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Social Media Sites May Be Ready For Romance

Peter Suciu,|Special to CNBC.com
Tuesday, 8 Feb 2011 | 12:24 PM ET

Match.com, eHarmony and other traditional online dating sites should take notice; there could be some new suitors for those seeking a little romance online—and it could be coming from Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Dating has always been a “social” activity, but could social networks win over the dating crowd, even if the social sites aren’t looking for the hook up?

“To some degree the answer is yes,” says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD Group. Social networking could solve many of the complaints of traditional dating sites he says. “Anyone I’ve ever spoken to about online dating sites says it has mixed reviews.”

Cohen notes that the big success stories underplay the rest of the tales where the online dating scene just didn’t work. It isn’t so much a case of the it’s-not-you-it’s-me dynamic, as much as there is just too much searching involved based on limited parameters.

“It can be almost like a full time job on the traditional sites,” says Cohen. “People need to weed through the potential matches and that’s a big investment of time.”

He adds that this time is being spent more and more on social networks. The question therefore is how can social networking fit into dating?

“In technical terms dating is a very deep app,” says Josh Crandall of Netpop Research. “Facebook is more of a general purpose site. So this is sort of like looking at using Google over Travelocity to book your travel. Google is great for telling you all the great stuff you can see, but isn’t where you’ll go to book your dream vacation.”

Crandall says that part is what is now missing on Facebook and other social networking sites; they're good for finding friends, but might not be where you’ll find your dream partner.

However, Facebook could have an advantage over dating sites, because love can be found when you’re not even looking for it. And then there are the companies that are adding the love element.

“Many people still meet significant others through friends,” says Crandall, “and so Facebook could be used that way.”

Even long time “online daters” agree that the dating model online isn’t all fairytale matches, despite what the commercials for the dating sites may be trying to sell.

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“I’m the online dating queen,” says Monique Elwell of social network marketing firm Conversify. “For me it started years ago with AOL Chat boards, and later early social media dating sites like Six Degrees.”

She says that what keeps Facebook and the social media sites from becoming dating sites now is that people still want to separate their dating from their active current friends. And here is where third party apps might find a place to play Cupid.

The Facebook app Are you Interested reportedly has more than 13 million users, which rivals the number of users for Match.com and eHarmony. Other apps also are there to help cut to the chase, and aren’t exactly shy about the intention as Would You Sleep With Me and Compare Hotness could attest.

Other companies are also taking notice. This month Badoo.com announced that it has passed 100 million users, mixing social networking and online dating. The site bills itself as having the functionality of a Facebook while still offering the connections of traditional online dating sites.

This could be a winning mix, but everything about dating still comes back to compatibility, say dating experts. It is whether social networking and dating can go together hand in hand.

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Here is where some think could there could be the perfect union.

“There are tremendous opportunities on the Facebook platform for someone to offer an interesting dating service or application. Facebook could be both a threat and a partner for the existing dating sites,” Augie Ray, senior analyst, Social Computer for Interactive Marketing Professionals. “I'd expect services like Match.com and eHarmony to continue to develop applications that utilize the treasure trove of personal data people post on Facebook in order to create new and better features for their customers.”

In the end, say the experts, it comes down to who can win over the consumers, but Cohen says that it simply isn’t in the numbers for the dating sites to survive alone in the long run.

“The crystal ball says that the dating sites are going to be challenged by social sites, and only one or two of the dating services are going to step forward and make the right change." says Cohen.

The biggest change could be in adapting towards what makes social sites so popular—they are often group and hobby centric—whereas dating sites are more about weeding through matches —matches that are typically in a radius near a user’s home town.

“This is where social networking really has an advantage, you’re able to reconnect with people you knew from long ago,” says Cohen, “and they don’t have to be limited to so many miles from your home. If you want to reconnect with an old friend it doesn’t matter if they are across the country. The search zone is much smaller on the dating sites.”

There's also the possibility that Facebook could be a savior for the dating sites.

“Rather than Facebook itself investing in dating functionality, other developers could find unique ways to leverage the data people share on Facebook and turn it into a dating service,” says Ray. “In fact, Match.com already has applications on the Facebook platform such as Matchmaker, which allows people to select and send potential dating matches to their friends.”

The social aspect and the dating elements could be a match made in cyberspace, err, heaven.