In the game of Tinder, you win or you get bored and give up. That is pretty much standard operating procedure for anyone with a smartphone and a libido.
But what if you’re bad at Tinder?
Naturally, I can’t solve all your problems. But experts from across the country, as well as Tinder’s own Sean Rad, have hooked us up with some solid advice.
Tinder represents a new phase in the era of online dating. At one point, the only real online dating options were eHarmony and Match.com, and their rich, divorced customers were usually looking for something more serious. Then came OkCupid, asking you to browse photos in the cold blue light of your computer.
Now, we’re in the age of Tinder. The Tinder Years. Not only is the app free, but it tries its best to mimic the experience of perusing hotties in a bar, as opposed to surfing pictures on the web like a creep. And that’s the dream, right? To look across a crowded room and see eyes glaring back at you, silently undressing you until numbers are exchanged, and then saliva, and then maybe some token of trust and monogamy. Perhaps, a smartphone password (just kidding).
Tinder wants badly for that to be your experience on the app, which is why it’s an app in the first place. Rather than use it in the cold blue light of your computer screen on lonely nights, the app travels around town with you in your pocket. You may very well be on Tinder, digitally flirting in a bar, while you are actually at a bar. Yet despite their similar characteristics, the two experiences are very different.
Tinder is far more similar to Candy Crush than it is to flirting in a bar or even using OkCupid. It is a game centered around attraction. You swipe right if you like what you see, and swipe left if you don’t. And, if you prefer, that can be the entire experience.
Waiting for an elevator, or growing bored of your friends’ conversation hanging out, you tap on that little orange flame and sink some time. Left, left, left, right, left. Your thumbs do their own military march to the rhythm of your unending judgement. If you’re lucky, you have some new messages. You are, more than anything, entertained. You are not engaged.
But most of us don’t download Tinder with the hopes of adding a new, judgement-filled game to our smartphones. We download Tinder with the intention to engage with other humans, and all of us with different end goals.
So how do you, as a user, transform Tinder from “playing a game” to “I got game”?
The most prominent answer is that you don’t. To win at Tinder (or, to Winder, if you will) is to first accept that Tinder is a game. Hell, the app even tells you to “keep playing” after every match. It’s a great game. A game you can win.
To win at Tinder (or, to Winder, if you will) is to first accept that Tinder is a game.
Once you’ve let go of the idea that your soulmate is one swipe away, you may actually stand a chance at finding him or her. Tinder claims to have received emails on over 1,000 engagements from couples who met on the app, with the app approaching 1.5 billion matches. The founder of the app met his current girlfriend there. The odds are ever in your favor.
Now, you must understand the rules.
With Tinder, there are four important parts of the game to focus on: Pictures, Bio, Messaging, and Timing.
Pictures are everything on Tinder, and the first photo is the most important. It’s what some people refer to as a “Calling Card.” (Full Tinder glossary can be found here.) See, Tinder users have the option to swipe left on a candidate without ever clicking into their bio and subsequent photos.
Without a good “calling card,” you’re barely getting past Baltic Ave before going bankrupt.
For one, this should never be a group shot. It is well known across the internet and in real life that anyone who posts a group shot as their first photo is likely trying to hide behind the beauty of others.
“You want to be careful when you contextualize yourself,” my friend Peter warned me. He’s spent a good deal of his professional career researching and understanding online dating behaviors, and is pretty damn good at Tinder, too. “If I put myself in a photo with a group of ridiculously good-looking guys, or if you post a photo of yourself with a group of Amazonian runway models, even if you’re an 8 or 9, there’s the issue of preference,” he explained.
Not only does it show some form of insecurity, but using a group shot as a calling card automatically offers people another option. You go from a true or false situation to multiple choice.
“People get annoyed by group photos, and they aren’t very effective” said Sean Rad, Tinder creator and founder. “You don’t know who you’re swiping on, so you tend to swipe left.”
The calling card should also clearly show your face. You may have a full body shot as a calling card if it is an important expression of your personality or interests, such as a shot of you skateboarding or performing on stage. But be forewarned: any calling card that asks a question more complicated than “do you think I’m hot or not?” will limit you in some ways. You will have a more concentrated set of matches that are more aligned with your interests and personality, but will also be filtering out people who aren’t into skateboarders or singer/songwriters.
The important thing to remember when making these decisions is what you’re looking for from Tinder.
And be genuine. Misrepresenting yourself never works out in the end. Even if you manage to get some messages, that person will eventually find you on social feeds and other channels. And then you’re just a liar.
“I went on a date with someone thinking they were very attractive, and he had five different photos, so I thought I was in the clear,” said Barbara, a writer from LA. “When I got there, he was so unbelievably unattractive that it took my breath away. I stayed for 30 minutes and then left because it was so overwhelming.”
