Mobile dating applications such as Tinder have exploded in popularity in recent years. On Tinder, impression management begins with a motivation to download the app, the choice of one’s profile photos and an assessment of the expectations of potential Tinder matches. These processes occur in a technologically mediated environment of reduced cues and increased control, local proximity and a reduced filtering process. My focus in this paper is this first stage of impression management, which consists of both impression motivation and impression construction. Specifically, what are the pre-match impression management practices of Tinder users? I present the results of interviews with Tinder users in the Netherlands. Participants were recruited via a Tinder profile that advertised the study using the University emblem and a brief description. Interview questions focused on user understandings of self-presentation practices and profile construction. The interviews also examined how users evaluated their potential matches. Results show users’ motivations for using Tinder range from entertainment to ego-boost to relationship seeking, and these motivations sometimes change over time. Profile photos are selected in an attempt to present an ideal yet authentic self, and chosen as an illustration of not only one’s desirability but also of other indicators such as education level. Tinder users ‘swipe’ not only in search of people they like, but also for clues as to how to present themselves in order to attract others like them. This research offers insight into user experiences and perceptions within the still under-researched area of inquiry.
Whether seeking a passionate love affair, looking for a spouse, or wanting a casual encounter, people have long devised methods of presenting themselves in the most attractive way to potential partners. Mediated possibilities to connect with others have evolved Laredo singles from newspaper advertisements to teletext to online dating websites, and the latest offerings are matchmaking mobile applications like Tinder.
Impression management or self-presentation exists both face-to-face and in mediated forms. Before a first date, a man shaves, applies cologne, and dresses in his finest. On Tinder, a woman selects an attractive picture of herself as her main photo. In a virtual environment, as in real life, impression management starts prior to a face-to-face meeting or even prior to interpersonal communication. On Tinder, this impression management begins with choosing one’s profile photos. It continues with what Leary describes as impression monitoring: ‘For people to engage in self-presentation, they must monitor, at one level or another, how they are being perceived and evaluated by others’ (1995, p. 47). Tinder users do this by assessing the expectations of potential matches.
There is tremendous research regarding self-presentation and romance in the last ; Hall, Park, Song, Cody, 2010 ; Manning, 2014 ), examining dating websites such as Yahoo! Personals (Ellison, Hancock, Toma, 2012 ), Match (Gibbs, Ellison, Heino, 2006 ), and OKCupid (Zytko, Jones, Grandhi, 2014 ). Recent work examines Grindr, the matchmaking app geared toward men seeking men (Birnholtz, Fitzpatrick, Handel, Brubaker, 2014 ; Blackwell, Birnholtz, Abbott, 2015 ; Brubaker, Ananny, Crawford, 2016 ; Gudelunas, 2012 ). Research is emerging on Tinder user awareness of privacy issues (Farnden, ; Stenson, Balcells, Chen, 2015 ). Dating apps present a novel technological environment for impression management, mainly due to issues of reduced cues and increased control, local proximity, and a reduced filtering process. These issues will be explained in more detail in the coming section. First, I provide some detail on Tinder.
Though dating websites still account for the largest market share, 1 dating apps have increased in popularity in recent years. In comparison to dating websites, dating apps ask users to provide limited information for potential matches, namely, a number of photos and an optional small amount of text (Blackwell et al., 2015 ; Gudelunas, 2012 ). I distinguish Tinder from dating websites because it is a location-based dating platform available only as a mobile app. Further, Tinder does not ask users to answer compatibility questions and does not allow detailed filtering techniques, features common to dating websites. On Tinder, the first impression users have of a potential match is her/his main profile photo. If a user is interested in seeing more, s/he can tap the profile, which will reveal additional photos, optional text, and shared Facebook friends and Facebook likes. 2 Users swipe left to reject and right to accept a potential match. If the right swipe is mutual, it is a match, and Tinder allows users to chat within the app.