Los Angeles Wave Newspaper: Online Dating Booms in Bad Times by Olu Alemoru

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The economy has tanked — and with lawmakers in Sacramento unable to pass a budget last week, California officially ran out of money — but it seems love online is booming.

That was the message coming out of iDate 2009, the bi-annual/bi-coastal business conference for the online dating industry that was held in Beverly Hills recently.

The two-day conference, which was celebrating its fifth year, brings together some of the leading names in the business like Match.com, Mate1, Lavalife and PeopleMedia, to discuss trends in the online dating arena, network and provide advice for people wanting to break into the business.

Amongst the numerous panels, debates and seminars, topics included how to raise capital for your Internet business, mobile online dating and its business usage and how to increase customer retention.
One of the liveliest talks was given by Patti Stanger, CEO of Millionaire’s Club, who stars and executive produces the popular Millionaire Matchmaker series on Bravo and gave an eye-opening look at television matchmaking and dating.

Josh Meyers and Ron Worthy, respectively CEO and VP of marketing and business development for PeopleMedia, were two of the heavy hitters who attended the conference.

Their company is a leading niche provider for online dating communities and operates 27 individual web properties including its flagship sites, BlackPeopleMeet.com, SeniorPeopleMeet, LoveandSeek (for Christian singles) and SingleParentMeet.com.

Meyers, a former executive with Yahoo, and Worthy, who led new product strategy and development at BlackPlanet.com, spoke to The Wave’s Olu Alemoru about their conference goals, why we’re loving more online, the latest trends and their own dating stories.

Why is it important for PeopleMedia to be here?

Meyers: Our goals and objectives are really to gather industry intelligence, to see what our competitors, colleagues, and peers are up to. We always want to keep an ear to the ground in terms of what is developing in the space, as well as meeting with potential partners and vendors who we might do cross promotions with or help us to improve the safety and security of the sites.

Worthy: It’s also a great opportunity to come face to face with folks you may interact with on a monthly basis, so there’s a social aspect to it.

What are the latest trends in online dating and how are you getting ahead of the curve?

Meyers: In terms of industry trends, there has definitely been a resurgence going on in the online dating space right now. Combined with social networking, we’re seeing a huge increase just in general of people who have an online persona, whether it’s through sites like Facebook or other means.
With that comfort level, more people are getting into online dating and its [proving] to be a more economic way for people looking for value in terms of meeting people without dropping a lot of money. We’ve seen a 55 percent increase year over year of unique visitors to our sites, which is a really big increase. BPM, which recently formed a partnership with the Steve Harvey Radio Show, continues to grow.

Worthy: Online dating has become more mainstream, there’s less stigma attached to it than even three years ago and this has led to even higher adoption rates. Plus, if you think about some of the other issues in our community like gentrification, people are moving into the suburbs where once they would have convened in the inner city.

Now online dating, and specifically BPM, is helping them connect virtually and that’s something that is happening in the broader world.

The Steve Harvey partnership came about when I was at BlackPlanet and would talk to an advertising executive at his radio station. We kept in touch and I would drive to work with my wife and we’re listening to Steve and talking about the dating industry. So I got to thinking about creating some compelling content for radio. I came up with a couple of ideas, took them to Josh, we kicked around a few more and pitched it to Steve, his manager and the station.

How do you maintain safety on your sites?

Meyers: We take a number of steps to try and make sure our sites are safe. The easiest way to think of it in an off-line context is that we police the door, like a bouncer would in a club. You look at factors that you think might cause problems, a dress code for instance. Then once people do come in, you watch what they are doing and if you see something starting, you send those people back out of the door they came in.

That’s what we do, then beyond that point it’s the users responsibility as it’s the club goers to also be safe. You don’t just walk out the door with the first person you meet, you make sure you understand whom you’re with, stick with your friends and just be sensible.

Worthy: That’s exactly right. The added benefit you have online is that you have so many controls. In a bar, anyone can just come up to a woman and approach her, whereas online you can block a member or report something to us. We have teams dedicated and committed to this.

What are your online dating experiences?

Worthy: Well, I’m married so it probably wouldn’t be cool at this point.

Meyers: I’m fond of telling my girlfriend that I’m a dating expert, although she may disagree. I’d not tried online dating before I got this job in mid-February last year and met her online in January 2008. So I’m not just an operator of a dating business, I’m also a customer and it works great.

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