eHarmony's Love Affair with Social Data

The matchmaking site is using Big Data insights to drive better engagement across its growing stable of services.

Before the rise of the social web and dating apps, people had limited ways to connect.EHarmonywas a pioneer in online matchmaking and quickly grew to be one of the largest online dating sites. But today, people have numerous opportunities to find each other with conversations taking place across multiple sites and platforms.

In addition to being squeezed by competitors, eHarmony has also had to adjust to an increasingly diverse dating landscape. In a settlement of a 2007 lawsuit that the company's matchmaking service discriminated against same-sex couples, eHarmony Inc. launched a site for gay and lesbian singles in 2009 called Compatible Partners. The company is also about to unveil a new jobs site called Elevated Careers to match job seekers with employers.

Supporting a rapid expansion of services is challenging for any company. EHarmony is betting that it will be able to support its growth through increased efficiency and data insights.

Founded in 2000, eHarmony uses an algorithm to connect people based on 29 dimensions of compatibility. The company claims that every day, 438 members get married as a result of being matched on the site. The explosion of channels and competitors, however, makes it difficult for eHarmony to reach prospective customers in a consistent manner. Traditional marketing like television and print ads are also not as effective as they used to be.

"We have a longer funnel in a crowded and highly competitive market," says Kerianne Mellott, eHarmony's director of social media. "We're challenged to find our target audiences and get them to click through to subscribe."

Nearly three years ago, Mellott selected Hootsuite to help eHarmony make its marketing efforts more data driven. Working with eHarmony's IT department, Mellott integrated Hootsuite and Google Analytics with codes from eHarmony's databases to tag and monitor the company's social media activities.

EHarmony therefore knew which ad or campaign people clicked on that sent them to to fill out its introductory questionnaire. And through testing, eHarmony discovered that testimonials on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter were driving more people to complete the questionnaire and sign up for membership.

"User-generated content is very impactful," Mellott notes. "And when people tell us that they met on eHarmony and post a picture of their engagement or wedding, we ask them, 'do you mind if we share your post?'" For example, eHarmony customers Edwin VonAchen and his new wife, Samantha VonAchen, shared two photos of themselves with the company, which eHarmony recently turned into a timeline photo with the caption, "Matched February 2010, Married June 2011, Started a Family 2013." The post garnered 114 comments and 388 likes.

EHarmony also has a link on its site where couples can submit stories of how they met through the matchmaking service. The company selects some of the best stories and does photoshoots with what it calls its "success couples." "Any time you see the couple's names on an eHarmony ad, those are real people," Mellott adds.

Additionally, the company uses targeted ads to reach certain audiences or stay in contact with consumers who didn't complete the questionnaire. The marketing team doesn't have access to an individual's eHarmony profile, "and so the ads are targeted against demographic and census data," Mellott explains. "One of the most brilliant things to come out of social advertising so far is tailored audiences and custom audiences on Twitter and Facebook."

While eHarmony doesn't share the number of customers it gained through social media, since working with Hootsuite, the company has seen a 10 percent increase in follower growth across its social platforms.

In addition to overseeing eHarmony's social strategy, Mellott also manages the social strategies for Compatible Partners and the soon-to-be launched job site, Elevated Careers. Compatible Partners uses the same communications processes and compatibility matching system as its sister site, eHarmony. And like eHarmony, Compatible Partners is aimed at people who are looking for long-term relationships instead of casual dates or flings.

The company also creates ads on Facebook promoting Compatible Partners with a variety of real-life couples and stock images. But given that Compatible Partners serves a niche audience, the rate of engagement is much smaller. The 7-year-old site has its own page promoting several "success stories," however it's a "smaller site" compared to eHarmony, Mellott says (eHarmony has approximately 770,000 active users but the company hasn't shared the exact number of users from Compatible Partners).

Compatible Partners' social media activity also trails eHarmony. Compatible Partners' Facebook page, for instance, has roughly 13,590 likes compared to the more than 290,000 likes on eHarmony's Facebook page. "We sometimes will use Hootsuite for scheduling [Compatible Partners posts] but otherwise the volume is really low," Mellott admits.

At the same time, the social media team is ramping up on its promotions for the new Elevated Careers site. Expected to launch within a few weeks, the company will use its compatibility technology to match job seekers with employers. From a marketing perspective, ads on LinkedIn will be "a key part of our messaging and targeting strategy," Mellott says, in addition to its partnership with SimplyHired, which is powering Elevated Careers' job listings.

However, a lot of the marketing team's work is already done, Mellott adds, due to the high degree of brand awareness that the company has. "We've gained the trust of a lot of people over the past 15 years where we already have their attention," she notes. "And so we have to make sure we do a good job of parlaying that brand equity into the new product."