What “Hook-Up Apps” Teach Us About Strategy

DISCLAIMER: No marriages or relationships were harmed in the research or writing of this blog, although some edits were made because, apparently, someone who shall remain nameless “needs filters.”


Over the last few months, I had several casual conversations with a young man (25 years) and a more senior woman (60 years) about using what historically have been called hookup apps. Both were promoting and complaining about their use.

First, some history to set, what experts call “context.”

According to my extensive (30 seconds) of research, the title of the first “hookup app” is often attributed to Grindr, which was launched in 2009.

Grindr (I’ve been told) is a location-based social networking and online dating app geared towards gay, bi, trans, and queer people. It was one of the first apps to use a mobile device’s location capabilities to suggest potential matches nearby, a groundbreaking feature at the time.

Before Grindr, dating sites like Match.com existed, offering platforms for people to connect and potentially meet up, but Grindr’s introduction on smartphones, utilizing GPS technology for proximity-based matching, marked a pivotal shift towards the era of “hookup apps.”

As always, our non-heterosexual friends got the Innovator Award. Well done, and thank you.

No research was conducted on the definition of “proximity,” which, as we know, varies widely based on drunkenness and desperation.

Me personally? I met women and eventually my wife, Martha, the old-fashioned way, randomly going from bar to party to party to bar until I met her and tricked her into marrying me successfully courted her.

It’s now been nearly 20 years since we said “till death do us part” in our vows. Funny side note. My wife, a lawyer, recently reminded me, for no apparent reason, that “till death do us part” technically means we’re together until one of us is dead.

Back to the point.

In my discussions, I’ve noted lessons from “hookup” or matching apps that can be applied to engagement and membership strategy. Yeah, really.

Your life’s brochure is not reality.

When using an app to identify, evaluate, and hopefully select a potential person, you view a carefully curated promotional site. The pictures are designed to showcase the best physical attributes. The description of family, hobbies, etc. highlights personality characteristics that the person believes are positive.

As a result, to get to the real person, you must take a risk. You must accept they may have misled you (honestly or dishonestly). You enter the potential relationship, understanding that you must figure out who they really are. The greater the distance between pictures, description, and reality, the more upset you are.

The result? Ghosting.

The person you met (or you) sorta disappears. No calls, texts, etc.

Your organization’s brochure (or website or President’s speech) is your hookup profile. You are showcasing to people who view or listen to who you think or would like to be.

But is that the real you?

Maybe you put “worldclass education” in your brochure but it, in fact, isn’t even “countyclass”. Maybe you put a picture of a diverse group of stock photo models on your website that is veeeeeery far removed from the reality of your chapter meeting or conference.

The result? Ghosting.

The member (or attendee, or volunteer) disappears. They don’t respond to your membership emails or your calls for advocacy or your invite to the conference.

The greater the gap between your organization’s promotional profile (What you say.) and the reality of the experience (What you do.), the more you jeopardize your personal and organizational brand – reducing the trust. This impacts every Mission-based and business goal.

Relationships are a process, not a project.

As noted earlier, as a member of the X Generation, I met women the old-fashioned way. Drunk.

That said, when you met me, I was who I was.  My looks could be described as “great for radio.” I had the lean, chiseled physique of any man who ate a bowl of ice cream every night. Michelangelo once apparently said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He would have had his work cut out with me.

Luckily, I had my personality to compensate. The result? I got married at 40 after 20 years of trying.

The point?  You met me, not a brochure. What I lacked in looks, intelligence, personality, success, etc. I could make up for it in other ways. I met people personally, developed great friendships, and even got a couple of dates with people who would never have picked me from an online profile (and vice versa). My life was richer and more fun. I learned a lot about myself and others as a result. A result that couldn’t be rushed. This result made me the type of person who gets an astonishing person as a wife.

Creating a long-term relationship, for example, membership is a process, not a project. It starts by making the initial risk-taking activities easy, incentivizing positive behaviors, and continues throughout the person’s relationship with you. You’ll be more successful if you design a strategy around this frame of reference. 

Aligning yourself with member and customer goals is critical.

My younger research subject described a recent encounter. He had successfully matched with a woman online. His potential wife and mother of his children visited him at his home where they bypassed several steps to achieve a more robust definition of friendship, “wink wink”. 😊

But then, apparently, this woman said (I’m speculating), “Wham bam, thank you, sir.” and went home. Leaving this poor man puzzled, heartbroken, and emotionally soiled (for a few minutes).

The lesson? People may have different goals for their interaction with you. Membership is not the solution to every problem, and sometimes, a shorter-term or transactional relationship is what they want. Know it. Learn it. Live it.

For a recent client, we studied their professional and organizational goals so that the association could align itself with what their members and customers were trying to accomplish. If you don’t understand what your members or customers want, it’s very difficult to design effective solutions for their needs.

Last call from My Seat at the Bar.

In summary, a final note.

I have not used a matching or “hookup” app. Historically, I viewed “hookup” apps as a tool for sex. Casual encounters. My two friends view them today as tools to improve the efficiency of meeting someone they are interested in. They are accepted as commonplace.

My younger friend seemed almost puzzled by the randomness of meeting people in bars. Why waste all that time for you and your potential partner? Match interests, looks, jobs, etc., and move on from there, knowing you already have something in common.

It is challenging, particularly for volunteer leaders, to see the world through the eyes of younger members, customers, and other stakeholders.

The result? Decisions based on historical assumptions and personal experiences that are based on a world that no longer exists.

Providing a more balanced view of the world and guiding leadership conversations that openly, honestly, and robustly discuss this world and the future in which you need to be successful is critical.

Just some thoughts from My Seat at the Bar.