Who we are
We are market research professionals at maslansky + partners, a firm that specializes in language strategy. Our firm's motto is It's not what you say that matters, it's what they hear. You may say one thing, but someone listening may interpret your message in a way that is completely unintended. That is because where you are speaking from is not the same place that your audience hears you. The view from the top of the soapbox is not the same as from below.
So how does this apply to online dating? Well, the writer of the profile is not operating from the same place that the reader is. A writer is trying to put themselves in a few paragraphs in a way that gets across who they are, where they've been and what they want. A reader is perusing the internet looking to be convinced that the writer of a profile could connect with them, is worth getting to know or would be interested in them. This disconnect could result in a potential match being missed by a simple click of the back button.
What we did
Browsing OKCupid's open profiles, there were several topics that were discussed and writing approaches taken that were found repeatedly. Among these were profile lists, pointing out that we are on OKCupid, describing who the writer was looking for, and many more.
We then searched online forums for conversations about online dating, the most valuable resource being r/OKCupid on Reddit. These threads and responses allowed further insight into what does and does not work in online profiles.
Taking our findings from here, we structured a list of questions for a series of one-on-one interviews. One set of questions was structured for male subjects and one set for female subjects. Each subject was spoken to over a telephone line while viewing the screen of the interviewer as they scrolled through active OKCupid profiles. Questions were asked about formatted, spelling, content, humor, ect. From these two exploratory ventures we were able to come up with a frame work for testing.
* Some people write what they want in a partners. Some people write who they are as a person. Which is correct?
* Most every profile mentions "travel" and "moving around." What does travel mean to each segment?
* Many profiles mention "cooking", "food" and/or "restaurants." What effort does this have on the reader?
* Some profiles specify they "don't do drama." What does it mean when someone says that?
* Many mention "working out" or "playing sports." What could this mean?
* How is talking about the fact you are on OKCupid understood?
* Many put "knows how to treat a lady" in their profile. How does that test?
* Many put "working out" high on their interest list.
* Some spoke about work being the majority of their life.
* Many begin their profile with "I'm a simple guy" or "I'm not your average guy." How are these terms viewed?
With these questions on our mind, we searched OKCupid for profiles that used these occurrences. We had a female actor read the female profiles and a male actor read the male profiles into an audio recorder. The focus groups were small, ranging from 2 to 14 participants. Each participant was given a dial that went from 0 to 100. Starting at 50 the participants were asked to rate moment by moment their feelings about the audio profile they heard. Up towards 100 if they might want to message or respond to a message from this profile. Down towards 0 if they might want to click away. Using Dialsmith's Perception Analyzer Software we were about to follow the aggregated reaction, seeing where a profile was doing well, where it was doing poorly and where it lost them. This dial line was used to guide a discussion about the profiles to further fleshed out the dial line data with qualitative verbatims from participants.
This was done in series of focus groups over a series of days with participants in the New York City area ranging from 22 to 55, a mixture of ethnicities. Each group was only one gender with 18 men listening to the female's profiles and and 26 females listening to the men's profiles. It was from this information that we have come with the following findings.
A note on what this is
what this is
what this is not
Directional insights that should be used to write or edit your profile
A step by step instruction on how to write your profile
There is no one thing someone can put in their profile to make them the most desirable person on the internet. There are no series of words we can put out there that we can gaurentee will make you the most desirable person to one other person. What we can offer are suggestions and guidance in crafting your profile, taking care to steer clear of cliches and represent yourself in a truthful description.
If you cut and paste words from this site into your profile,
you're gunna to have a bad time.
If you have not already done so, we suggest that you write your profile. After that first smattering of information is on the page read this research project. Read it and think about how these concepts work as if you were browsing the internet and stumbled upon your own dating profile. Using that perspective, hit the 'Edit' button on your profile and start deleting, re-phrasing and adding to craft an honest and appealing representation of yourself.
If you are having issues with this process, please do not hesitate to contact us.
