What do people really like in an online dating profile? The answer to that question took researchers by surprise.
They say being too awesome or too vague can backfire.
“We found people want to contact a person who appears to be accurate in what they are saying about themselves online,” says Andy High, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa.
1. Don’t Exaggerate
“It’s tough when it comes to dating profiles because we want someone who seems like an amazing person, but we also hopefully will have a relationship with this individual, so we want them to exist.”
As many as one in 10 Americans age 18 and older use online dating sites or a mobile dating app—according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center.
Researchers wanted to know how people who use these sites respond to different ways people present themselves online.
Most people were drawn to individuals whose profiles were positive but not over-the-top glowing. More importantly, participants preferred people whose online persona could be clearly traced to a real person.
That means people want details, not broad generalities, especially about where a prospective love interest works and what he or she does for a living.
2. Give Specific Details
“Instead of just saying, ‘I write a blog,’ name the blog and encourage people to check it out,” High says. “If you work for a company, name the company. . . . If you can name something or provide people with a link to get there, then do it. The idea is the viewer will think this is a real person.”
High and lead author Crystal Wotipka, a graduate teaching assistant, presented their preliminary findings late last year at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association. They plan to submit a paper to a peer-reviewed journal this spring.
Personal profiles are not just for romantic pursuit. People create profiles for networking, advancement, and business opportunities, through sites such as the business-oriented social networking service LinkedIn. As of November 2014, 332 million people had LinkedIn profiles.
Previous research on online dating has focused on how people present themselves in their profiles. Those studies found that some people tend to exaggerate or lie about themselves and their accomplishments.
The Experiment: 8 Online Profiles
For the new study, researchers took a different tack by studying online dating from the point of view of the person sorting through the profiles.
“We wondered, ‘What do people like in a dating profile?’” Wotipka says. “‘Whom are they most likely to contact? Whom are they most interested in meeting?’”
To do this, they created eight online dating profiles—four men and four women—with various combinations of two perspectives.
One perspective is called “Selective Self-Presentation,” or what the researchers refer to as SSP, which is a profile that highlights only what’s “good” about a person and downplays the rest.The other is called “Warranting,” which is a profile that contains information easily traced to a real person.
Once the profiles were created in a template from OKCupid—a free, online dating service—they were shown to 317 adults who were using or had used an online dating service. There were 150 men and 167 women, with a mean age was 40.
Participants were asked to judge the profiles and decide which ones they would contact. Researchers expected that profiles that were presented with high selective self-presentation—those who sounded perfect—and high warranting— those who provided specifics that could be traced to a real person—would be the most popular.
They were wrong.
Balance Is Key
“I thought people would think, ‘Not only is this person the greatest in the world, but they’re real, too. Wow!’ but I was wrong,” Wotipka says. “It was the low SSP” and high warranting “that ended up winning out.”
In other words, people were turned off by profiles that sounded too good to be true. This was especially true for viewers who said they preferred online social interaction.
The more specific information a profile contained that could be traced to a real person, the more the viewer trusted the profile.
“Users of online dating sites are aware that people misrepresent themselves, and inaccurate profiles are one of the biggest drawbacks to using online dating sites,” the study says.
The key to creating an attractive online dating profile is balance, High says.
“You want to balance all that is wonderful about yourself with some things that aren’t negative, but more humble or realistic about yourself.
“It’s important to put your best foot forward. But maybe not in your best pair of shoes.”