If you’re a guy using an online dating site and you wonder why the inbox isn’t overflowing, first make sure your profile picture wasn’t taken next to a toilet, advises Matthew Valentines.
“The shirtless bathroom selfie is a big no-no,” he says. “It’s always the wrong answer. Don’t do it.”
Valentines dispenses this kind of advice on a daily basis from the New York City headquarters of Personal Dating Assistants (PDA), a company he founded this year that helps men succeed in the cutthroat world of online dating. The romance entrepreneur first met a woman online 20 years ago, a chance encounter that left an indelible mark on him. Spurred by his love of online dating, he created PDA with the needs of single guys in mind.
“We developed our service for the needs of men,” Valentines says. “Men and women use dating sites very differently. Women tend to use them as a screening tool, whereas men need to send lots and lots of messages and create lots and lots of content in terms of messaging and in the profile just to get a response.”
Welcome to the world of online dating consulting. The proliferation of dating sites and mobile apps offers a host of opportunities—and pitfalls—for male and female online daters alike. Navigating the fraught waters of web-based love often requires the use of a pro because “there are so many mistakes people make online,” says Laurie Davis, the founder and chief executive of eFlirt Expert.
Unlike PDA, eFlirt Expert serves men and women of all ages. Davis, a self-professed “early adopter” and advocate of online dating, says her business was born of a mixture of creative thinking and kismet.
Struggling to figure out how to apply her marketing skills amid the recession, Davis stumbled upon the idea of going into online dating consulting five years ago. “One of my friends called and told me he was moving in with his girlfriend,” she says. “And I realized that I had actually helped him meet her online and, in fact, he wasn’t the only one.”
PDA and eFlirt Expert aren’t the only companies looking to cash in on the business of digital love. As the number of online dating sites and mobile dating apps has surged over the past decade, so too has their use. According to a Pew Research Center study last year, 11 percent of all American adults have used either an online dating site or a mobile dating app, nearly a twofold gain from 2009. Among those who are “single and looking,” 38 percent are online daters.
Meanwhile, attitudes toward online dating have also become significantly more positive, PEW researchers found, with the percentage of Internet users seeing it as a good way to meet people climbing to 59% from 44% in 2005.
Yet navigating this world requires expertise, especially since certain dating sites yield better results depending on demographic, argues Valentines.
“Since we really cater to the needs of men, we work with sites that have the best track record as far as response rate and actually getting to meet in-person,” Valentines says. “Because that’s what it’s all about.”
Likewise, Davis says eFlirt works to identify which dating site or app is best for each client. “One of our specialties is making sure that an e-dater is in the right place at the right time. When someone comes to us for the first time, that’s the first thing we evaluate—what platform they are on or want to be on, and if that’s a good place for them.”
Davis and Valentines might have different styles, but they—along with an ever-growing number of other online dating consultants—are directly benefiting from online dating anxiety. About 22% of online daters have “asked someone to help them create or review their profile,” according to the Pew study, with women “especially likely” to seek outside assistance in the quest to craft the perfect online dating persona.
Still, while PDA, eFlirt, and many other online dating consultants go above and beyond a simple profile overhaul, Valentines warns not to expect them to do everything for you.
“We try to get in and get out as quick as possible,” Valentines explains. “We try to keep a very light touch with just a few short, but very effective messages that create the introduction, signal interest, get a response, and then very quickly we try to move things offline so the member can then enjoy the real getting to know you phase, live and in person.”
For Davis, it can sometimes be challenging to separate her own emotions from the decisions her clients make. Though she balks at the notion that some people could be “undateable,” she also acknowledges that some of her clients will only take her advice after they’ve disregarded it.
“Ultimately, my job is to help guide people,” she says. “But I also have to let them have the experiences that they’re supposed to have, which is sometimes not the perfect experience but something that is going to help them grow.”
With new online dating sites appearing all the time—LinkedUp! uses your LinkedIn account to connect you with potential matches—it’s no surprise that online dating consultants such as PDA and eFlirt are attracting more and more attention. Some of the feedback is critical, which Valentines takes in stride.
“We’re doing well. We’re signing up new members every day,” he says. “You know, our critics hate us but our members love us—and that’s exactly the way we want it to be.“