If there was a single word to describe 2020, it would be disruption. The massive disruption in our lives has changed the way we live and work. With most of us restricted to our homes, we have been practically living our lives online. Social interactions too, have been restricted to online (or on the phone) the past few months. But there’s only that much one can do on social media. While dating apps such as Tinder have had a home run during the pandemic, it is only now that people in India have a chance to have a shared, interactive experience. Taru Kapoor, general manager, India, Tinder and Match Group, talks about the changes in dating preferences in India due to the pandemic, competition, and Tinder’s support to the LGBTQI+ community. Edited excerpts:

What are the challenges of dating in a post-Covid world? Did you notice some interesting trends?

The situation evolves every day, but there is a large, important, cultural shift happening—one we’ve seen for a while in Gen Z, but it’s now accelerating and expanding because of Covid-19. The pandemic has accelerated a generational shift in the way we date, and online dating is now just dating. The Coronavirus has dissolved the line between our digital and physical lives.

Covid got us to open up. In India, May 3 was the peak of chattiness: on that day Tinder members sent an average of 60% more messages vs. the start of lockdowns in early March—above the global average. In India, conversations have been up an average of 39% and the average length of conversations is 28% longer. There were 3 billion-plus swipes on Sunday, March 29; this is more than on any single day in the history of Tinder.

To help users better introduce themselves to potential matches, Tinder recently released Prompts, a new in-app feature that lets members respond to questions or finish a sentence to display on their profile. Of all available Prompts, ‘2020 MADE ME REALISE’ had the highest adoption, signalling how much our daily lives have changed from every perspective—including how we gauge compatibility with potential matches on Tinder.

Additionally, we saw the highest Passport usage (changing location within the app) for members was within their country, and this was reflective around the world. As people had to leave their communities and cities to move back home, Tinder became a way to stay connected to the community they will re-enter eventually. India saw a 25% increase in the rate of Passporting to other parts of the world. This was before Passport was widely available for free.

How did Tinder as a company respond to the pandemic?

As a brand that is focussed on Gen Z (more than half of our members are now in the 18-25 age group), we want to be a place where members can hang out and get to know each other. For our Gen Z members who have grown up socialising digitally, we are creating a compelling experience for them to not only meet new people but connect with them in a natural way.

While Covid-19 has accelerated and magnified these observations, they represent trends we’ve been thinking about for some time. Swipe Night—conceived in early 2019 and launched in the U.S. last October—will be coming to India soon [it launched on Saturday, September 12, at 10 a.m. and will be available till midnight on Sunday, September 13; it will be available for the next two weekends]. This gives members a chance to hang out on Tinder and have a shared experience that they can talk about and bond over.

The pandemic has made it easier to imagine a future where our members hang out on Tinder and get to know each other better in the process. The first wave of Tinder and dating apps triggered a profound socio-cultural shift where it became a norm to find someone new from a digital community and connect with ‘matches’ as deeply as before. Now is the time for a second wave of innovation at Tinder where, particularly for our Gen Z members who have grown up on the social Internet, we find new ways to help them build connections and share experiences.

What measures have you taken to protect users’ data?

When it comes to Tinder members’ data, we’re focused on keeping our members safe and their data private. We have strict policies and technical systems in place, including encryption for member photos and messages and tools that restrict employee access to member communications and other member data.

Unlike other social apps, our business model is focussed on providing members with premium features, including in-app upgrades and subscriptions, to enhance their experience on our app. We do not sell data to third parties or depend on advertising to maintain or grow our business. In fact, in 2018 less than 5% of all revenue was generated through advertising.

Will Tinder continue with its freemium model?

Tinder is free to use and most of our members enjoy our app without upgrading to the paid experience. However, we do offer a variety of subscription options and paid a la carte features designed to help our members stand out and match with new people more efficiently.

Do you have to compete with matrimonial apps?

We don’t really think about competitors as we find we do our best work when we’re focussed on making it easier for young people to meet new people. Ultimately our competitors are not in the ‘dating app’ category but are instead the brand and apps within the larger Gen Z ecosystem because that’s where they’re spending their time.

What prompted you to launch The Museum of Queer Swipe Stories?

Tinder introduced The Museum of Queer Swipe Stories in partnership with Gaysi Family, to showcase LGBTQIA+ Swipe Stories. The Museum of Queer Swipe Stories, launched early this year, is a curated archival project that seeks to collect the many moods, experiences, and complexities of queer dating. Tinder believes the chance of an epic connection is a Swipe away, and that everyone has a Tinder Swipe Story. Stories of people you’ve met, friendships you’ve created, hearts that have broken and experiences you’ll always remember.

Tinder is always working to make it easier to connect with new people and to create a place where people everywhere can be who they are, and love who they love. We have consistently made strides towards inclusivity by expanding gender identities, introducing sexual orientation so members have more say in how potential matches are presented and Traveller alert which appears when the app is opened in countries that have laws criminalising LGBTQIA+ status.

Till date, we have collected over 800 stories across the gender and sexuality spectrum and will continue to grow, signalling the diversity of dating, relationships and making digital connection stories in the country that have started on Tinder.

Tinder has always been an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community. How has the experience been in India?

The day Article 377 was decriminalised was one of the days with highest Tinder activity (one of three days in 2018). Article 377 also made it to the top eight advocacy terms mentioned in Tinder bios, 30% more people used Tinder’s More Genders feature in 2019 as compared to 2018, to best reflect their authentic selves.

There have been incredible strides in recognising and embracing all gender identities and sexualities, but there is still a long way to go. Our users are our biggest advocates, and we are committed to consistently hearing from them to improve the Tinder experience.

What are the unique challenges a dating app faces in India? Have you seen a change in mindset among Indians since you started operations?

In India, conventionally, it is hard to meet people outside of your immediate social circle of friends, family, and colleagues. Indian society is in transition, and decision-making autonomy is changing across generations and social structures. Gen Z today increasingly demands and exercises more choice and control over their life decisions than previous generations. The growing advances in technology, particularly the popularity of the smartphone, have proven valuable in facilitating the universal need of people connecting, meeting, and communicating with each other. Our lives are ultimately shaped by the people we meet, the relationships we forge, and the memories we create with them

While the idea of meeting people online is inherently new for India, Tinder has rapidly become a part of popular culture and lifestyle because it is the platform of choice for Indian youth today who want to meet people, date, and forge new relationships per their choices based on shared interests and compatibility. Tinder is a community based on equality, choice, mutual respect, and no judgement. Women in India like Tinder because it provides them a judgement-free space to be themselves and empowers them to take complete control of their interactions—right from choosing whom to connect with to set the pace for conversation—without receiving any unsolicited attention.

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