“What was overwhelming?” I asked, over the phone. “How ugly he was?”
“No! It was that he really misrepresented himself and it just felt really fucked up.”
Rad explains that people don’t swipe based on the attractiveness of a person, but more based on a combination of all the information in that first photo. He said that the most successful profiles are the ones that are genuine and show a clear sense of interests.
Most of my experts agree you need at least four photos. Once people have a clear sense of who you are and what you look like, they’re much more comfortable talking to you. These photos should include your genuine calling card, something that shows your body relative to others, one that clearly defines your interests or personality, and perhaps one with friends to show you aren’t a total loner.
“As a society, we’ve gotten incredibly good at picking up on hidden messages in photos,” said Rad. “Everyday, we’re hit with hundreds of photos that are expressing who people are, so we’re better than we’ve ever been at understanding the explicit and implicit messages in each photo.”
That said, the more photos there are to look at, the more information there is to connect with.
Finally, where photos are concerned, get by with a little help from your friends.
“Can I see your Tinder profile?” she asked, sitting next to me at a bar.
“Your first picture is your worst picture!” she said. It was a picture of me smiling on stage at a TechCrunch meetup. I thought it was an accurate and attractive portrayal of myself.
“Nope,” she said. “I used to have a picture of me eating and laughing in this green field at a wedding, because I thought it looked like I was having fun. My friends said it looked like I was about to puke.”
You might think that your Tinder calling card is literally the best photo of you that has ever existed. You’re probably wrong.
You might think that your Tinder calling card is literally the best photo of you that has ever existed. Studies show you’re probably wrong. Ask for help. The first step is admitting you have a problem.
Once you’ve mastered the art of the calling card, you’re ready to move on to your bio. These 500 characters are the next step in garnering interest among other primates in your area. And just like your calling card, your profile should be a litmus test for anyone approaching you. Rather than trying to describe yourself, which is boring and usually sounds untrue, you should tailor your bio so that it works as a filtration system.
For one, telling people that you’re funny and smart makes you seem boring and dumb. The only descriptors you should really include in your bio should center around things that can’t be picked up in your photos, or things that are deal-breakers for you. Other than that, your bio should represent your personality in a way that grabs people’s attention.
My friend Peter has a ridiculous bio, where he claims to have invented electricity and found Amelia Earhart on an island somewhere and that he holds the record for longest untethered space walk. None of it is true, but he doesn’t want to be with someone who can’t have fun goofing around and enjoying their imagination. This might limit Peter in his matches, but the people he does match with are people he’s actually interested in talking to.
Another friend uses her bio as a game within a game. She posts four “facts” about herself and asks which of the four “facts” is a lie. This achieves two different goals. The first is that it gives a sense of who she is, not only through the facts, but through the fact that she’s essentially quizzing her matches. She’s a stubbornly inquisitive person, and nothing explains that better than her quiz. Secondly, she gives her matches something to talk about. They automatically have an opening line in the form of their guess.
The self-promotion aspect of Tinder bios has me somewhat perplexed. On the one hand, giving someone a look into your Instagram account gives an even more well-rounded look into your life. That part is great. But it also makes you look like you’re using Tinder to get more Instagram followers. Which is a bitch move.
The first question to ask yourself is who initiates conversation. Many straight men and women believe that it’s the responsibility of the man to message first. To be quite honest, it doesn’t really matter who messages first as long as you know what you want and how you want to present yourself. However, most people agree that the person who initiates the first message loses the upper-hand, the same way that someone who makes the first move in real life loses the upper-hand.
“I think anyone would perceive someone they message first as less interested than if the other person messaged them first, simply because someone approaching you makes it clear that they are interested,” said my dear friend Ella, a 23-year-old from Brooklyn. “Even if the interest is there on both sides, the first person to make a move is saying ‘Yes, I am interested’. It’s the same thing as talking to someone at a bar.”
Girls who approach men in bars and say “hi” first aren’t necessarily going to get less attention from those men. Instead, they’re putting off a certain vibe, perhaps that they are more outgoing or that they’re not looking for a formal chivalrous courtship. Plus, you can send signals at a bar without making the first move, which doesn’t exist on Tinder.
Be aware of what you want. If you’re looking to generate as many conversations as possible, you need to start as many conversations as possible.
“It’s a volume play,” said O’Connor. “I force lovelorn friends to sit down and just systematically initiate messaging with every single match in one fell swoop. The key is not being offended if they don’t write back.”
The thing is, many people that I’ve spoken with have the same complaint about Tinder. They download the app, sort through potential candidates, and get tons of matches. So many matches that they can’t believe their lucky stars. They’re suddenly hot shit.
Except there aren’t very many messages.
According to Tinder, around 50 percent of matches end up messaging each other. However, a quick poll of my friends and some of the experts interviewed for this story say they’ve messaged with around 10 percent of their matches, at most.
