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The dating industry has been in the public eye recently due to recent OKCupid blog posts, including The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures and The Case For An Older Woman. I cannot tell you how many press calls I’ve received in the last couple of weeks asking about what this all means for online daters.

At the same time, cable television watchers have been inundated buy the same two Match ads and some new copycat ads from eHarmony. The new Match ads are fantastic the first few times you see them. But after Burn Notice or CSI breaks to the same Match.com guy dropping his meatball on the floor for the fifth time in an hour, one wishes that Match could have spent a few more dollars cranking out a few more commercials.

On Friday, I received a call from Sam Yagan, a co-founder of OKCupid. (The other founders are Chris Coyne, Christian Rudder and Max Krohn.) We had a long conversation, talking about online dating industry trends, recent blog posts, the rise of free dating sites, Sam’s presentation and final panel experience at iDate, the status of the online dating M&A market and much more.

What I want to share with you today is a few stats about the recent blog posts Sam’s team has published which have driven a tremendous amount of traffic to OKCupid. Being interested in customer acquisition costs and the effectiveness of blogs to drive visitors, I asked Sam what sort of resources are assigned to the OKCupid blog.

Hint: if you send me interesting stats about your dating site, I’ll probably write about it here.

I like to talk to people who are open to discussing their businesses, both the wins and the challenges. That’s what turns me on, as opposed to the generally paranoid nature of the online dating industry, which I still don’t fully understand and is holding so many companies back right now.

Publishing the customer acquisition costs, churn rates, lifetime customer value and number of paying members for Match, SinglesNet and eHarmony wouldn’t change a darn thing in the online dating industry.

I wish the phrase “Rising tides raise all ships” were more prevalent in the online dating industry.

Commercials Vs. Public Relations Vs. Social Media

Think about how much Match spends on those commercials. Let’s just say $100 million overall. That’s probably way off but it doesn’t matter, I’m talking about the efforts relative to each other. Now let’s look at the cost of the OKCupid research blog.

Approximately two days a week for an engineer to work the numbers. Christian, the blog author, works on posts around 2.5 days each week. For the equivalent of approximately $50,000/year, or $1,000/week, recent OKCupid blog posts have been read more than 800,000 times a piece. And guess what, the latest post is trending *twice* as popular as the previous one. And they just started a few months ago. I can imagine that they will come up with a game-changing post at some point. Fingers crossed.

It turns out that lots of people reading the posts are married and/or not on OKCupid, resulting in legions of new brand advocates who talk about the blog posts with their friends, on their own blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. This is why social media matters. It’s the next generation of affiliate marketing, although nowhere near as lucrative, at least for now.

Sam was quoted in the New York Times that the first post got them 10,000 new signups. The real number is higher and I hope he will update us with new numbers at some point.

Let’s talk about press releases vs. social media. OKcupid blog posts are receiving an enormous amount of media attention, tweets, blog posts and mentions, all for $1,000/week. Compare that to sending out a press release. They have sent out exactly four press releases since 2006, the last one being February 2007.

There is a difference between the effectiveness of press releases and social media. The primary one is that press releases in general have been so overly abused over the years that the current versions are watered down in terms of news and extremely spiky in terms of traffic. People argue with me over the long tail (shelf life) of press releases, and I think that’s a bunch of baloney.

Well-crafted social media efforts, on the other hand, have a much greater potential to make a great story go viral in a very short period of time, and the overall story tends to have a longer tail. I don’t have the research handy, but the results of a typic dating site press release don’t hold a candle to the amount of attention OKCupid has been able to accomplish with fantastic blog posts.

The entire dating industry is based on acquiring any and all cheap traffic online and off. I on the other hand, am more attuned to branding, messaging and “beyond the banner” trends like social media. Can I just say that I hate the term social media? It’s really just another form of marketing, albeit newer and more exciting than buying banner ads, which is why so many people flock to it.

By publicly releasing such potentially-incendiary research, OKCupid has become dangerous. As the second largest free dating site (please correct me on this if I’m wrong), they are leveraging their ability to speak freely about their site in a way that other sites cannot, or will not reciprocate. The long-term effects of these efforts are not clear, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s all good to me.

Now there is an expectation that OKCupid will continue to deliver the goods. Unlike a press release, which unfortunately sounds like SHOUTING, OKCupid is telling a story, and we can’t wait to hear the next chapter. Nobody eagerly anticipates the next press release from a dating site.

I’ve been asking the dating industry to be more transparent and share their research for many years, and OKCupid is the first company to really take advantage of the wealth of information they have at their fingertips and turned it into a marketing machine.

Granted, the OKCupid team is way ahead of most dating sites in terms of the ability to do this sort of research, and they are much more forward-thinking than most, which gives them an unfair advantage from the start. I eagerly await other dating sites to start publishing their research as well. It’s too bad Match and eHarmony can’t/won’t do this, but there are other sites which are primed to publish.

Traditional dating site press releases are an ineffectual use of marketing resources much of the time. There are too many other channels available which carry more weight and potential upside. For example, having your site re-tweeted by a few big dating blogs could garner more attention than sending out a press release to thousands of people who probably aren’t going to write about you. It’s all about the story you are trying to tell and the action you want your readers to take. Signing up for a dating site is but one action worth considering, there are many others, like leading readers to your blog, which act as a lead-up to a confirmed subscriber.

If you want to talk about creating a social media marketing campaign for your dating site, contact me.

Disclaimer: I sometimes use the OKCupid office to park my stuff when I’m in New York.