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Salzman: Where They're Finding Love Online

Back in 1998, "You’ve Got Mail"spawned the best messaging bonanza for AOL since last week’s Huffington Post buyout—and a message that online love could be real. We probably all remember the storyline: Meg Ryan was a true-blue New York girl craving love in the wrong places while cherishing her mother’s memory in an inherited bookshop; Tom Hanks, raider of indie bookstores and her offline nemesis, became her online love interest. And the bottom line: Nostalgic modern girl could get deep needs met through new technology, complete with walk in the park with guy with full head of hair and golden retriever.

Maybe because e-mail was so new, nobody smirked at the notion of writing paragraphs-long missives to a perfect stranger. E-mail, in screenwriter Nora Ephron’s lights, seemed just the logical extension of contemporary urban life, in which we’re distanced and fragmented even if we live in the same building or see one another daily. (“Sex and the City,” with Carrie and her computer documenting all angles of modern love, premiered in 1998, too.)

Match.com, the first of the e-matchmaking giants, was already around, but personals in free print weeklies still ruled. It might have been windy for e-dating pioneers on the frontier, not to mention those profile writers who were first to climb in the wagon, but the weather rapidly turned golden. E-dating business worldwideis now about $4 billion (eHarmony’s $3 million startup investment alone parlayed into a reported $100 million–plus in its first five years). This year, e-daters in the EU will outspend American e-daters by an estimated three-quarters, with their numbers also growing at a faster clip(9 percent increase versus 6 percent for Americans).

So online dating has certainly changed since that robo-like voice alerted Meg Ryan about her new messages.

Last month, my company, Euro RSCG Worldwide, wanted to know just how widespread that change has been, so we surveyed American consumersabout e-dating patterns and their use of technology.

Among social media sites, all respondents ranked Facebook first as most likely to lead them into romantic or erotic relationships online. Matchmaking sites came in a close second, e-mail third, dating sites fourth. After that, “specialist social networking” sites like Twitter and Flickr, showing that maybe getting to know all about you in 140 characters or less (or by photo) isn’t enough. And rounding out the list, adult sites and Craigslist suggest there’s not much traction for the likelihood that online sex can lead to romance or eroticism online.

We also found that women are even more likely than men to watch TV while going online—important to know when talking messaging. But multitasking with smart phones is increasing across both genders but still more modest than we might expect. So one bottom line: Sharing love and news still favors face-to-face for both genders.

I’ve been saying for a while that people will favor authentic exchanges more and more in the near future, as we see new and deeper meanings arise to connectivity. Not just an abstraction of fiber optics, connectivity is closeness gained from authentic sharing—taking your word at face value, as they say. There’d be no first kiss without a true human encounter.

Human yearning is still at the root of “You’ve Got Mail,” of Joan Rivers trying Match.comand of all those millions looking for love online. It’s biological, after all. Face-to-face is what’s needed if you’re going to sniff each other’s pheromones, size up the gander’s parental stock or the goose’s maternal assets.

But there’s also a human frailty alive and well in the online dating world: promiscuity. In our survey, 64 percent of people polled said the Internet has made it easier to cheat on your partner. Is mating for life utopian? Whether you’re an idealist or a cynic or a hoper with a low disappointment threshold, you’ve no doubt observed that e-messaging in the dating world has gotten very, very competitive.

To help people beat the competition, new job descriptions have arisen for those who can help if you’re less than a bard. Maybe you have trouble articulating your love for fly-fishing on rivers in Montana or staying at home and making a pot roast for 12. Virtual Dating Assistants, to name one company, is ready to serve you—for only $600 for two guaranteed dates a month; $1,200 for five dates a month. I wouldn’t be that surprised if mature women (because men outnumber women in use of online dating assistants) and some boomers were surprised themselves to hear this. If you’re a millennial, with texting as your bag—you might not get it, either (“wtf? LOL”).

As in marketing, PR and pretty much every industry today, paying attention to how to message is a real skill, so why should it be surprising that it’s also a skill in finding e-romance or love?

Read a white paper about the survey, “Love (and Sex) in the Age of Social Media,” at eurorscgsocial.com.


Marian Salzman is president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America. Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters, Salzman is best known for launching metrosexual mania in 2003, but she also created several other buzzes, including “the rise of singletons,” “It’s America Online,” Europe’s cyberspoon, globesity and “sleep is the new sex.” Author or co-author of 15 books, including Next Now and The Future of Men, she currently blogs on the Huffington Post, for the World Future Society, and at eurorscgpr.com and eurorscgsocial.com.

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