“I wonder if the handful of people who message everyone are throwing off the stats,” suggested O’Connor.
My suggestion: be one of those people throwing off the stats. Or maintaining the stats. Whatever. As long as you aren’t crippled by rejection from strangers, this is the best way to get the ball rolling.
“Tinder doesn’t give you detailed information or advanced sorting algorithms; it’s purely that you can see a lot, talk a lot, and when necessary, move on a lot.”
“Tinder doesn’t give you detailed information or advanced sorting algorithms; it’s purely that you can see a lot, talk a lot, and when necessary, move on a lot,” O’Connor explained. “So if you’re the sort of person that gets anxious in that kind of situation — if rejection or flaking bothers you deeply — then Tinder may not be the best dating method. But if you are comfortable letting go and just going for it, you can have a lot of fun!”
So if the key is volume, the next question is what to say.
As a kid, I was always curious why my parents and their adult counterparts were constantly talking about gas prices and the weather. As an adult, it makes a whole lot of sense. Weather and gas prices, while endlessly boring, are two things that constantly affect almost everyone, and yet they change enough to remain as useful go-to icebreakers.
On Tinder, you have no ice breakers. And if your match’s bio isn’t chock-full of information, you’re left with nothing.
“Hey,” “Hi,” and “Well, hi,” are all very common, and thus uninteresting. Instead, Rad suggests that you be as genuine as possible in your first message and try to find a topic where you can connect.
A good way to do this is to ask a general get-to-know-you question. This can range from something super simple, like “what’s your favorite color?” to something more detailed, like “would you rather be the most successful Olympic athlete in the world or uncover the most substantial scientific breakthrough of the century?”
In either case, you want the information given in the question and received in the answer to tell you something useful about the other person. Again, your messages should function as a litmus test.
I once asked a girl on Tinder what her top three desert island songs would be. The songs that, while trapped on an island, would be the songs she listened to over and over again for the rest of her life. “Pocket Full Of Sunshine” was all she had to say for me to know that we could never be.
You can copy and paste a particularly successful question into all your matches to go for volume, or mass-message a different type of opener.
Peter, with his crazy profile, has a strategic opening message that he claims to be successful with more than 80 percent of the time. I call it “The Neg And Reverse.”
You start with something along the lines of “I had high hopes for you. It’s really too bad that we’ll never work out.” That’s the “Neg”.
For Peter and his friends, who are straight, this gets a response the majority of the time. When the girl asks why, you deliver the “Reverse”. The key is to pick something from their profile, and to treat it like a deal-breaking difference when it’s not a big deal at all. For example, if they say they like kittens, you would respond with “I saw that you like kittens, and I really prefer puppies.” From there, the conversation is started and can evolve.
I asked some of my lady friends to conduct the same experiment with the same opening line, and shockingly men’s egos are not quite as receptive as females to being shut down from the get-go. Still, the four people that tested this out for me received between 30 percent and 50 percent return on investment.
At the end of the day, Tinder is about ego inflation. Tinder asks you to pass judgement on others and be notified each time someone takes interest in you. It’s built to prioritize your self-esteem. So no matter what you message, realize that the primary motivation for most people to be on Tinder is to be entertained and to get a little ego boost.
Be entertaining, and manipulate the ego to your best advantage.
And finally, pay attention to timing. If Tinder is meant to be the equivalent of picking up someone at a bar, don’t go to the bar at 9am.
If Tinder is meant to be the equivalent of picking up someone at a bar, don’t go to the bar at 9am.
Pay attention to when you message people. Sending a message in the middle of the day or at 4am sends a certain signal along with it, that you’re either unemployed or a horny insomniac. Rad says that Tinder usage is very similar to other social networks like Facebook and Instagram, in that people use it when they’re bored.
“We see a lot of activity during lunchtime, when people get home from work, and late at night,” said Rad. “Sunday night is our busiest night, and Saturday sees a lot of activity, too.”
Like any game, people will try to find ways to cheat at Tinder.
There is a phenomena, discovered by writer Amanda Lewis, where certain players reflexively swipe right on everyone and sort their matches later, just to see every single person that was potentially interested in them.
Rad says that users who do that rarely try that method for too long, as it ends up taking the fun out of the game. Tinder is yet another arena where cheaters don’t prosper.
The names of most of the people cited in this article have been changed for their protection.
#Love is a new column on TechCrunch dealing with digital matters of the heart. It explores our relationships, their relationship with technology, and all the gory details that come with it. I will be leading the charge, and am looking for guest writers to tell their own stories each week. Maybe you found your soul mate on Tinder, or got dumped on Facebook, or have an outrageously interesting sext life. We all have our stories. If you’re interested in contributing, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line #Love for more details.