Why Facebook Wants to Play Matchmaker for 200 Million Singles

The social network needs Dating to boost a flagging metric: time spent on Facebook

With the launch of Facebook Dating in the U.S. on Thursday, the social media giant wants to help you find your significant other — or, at least, your next hot date.

Is the free (and ad-free) service simply a benevolent offering from CEO-turned-Cupid Mark Zuckerberg? Or a sign the social network is simply running out of ideas?

It’s more a continuation of Facebook’s dog-eat-dog approach to social networking. Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram have already shamelessly lifted Stories — initially made famous by Snapchat — and made it their own. Facebook, after executives internally fretted about WhatsApp’s rapid growth in comparison to Messenger, decided to buy its competitor for $19 billion five years ago. Now, with its move into dating, Facebook is looking to once again expand into territory it’s not known for, and win.

Wall Street immediately took notice, with Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, OkCupid and Match.com, seeing its stock price drop more than 5% on Thursday.

At least in its early days, this doesn’t appear to be a big revenue driver for Facebook. The company isn’t placing ads on Dating, and it isn’t using data from the service to target users with ads on Facebook or Instagram. But there is one key metric where this could be a boost for Facebook: time spent on the platform.

Facebook has seen a decline in how much time its users spend on the platform in recent years. In 2017, users were on Facebook for an average of 41 minutes per day; that figure dropped to 38 minutes per day in 2018 and has remained flat so far in 2019, according to eMarketer. Instagram hasn’t completely offset that drop-off, either, with users going from spending 25 minutes per day in 2017 on the app to 26 minutes per day this year.

This is where Dating can help Facebook from a business standpoint. Merely keeping people engaged on Facebook longer gives them more time to interact with the social network — and more opportunities for the company to hit them with ads on News Feed or Watch. And Dating, through its features, will drive users to be more active on Facebook.

One example: Facebook users will be able to connect with other users that have attended the same events as them or are members of the same groups. This goes for all events, whether they happened five years ago or are coming up in five days. Dating has also jettisoned the swipe — the standard matching move on Tinder and Bumble — in favor of having users comment on specific pictures or answers to questions on the other person’s account, similar to Hinge.

Dating users also will be able to sync their Instagram accounts to their dating profiles — giving users another reason to spend more time on Instagram, adding pictures. Both features, whether it’s having users join more events or upload more pictures, foster an increased amount of engagement with Facebook proper and Instagram. That’s how Dating can get away without having any ads.

Zuckerberg, when he first announced Dating last year, said there are more than 200 million people that identify as “single” on Facebook. Getting even a fraction of those users to spend a few extra minutes per day on Facebook, adding pictures or joining groups, could lead to an ad revenue windfall. That — along with crushing another social media competitor or two along the way —  is reason enough for Facebook to have continued its Dating rollout on Thursday.

You can read more about how Facebook Dating works here.

Sean Burch

Sean Burch

Tech reporter • sean.burch@thewrap.com • @seanb44 



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