WANTs vs WHOs
Online dating has two sides; you and the person reading your profile. Some profile writers choose to write to the person reading the profile telling them what they need to be. We call these WANTs profiles. The writers of WANTs have a square peg, put it on the internet and are waiting for a square hole to come across it. Some profile writers choose to write about themselves, opening up to explain who they are to give the person reading the profile a chance to be interested in them. We can these WHOs profiles. The writers of WHOs profiles are creating a description of a peg and letting the reader decide if they might have a hole that fits. I tried to think up an analogy that didn't involve pegs and holes but could not. Please let me know if you have an alternative.
So you're getting ready to write your profile and your big thing is you want someone to go rock climbing with you. If you put in your profile
"I need to be with someone who enjoys rock climbing."
you are cutting out a huge section of intentional connections who have never considered rock climbing but might be good if they tried it, are interested rock climbing but have never tried or are rock climbers but they worry they are not good enough rock climbers as rock climbing is incredibly important to you. Phrasing it instead as
"I go rock climbing once a week. I really like buddy climbing as its one of those sports that is reliant on others to get you to the top."
This shows the importance of rock climbing in your life, shows an admirable quality about it and a way for a person to involve themselves.
Here are some examples of WANTs not working in our focus groups:
Show vs tell
Now that we know other online daters don't want to read about what you want but rather who you are, how do we show who you are? We have found that the two paths you can take at this point is to tell us who you are or show us who you are.
Telling who you are is essentially a stat list of things you do, things you like and attributes you have.
"I'm a pretty funny guy. I like playing hockey, soccer and ultimate frisbee. I work in finance and enjoy my work. I really like going out for dinner in the city."
While enough of these lined up together cobble a semblance of a personality, there is not a person there. This style does allow a lot of information which came be digested very quickly but often readers will scan over this information instead of actually read it. It puts much of the burden on the profile photos for the reader to glimpse some understanding of the person behind the profile.
Showing is saying the same information in narrative sentences instead of statements. It is letting the reader infer the statement you want understood.
"I joined an adult hockey league last November and have been promoted from the guy that warms the bench to the guy that gets the water. On the positive side of things, all that running to the water cooler and back has made me a super star on the soccer and ultimate frisbee teams. During the week I number crunch for a financial firm and enjoy every minute of it. Its not Wall Street, but its fun. While I can cook, i make every excuse not to in a city with a million restaurants."
This integrates the funny into the profile (at least i hope it does) so it does not need to be said while telling the reader about actual events in this person's life. These little addition adds context to statement, meat to the bone, crispy sugar cone to the scoop of ice cream.
How did our focus groups react to those that tell? Glad you asked...
The 4th wall
Remember in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when Matthew Broderick would turn to the camera and talk? Thats called breaking the 4th wall. Its acknowledging that there is a camera there and using it as a way to connect with the audience. A common method to break the ice in online dating profiles is to point out how silly it is or how hard it is because you know the person reading the profile probably has those same feelings of awkwardness about dating online and knows they just filled out a profile themselves. This tactic works only on those new to online dating. Three months from now and they will not find that joke funny. In fact, they will find it incredibly annoying.
Here is a clip from a round of research done in 2011 showing the difference in opinion between those that have done online dating before and those who have not:
So by using this in your profile, you are immediately putting off 90% of your audience.
And to show this holds true in 2014, here are some updated reactions from our last round of research:
So what works?
The answer is as old as communication. Stories. Stories about the writer that show what kind of person the writer are. Stories from childhood test best, especially if the story has a life lesson that can be brought into the present. The reader is able to create a personality around a story, cast the writer as a character and themselves as a character to that character. This creates a bond that can be strengthened through pictures, messaging and meeting.
Here is an example of a story profile we crafted from an actual profile for one of our female groups:
Their feed back was that it was too short and too focused on one thing. We drafted a new version using their feedback and tested it at the next group. We still made a mistake with the re-writes but the lines are pretty impressive.
There isn't one. This is going to be a continuous project and we have yet to touch on the over 50 or LGBT crowd, which we're sure will have different findings. Creating connections, dating and love are all complicated things. One of the ways we can make them less complicated is if we all communicate better. The first step in that is to make sure what we say is what they hear.
For questions about the project or to book a presentation: