Is There Something Missing? Self-Presentation Practices on Tinder

Today I presented my ongoing research on self-presentation practices of Tinder users in the Netherlands. The conference was the 12th ICA Mobile Pre-Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Slides are available here and an abstract is below:

The desire to connect with other people for romantic or intimate purposes is an age-old activity. Mobile dating applications have exploded in popularity in recent years. As these applications become mainstream, so does the urgency to re-explore the issue of virtual self-presentation: how men and women present themselves to potential partners.

The matchmaking mobile app Tinder has 50 million global users and 1.5 million users in the Netherlands. The research question asks, what are the self-presentation practices of Tinder users? This paper presents the results of 21 semi-structured interviews with Tinder users in the Netherlands.

Analysis revealed two types of users in terms of impression motivation: the indifferent and the ambitious. For all interviewees, impression construction was a carefully chosen process complete with various “props.” Interviewees used photos and texts to illustrate attractiveness, personality and interests, but also their social class and education level. Especially noteworthy was the mirroring of self-presentation with one’s potential matches, as users overwhelmingly reported searching for people “like them.” This research provides both empirical and theoretical contributions into user experiences and perceptions within a still under-researched area.

First interview findings

Last month I met my goal: I completed 20 interviews with Tinder users. The interviews were with 11 men and 9 women. Interviewees were aged 19-­52, and most had been active Tinder users for about a year.

Though there’s still a lot of work to do on the analysis, last weekend I presented initial results from a paper entitled “All the World’s a Stage: Strategies of Self-Presentation on Tinder” at the Asian Conference on Media & Mass  Communication (MediAsia) in Osaka, Japan. Those slides are available online.

I’ll continue with my analysis in the coming months. Watch here for updates!

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Chasing women on Tinder

Two weeks ago, I started my interview recruitment on Tinder. It’s been successful, with eight interviews already conducted and four scheduled for the coming days (I’m aiming for 20). Successful, yes, except all of my interviewees have been men.

I immediately noticed a difference in response to my male and female Tinder accounts. For those who contacted me via the email address advertised on the Tinder profile, I received 21 emails from men and three from women. So far, only one woman has scheduled an interview with me.

In the first days, I became comfortable with the idea that my interviewees would simply come to me via email. And this has worked well with the men. In fact, one week in, on a Saturday afternoon, I deactivated the female Tinder account.

tinderWhat about the women? I was surprised by their lack of response. Then I realized perhaps this had to do with their perception of me as a man: My profile says I’m male (otherwise I wouldn’t get access to the straight female Tinder users). Men seem eager to contact a 25-year-old “female” researcher, but women are apparently less eager to reach out to a 25-year-old “male” researcher.

First test: reveal that I am actually a woman. Maybe that would help. It was time to do some right swiping on Tinder. First I messaged my original 11 matches. They received the following (with my name, also to point out that I am female):

Good morning! My name is Janelle and I’m conducting the interviews for the Tinder Study. Are you interested in participating?

I received one response, and she declined as soon as she found out the interview was in person.

Then, I swiped right on 50 more women. I got five instant matches, and sent them the same message as above. A week later, I’ve still only communicated with two of them, all without securing an interview. I exchanged a few emails with one – she wanted to know the name of my supervisor and more details about the project. She said a contact purely via Tinder was suspicious. I have not received such a reaction from a man.

Since I haven’t actually interviewed any female Tinder users, I can only guess at this point. But it seems that women approach Tinder with a more defensive posture than men. I’ll keep working on securing those interviews, because I would love to hear more about the female Tinder experience.

Interview recruitment on Tinder

Phase one of project “Is There Something Missing?” is underway: the academic interviews! Soon, I will share more about the interview questions and naturally, the responses. But first, recruitment.

So what’s it like recruiting people for interviews on Tinder?

Because I’m aiming to interview an equal number of men and women, I had to create two new Tinder profiles, one as a man, and one as a woman. At first this seemed like a logistical mess, because Tinder is a mobile app, which would mean switching between accounts on my phone. Then I discovered an extension called Botinder for Google Chrome, which allows me log in from my laptop – and since I have two, I can keep an eye on both accounts simultaneously – and stay logged into my personal Tinder account on my phone. Problem solved!

Since you need a Facebook account to get a Tinder account, up first was creating two Facebook accounts, identical in every way (like location and age) except the sex. I used the name TinderStudy. I had the idea that Facebook accounts needed a minimum number of friends to set up a Tinder account, but apparently this is not the case, as I was able to set up both Tinder accounts with no Facebook friends at all (this would explain some of the graphic Tinder profiles I’ve come across – I always wondered, who is Facebook friends with people who have a penis for a profile picture?).

Like Facebook, the Tinder accounts are identical. They both have the same profile picture, which is the Erasmus logo along with an invitation to participate and a contact email address, and they have the same Discovery Preferences: same age range, 18-50, same distance, 25 miles from my home location, and show both men and women. The logo-as-profile-picture idea came from a recently published article that interviewed Grindr users and created a similar profile for recruitment.

After setting up the Tinder accounts, I decided to “swipe right” on the first 50 profiles I came across. As mentioned the profile picture does provide a contact email address, but given Tinder’s method of matching people before they can communicate, I thought perhaps this would encourage more contact via “in app” chats. I was wrong, so far. Details: I did this first with the female TinderStudy account. As I swiped right and counted to 50, I realized something astonishing – I was already getting matches as I went through this initial 50! I had just set up the Tinder account moments before, and in the first 50 profiles I matched with nine men.

I wondered if it would be the same for the male account which would encounter mainly women. I made only one match in this initial process – and it was with a man. This certainly feeds the rumor that men swipe right (more often/always? more rapidly?) though Tinder profiles. As I write this piece I now have 11 male matches and zero female (the initial guy match blocked me), yet only one has contacted me through the app to say he is possibly interested in participating.

The trend continued: Most have contacted me via email. This makes me think providing the email was the best strategy, and perhaps I will refrain from swiping right from now on. But of the 10 email responses I’ve received, only one is from a woman. I had the idea that I would have trouble finding men, until I remembered that for women on Tinder, I am a man asking to interview them. No wonder I’m not getting any response, given what I’ve learned about bad male behavior on Tinder.

My first interview is today. It will be interesting to see how everything proceeds and whether I can find enough women interested in participating.

Stay tuned!

How it all began

Den Haag, Grote Markt, a warm Wednesday evening. I’m having drinks with a friend and we’re discussing online dating. Why do we do it? What are we looking for? Do people really want what they say they want on their profiles? Isn’t it all about the photos, anyway? As the beer flowed an idea emerged: I wanted to find out how and why people use online dating apps.

No time like the present, right? So we hopped out of our chairs and started questioning strangers. We quickly realized asking people “Are you on a dating app?” was an offensive question. So, we switched to “Do you know anyone who uses a dating app?” and our research began.

Step one: recruiting Tinder users for interviews about their experiences with the app. Stay tuned for developments.