We’re doing something a little different this week.
Recently, a friend emailed to ask about Tinder/Grinder profile pictures. “Should I aim to look hotter than I do in real life,” this person asked, “ or slightly less hot so that meeting I.R.L. doesn’t cause disappointment?”
I get this exact same question a lot, and I was reminded of it as I was sitting at the King’s County Courthouse in downtown Brooklyn on a rainy day recently. You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen a cross section of Brooklyn residents at 8:30 AM on a Tuesday. Room 156, with its slow fans and harsh lighting, constitutes an environment that serves as a foil to that of Tinder. This is humanity at its most boring. People showing up to do their civic duty look as unassuming, unkempt and undesirable as ever. Except for the one girl in white platform sandals who seemed ready for Fashion Week.
Sitting there at the courthouse it struck me that you ought to construct your online presence somewhere in between your “doing my civic” duty self and your sexy 2 AM at the bar self. Different venues beg for different kinds of self-presentation.
I’ve consulted many an online profile in my day, and I have some pretty strong opinions about them, but for this particular moment I’ve turned to some experts in the field, among them Ms. Alene Boon, whom I work with at Tawkify where she does wonders consulting her clients and friends about how to frame themselves. I also spoke with Mr. Johnny Skandos, the founder of the wildly successful app Scruff, and Scott Valdez, cofounder of VirtualDatingAssistants.com, which specializes in helping those who cannot help themselves when it comes to online profiles and messaging.
What are some important things to keep in mind when making an online dating profile?
Boon: Keep it casual. Don’t try to describe yourself. It’s an impossible task, and it comes off super trite. Nobody cares that you’re “adventurous” and “laid back.”
Be specific. Saying you are in grad school is way less interesting than saying you are studying the frontal lobe’s role in malevolent fecal distribution.
Fill out all the quantitative questions (height, education, eye color, etc.) You’ll show up in more searches that way. Leave income blank, unless you are OK with a more, ahem, financially-oriented arrangement.
Leave ‘em wanting more. Keep it to 200-300 words.
Ask a close friend to look it over. If the prospect makes you squeamish, start over. There shouldn’t be anything in your profile that embarrasses you, unless you are searching for a playmate enthusiastic about some very specific fetish.
Skandros: It really varies on what you are looking for. We have a profile editor, so there’s no limit on text at Scruff. You can fill out lots of activities and interests. That said, less can say more. Scruff also has a strict no harassment policy. Any kind of harassment of bullying on the basis of ethnicity, weight, etc., gets reported and investigated.
Valdez: Avoid the adjective avalanche. I am x, y and x. You are adventurous outgoing and fun” Very common format. There’s nothing unique here. Don’t do it.
Show. Don’t tell. Form adjectives into examples. Instead of saying “adventurous,” talk about your specific trip to the Alps.
Have a strong hook. This is your opportunity to pull the reader in. Lots of ways to do it. Break right into a story or an anecdote. Start with that time you were paragliding with an instructor who didn’t speak English and you were about to crash into a cliff. THAT communicates your adventurous side. Alternatively, try a “B.S. Intro” in which you advertise yourself as a quadri-lingual brain surgeon who modeled for Banana Republic before becoming a secret agent. Then cop to the fact that only a couple of those things are true. It’s a good nugget to break the ice.
Spell check. Spelling errors are a huge turnoff. It’s like going on a date without grooming yourself.
Keep it conversational. Read it out loud, and if you can’t imagine saying it out loud at a party then you shouldn’t put it in your dating profile.
End your profile with a call to action. We tested profiles with a call to action and those without. Those that had a line like, “If this sounds like you, reach out” had a 15 percent higher response rate.
What about when it comes to choosing pictures?
Boon: Put up three to four pictures. Fewer makes you seem sketchy. More makes you seem overeager. Make sure they represent a broad range of settings/expressions. If you use three party shots, people will think that’s all you ever do. Include a candid, a body shot and no more than one headshot.
Be realistic. It’s always better to undersell than to oversell. You do NOT want your date to be disappointed when you walk in. Flattering angles and heavy filters will get you more attention on the site but will ensure you never get a second date.
Check to make sure your thumbnails look OK. Don’t be that guy whose main picture is a crotch shot in the thumbnail.
Skandos: Show your face. People who upload a face picture are more likely to get messages. Somebody who’s in the closet or more discreet isn’t going to want to do that though, which is entirely understandable.
Be bold. Bold color will make you stand out for the rest. Especially in Scruff, which uses a grid to display photos.
The photo should be about YOU. On Scruff, your public profile picture should be you alone being yourself – smiling, shirtless, whatever. In your private album you can do whatever –friends, dick picks, you and your mom, you and your dog.
Valdez: Hire a professional. A guy with a good camera will make you look better. Get photos taken in a natural way. Go to a rooftop bar, go near the edge of the roof and wear a nice outfit. Get a city skyline in the background. This communicates that you like different types of events, and it makes you look ambitious. Don’t use only professional photos, and don’t stack them one after the next.
Post photos with dogs. If you have a dog, take a photo of you and the dog playing. Not a posed photo.
Be careful with social photos. Most people are better off not having a social photo. If you must choose one, go with a mixed group of guys and girls. Never a photo with two girls. Don’t look like a playboy. Most women see through that.
Know your age. If you’re 30-plus, a formal shot can be good. It’s appropriate for a gentleman.
Is there an example of a disastrous dating profile that you turned around, or a client who felt more accurately represented after you helped them?
Boon: There was this 28-year-old man who attracts plenty of women in person, so when he mentioned to me that he didn’t get many matches, I was surprised. He’s good-looking and charismatic, but his profile was a mess. He was using an “artsy” shot with weird lighting as his main photo. It looked nothing like him. I replaced that with a simple black-and-white shot. He had THREE middle-finger pics. I made him delete them all. His ‘self-summary was a long, rambling paragraph full of abstract adjectives. I replaced that with a one-line joke.
I also helped him with his messaging strategy. He had been sending girls long messages, introducing himself and pleading for a chance. This is ridiculous. Your profile introduces you – no need to do that again. NEVER beg. Never, never, never. Just find something in the person’s profile to comment on, and end with a question to keep the convo going. He’s been SLAYING since the makeover.
Skandos: A lot of people like to talk about what they don’t want, and that can come across as very bitter and negative. People sometimes end up writing, “I don’t want you to be x, or you shouldn’t be y.” I always suggest that you focus on your best qualities because that makes you more attractive and more positive.
Valdez: We had a client who came to us who was very successful but a bit one-dimensional. He only cared about work, and his profile was just five adjectives long. We had to lie or take a different approach. We rewrote his profile about the theoretical first date. We described the date in intense detail from start to finish – Latin jazz, going to a booth, waiters wiping tables and stacking chairs. It worked surprisingly well.
So much of online dating has to do with knowing your context and, as our experts explained, expectations vary. I personally appreciate people who use online profiles as experimental performance art venues, but that’s just me. For inspiration and cautionary tales go here: http://tinderinbrooklyn.tumblr.com/. The amazing photos in this piece were pulled from that site.
Now, if only it were as easy to get people to show up for dates as it is for jury duty…