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The story of Tinder’s marketing in its earliest days is legendary. The new and unknown app hit 15,000 users in its first week. One might assume that early and clever design decisions – the swipe! – meant Tinder was born poised for success. Well, not quite. The Tinder team also had to execute savvy marketing moves to win over users who would come to love the app and enthusiastically spread the word about it. In this article, we take a look behind Tinder’s marketing strategy.

Leverage the power of communities

When Tinder launched from an L.A.-based incubator in the autumn of 2012 some of its developers were part of the fraternity and sorority system at USC. The Tinder team offered to host parties for sororities with a new wrinkle: everyone attending had to download the Tinder app and show it at the door to gain entrance. Throughout that fall, the pattern was repeated on other campuses. With virtually no promotion budget, Tinder was able to align itself with thriving and active communities. Getting groups of people to try the app, become attached to it, and talk about their experience meant the word spread organically.

Build for word of mouth or make it yourself

Once a community fully engaged with the product, another important facet of Tinder’s early marketing came into play: Breaking out beyond the initial community. The launch across campuses in the fall of 2012 could have fizzled out when campuses emptied for winter break. Instead, a new phase kicked in. The students went home, or took winter vacations, meeting up with family members and old friends. They spread the story of the cool new dating app, and Tinder began to break out beyond the campuses. As Tinder’s reputation spread virally, the strategy kicked into another gear by seeking to enlist high-profile users. A celebrity using the app or mentioning it in a positive way was essentially the same strategy that they used on college campuses, but the message would radiate out to a much wider audience.

Keep the momentum going

It became apparent that Tinder would always be spreading by word of mouth. But the company couldn’t sit still, it had to keep finding ways to help inspire its users to keep talking. In 2019 Tinder rolled out “Festival Mode,” which was aimed at young people attending music festivals. In an interview that summer, Tinder’s then-head of marketing, Jenny Campbell, said the following. “I’d be surprised if any 21-year-old hadn’t heard of Tinder. So simply sponsoring something we know is popular is probably not going to be enough for our users and our audience.

Festival Mode lets users add which festivals they’d be attending to their profiles. Users could swipe, chat, and meet before the festival. During the days of the festival, they could meet up with people they’d connected with. By making itself part of the festival experience, Tinder made sure festival-goers talking about that experience would be talking about Tinder. Free festival sponsorship for Tinder.

In late 2019 Tinder moved to inspire more conversation by launching Swipe Night. An interactive “choose your own adventure” story in which users made choices by, naturally, swiping on their phone. On the Saturday nights when the story was live on the app, the number of matches increased over an ordinary Sunday night by 26%. By creating an adventure experience with its app, the company won awards from Fast Company as well as at the prestigious Cannes Lion Festival. Nice, but the real point, as ever, was to keep users engaged and talking about their experiences on Tinder. Not every company can afford a production that will gain accolades and even an Emmy nomination. But the underlying idea, using your own app in experimental ways to keep people talking about your company, can be adapted.

Retention focused marketing

Tinder’s leadership strongly sensed that a user who really wanted to try the app because his friend boasted of the experience was a user who would become a regular user. The Tinder crew wasn’t interested in racking up download stats. They wanted persistently active users, the true believers who would tell their Tinder stories and keep energizing organic growth.

Don’t neglect brand campaigns

In the January 2023 letter to its shareholders, Tinder’s parent company, Match Group, announced that Tinder would soon be launching a worldwide brand campaign. Noting that Tinder had grown “rapidly, by strong organic word of mouth” which had contributed to a “narrow brand perception.” The shareholders’ letter stated that by launching a “fresh, multichannel brand campaign,” Tinder will showcase “the full range of what it offers and develop a more accurate brand story.” Given what Tinder has already demonstrated, it will be fascinating to see what’s ahead. If you’d like to learn more about inspiring marketing stories like this, along with pro tips and benchmarks, please subscribe to our newsletter.

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