The Dating Write-Up:

Two weeks ago, every RC student spent a day in The Global Leader series grappling with the myriad of issues surrounding the newspaper industry’s struggle to successfully move its business online. In considering strategies for one’s dating life and whether to pursue an online distribution strategy, the savvy HBS dater has much to learn from the successes and mistakes of the newspaper industry.

OVERCONFIDENCE IN THE STATUS QUO
Newspapers were slow to act in the face of the internet’s rising popularity as a news source because they assumed that people would always want to sit down with their Sunday paper and morning coffee. As the younger generation began consuming their news and information online, the newspaper industry scurried to catch up. Similarly, the courtship process is fundamentally changing. The ubiquity of text messaging, Facebook, and the emerging industry of online dating sites has made online dating an innovative and appealing alternative to find that special someone.

TIMING IS IMPORTANT BUT NOT EVERYTHING
In the newspaper industry, the first newspapers to move into the online space were not necessarily the most successful. The same is true for online dating. Those who rush into the space without an integrated strategy risk wasting their time and money. While there is a certain level of urgency to making sure that your dating life has an online component, it is worth taking the time to consider the best outlet, target audience, and your business model before rushing into the space.

CONCERNS REGARDING CANNIBALIZATION
Many of the newspapers were reluctant to launch online versions because they feared that they would cannibalize their traditional business lines. However, we are all familiar with the saying that it’s better to eat your own lunch before someone else does. Time spent getting to know people online may eat into the time you have to spend scoping the dating scene in real life, but many of your competitors are already thriving online and poaching valuable customers (i.e. dates) that could have been yours.

WALLED GARDEN VS. WIDE OPEN
The New York Times was unsuccessful in pursuing a “walled garden” strategy in which it attempted to make readers pay for access to the content. However, some newspapers such as The Guardian were able to tap into a dedicated community of readers who were willing to pay to be a part of a large affinity group. Similarly, the HBS online dater has to decide in what ways he will make his content available. Will he pursue a walled garden strategy via Match.com and eHarmony where only paying users can communicate with him and see the picture that goes along with his profile? Or will he use one of the free dating sites such as Ok Cupid where he has the potential to reach a wider but arguably “lower quality” audience? Unlike the newspaper industry, the HBS dater can simultaneously pursue a walled garden and wide open strategy.

TARGETING SPECIFIC AUDIENCES
Moving online allowed newspapers the opportunity to reach different audiences. No longer did they have to rely on weekly topic verticals; they could change online content to match the preferences of the user. In the same way, the HBS dater can stop exhausting herself trying to find the finance guys at the VC/PE Conference, the creative types in the Talent Show, and the non-HBSers at Boston bars. Online dating allows you to easily target different audiences through the various sites that target certain groups. Some popular sites for specific audiences are JDate for Jewish singles and PrideDating.com for gay singles. HBS daters might be interested in EntrepreneurDating.com or the Forbes-recognized MillionaireMatch.com.

CREATING DYNAMIC CONTENT
Many newspapers made the mistake of simply transposing their traditional news format on to the internet. They did not recognize the full potential of the internet’s ability to provide constantly-changing real-time information customized to the user. In the same way, the HBS online dater has to remember that online dating is not about joining a dating website and letting a static profile just sit there unchanged. Online dating gives you the opportunity to constantly update content, respond to feedback from your customers, and engage your audience.

PROFITABILITY
Newspapers still struggle to make their online platforms sufficiently profitable. However, the ROI for an online dater is quite high. For example, a woman at HBS who invests $20 per month for a Match.com profile has the potential for huge returns. A back-of-the-envelope calculation demonstrates the following for one month of dating: Investment: $20

3 dates per week x $50 spent on her per date (e.g. dinner and a movie) x 4 weeks per month = $600 value

Thus, ROI is $600/$20 = 3000% return

Thus, the subscription fees associated with some online dating sites are dwarfed by the quick and huge guaranteed returns.

ACTION PLAN
For HBS men and women seeking to increase their circulation, I recommend the following action plan:

JOIN MATCH.COM
Among the many dating sites, Match.com has a user-friendly interface, a critical mass of people who participate, and requires little commitment ($20/month for a three-month subscription or $35 for a one-month subscription).

CREATE AN APPEALING PROFILE
Create an authentic, interesting, and attractive profile that highlights the best parts of your personality. Put up high-quality pictures, and ask your male and female friends for their opinion of your profile so they can filter out anything that seems normal to you but sounds or looks awkward to others.

CONTACT PEOPLE
On Match.com, you “wink” at people to indicate your interest or can send them an email directly using a disguised Match.com-created email address. Online dating is great in that there is no tradition of the women having to wait for men to pursue them.

GO ON DATES
Sometimes the HBS Bubble can make us forget that people in the real world go out on dates. Taking time to opt out of the HBS social scene for two days a week can be a refreshing change to your social life, especially for those men and women who have been surprised at the lack of attention they receive here from potential mates. HBS men and women are big fish among a lot of other big fish when dating within HBS. Go be a big fish in the fairly small pond of online dating.

BE SAFE
I don’t think that online dating is populated with people who are any crazier than people in real life. However, sometimes we seem to act like doing and saying things online is less consequential than things we would say or do in person. Don’t tell people where you live, give out your social security number, or anything else silly like that.

An online distribution strategy has great promise for those willing to put in the effort to develop a strategy and execute it. Be a part of shaping this space while it’s still being formed or risk having to play by the rules that someone else has made for you.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY
Kaneisha Grayson plans to one day be a talk show host, self-help author, and filmmaker. She welcomes feedback and further ideas for lifestyle and dating articles at her HBS email address. Leaving comments on her blog The Dream Catcher at http://kaneishagrayson.blogspot.com will make her feel like a million bucks. Thanks to Stephanie Parker (ND) for her insightful input for this article.