You’ll likely attract heaps of customers and turn a good profit. But, you’ll risk losing everything you’ve built if you don’t put the safety of your users first.

A 2012 article from the Los Angeles Times describes the app’s evolution perfectly, stating:

“Skout was originally created as a flirting app for adults, and users had to be 18 or older to sign up. It morphed into more of a social networking app that finds people nearby with whom a user can swap messages, photos, and virtual gifts and make plans to meet up.”

And as it evolved into a social networking app, it allowed teenagers to sign up for a separate teen section. While Skout claimed that it took precautions, such as the fact that “a quarter of its staff is charged with patrolling the Skout community” and they have technology deployed called “the creepinator” which scans for “pornographic photos, profanity, and other inappropriate activity” — it didn’t prevent people from abusing the platform.

Jen Singer, a parenting blogger from the US, shared her frustrations with the LA Times, saying “Really, what did Skout think would happen when they combined teens, flirting, and the ability to locate flirty teens in one easy-to-use app?”

And it’s a fair point — if it’s possible for adults to lie their way into connecting with vulnerable teenagers, there’s a real issue in the way the app is set up.

Of course, Skout didn’t intend for the “shake to chat” feature to be misused by pedophiles. It didn’t mean for underaged members to lie about their age and connect with adults. It wasn’t the platform’s goal for women and children to be harassed or raped. But that doesn’t change the outcome.

In order for a brand to earn and retain customer loyalty, it needs to be a safe space for everyone. Scandals like these can decimate a brand’s image and equity — increasing negative brand associations and lowering brand preference. So, learn from Skout and make sure that your brand makes safety its number one priority — especially if your customer pool includes children.

3. Explore Gamification Options

One of Skout's most notable differentiators from other dating apps is the way it monetizes user activity.

The app allows members to buy Skout Points, aka in-app credits, which can be used to purchase gifts for other members, boost a user’s profile, and more. In 2022, $19.99 will get a user 3,150 credits — which can then be cashed in on the Skout app as virtual currency. Of course, users are not required to buy Skout Points, but it is one of the easiest ways to get your profile seen and connect with other members.

This type of setup is a form of gamification, which is essentially a strategy that brands use to enhance their service by employing typical elements of game playing (i.e. earning points, competing with other users, exchanging gifts).

This setup encourages users to interact with other users and garner attention through the use of credits — which, in turn, allows Skout to earn a good deal of money. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean your brand needs to introduce a virtual currency — but, adding elements of gamification can help increase user engagement.

According to a 2017 study on gamification, the authors found that it is effective in increasing engagement in online programs and can even “enhance related outcomes, such as learning and possibly health behavior.” Therefore, if there is a natural way to introduce some gamification to your brand’s offering, then we’d recommend giving it a try.

Final Thoughts

No dating app is perfect — every major brand in the dating industry has had its ups and downs. Though, Skout seems to have dealt with some harsher criticism than other apps due to its policy of allowing minors to access its services.

However, in 2022, Skout still receives millions of website visits and thousands of app downloads. It offers a wider range of services than competitors like Hinge or Tinder, which is a pro for some consumers and a con for others. While Skout may not be the most popular dating app in the world — that title goes to Tinder — it has held its own over the past 16 years.

And if you’re interested in finding out more about other dating apps, then feel free to check out our Brand Battle: Dating Apps to see how Skout’s competitors are performing in 2022.

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