The missing link to love
Singletons looking for an alternative to traditional dating sites are finding love in a surprising spot - business network LinkedIn. Katie Byrne reports more compatible match
Earlier this month, Nicola Maloney, a UK-based business development manager, decided to "speak up" about the unwanted attention she has been receiving from men on LinkedIn.
In a post that quickly went viral, she asked why men were using the business- and employment-oriented social networking service "as an alternative to Tinder".
"I have had seedy men hound me via messages on here," she wrote. "Some men who are old enough to be my father, some men who are married, some men I've met via business and some men who I haven't even seen face to face."
Her experience, as many of the comments underneath her post testified, is not uncommon. LinkedIn has never marketed itself as a dating service, yet some members have been looking for business opportunities, and maybe more, on the site since it first launched in 2003.
Sharon Kenny of thematchmaker.ie says she has been approached several times on LinkedIn. "It'll start professionally and then they'll ask: 'Are you single?'" she says.
In Kenny's experience, the people who use LinkedIn as an alternative dating service are usually over the age of 35 and working in creative or sales-based industries.
"They tend to be more outgoing," she says. "You wouldn't find a civil engineer doing it because they tend to have a more logical mindset, whereas people working in sales, marketing and creative industries are used to rejection and hearing 'no'."
The benefits of using LinkedIn for establishing romantic connections, she continues, is that it provides information that isn't available on dating sites. "You know what companies they worked for and how long they were there, so you can see how stable they are, or if they lack commitment."
Yet unlike dating sites, you can't assume a person's relationship status or discover their vital statistics. "You can't ask: 'What height are you? I'm interested in doing business with you,'" she laughs.
There has been a lot of scathing social commentary on professionals using LinkedIn as a dating site, and 'predatory' men have borne the brunt of it. However, Kenny is quick to point out that women are just as likely to approach men on the site - if not more so.
The difference, she explains, is that men are usually upfront about their intentions, while women will often purport to be interested in striking up a professional connection, rather than a romantic one. "Women are actually worse than men," she says. "But they think they can get away with it because they take the 'we have an awful lot in common' approach."
Max Fischer, the CEO of BeLinked, a dating app that leverages LinkedIn's "very powerful compatibility indicators", says he was regularly approached by women on the site when he worked as an investment banker.
"I don't think it had anything to do with money," he says, "as I'm pretty sure they made about the same amount of money as I did, if not more, judging by their profiles. They were professional women looking for a meaningful relationship, with mutual understanding and compassion for our shared experience of being career- and goal-oriented." This is how Fischer came up with the idea for BeLinked. "The inspiration, specifically, was to provide a mutually 'opt-in' environment where this could take place, without running the risk of professional embarrassment or unwanted advances on LinkedIn itself," explains his colleague, Timothy Williams.
Dublin-based career coach Paul Mullan of Measurability says the idea makes perfect sense. "I'm not really shocked to hear about LinkedIn being used for dating," he says. "Many people have found love within the work arena, long before a tool like LinkedIn. I met my wife through an ex-colleague and I can think of many others.
"So, if you consider LinkedIn holds most of our work connections, it's fair to assume many will find future relationships via a second or third connection on LinkedIn." Many more use the site to get a better understanding of people that they have already connected with, or to partake in what Colin Hart of independent creative agency Public House describes as "a cheeky stalk".
Last Valentine's Day, Public House ran a campaign called All Bio Myself. Based on the idea that people are terrible at writing their own biographies for dating sites, the agency's copywriters wrote new profiles, free of charge, for 300 people.
The campaign gave Hart plenty of insight on how people portray themselves on dating websites, compared to how they appear on LinkedIn. "One thing LinkedIn and dating sites have in common is that there is probably going to be an element of exaggeration on both," he says.
Granted, people will always embellish their online biography, whether it's adding an inch or two to their height on Match.com or overestimating their proficiency with Excel on LinkedIn, but Hart believes LinkedIn gives people more scope to be economical with the truth.
"There is no other platform where you can have the same title as Warren Buffet, the achievements of Richard Branson and as much experience as Jean Paul Getty," he says.
Couples counsellor David Kavanagh agrees. "The internet can't do justice to the kaleidoscope of reality that are human beings, and LinkedIn is no different. You might have been out of work for five years, twiddling your thumbs in Australia, but your profile won't say that."
Kenny, meanwhile, points out the deception that occurs on LinkedIn isn't always trivial. She says many extra-marital affairs start on the site. "People don't intend for them to happen," she says. "It starts platonically and turns into something else. What happens is that there is an opportunity to be with someone who reminds the person of themselves before they had all these life pressures."
BeLinked has been downloaded in over 100 countries but it's clear that some people would prefer to connect under the guise of business rather than join a bona fide dating service. By the same token, there are plenty of people who want to harness the site's unique compatibility factors and move away from the hook-up culture of Tinder.
"We do feel the trend might be a bit of a backlash against Tinder and the like, where the 'judging' is blatant and based on personal appearances," says Williams. "The characteristics and personality that drive your choices in study, your choices in career and your choices in philanthropy far better represent who you are - and who you are likely to be compatible with long term."
Case study Laura Jennings
*Laura Jennings (36) works in the charity sector.
"I've used a couple of different dating sites over the years but these days I'm mainly on Tinder as it's something you can dip in and out of.
"My dating site profile and my LinkedIn profile are poles apart. On dating sites, I come across as laid-back and fun-loving. I emphasise my hobbies and my interests and I make a point of using photographs that show me having a good time.
"On LinkedIn, I'm a consummate professional. I've exaggerated some of my earlier professional experience but the rest of it is fairly straight. I've been approached by lots of men on LinkedIn but 90pc of them are from different countries.
"I've also seen men who work in my industry on LinkedIn and thought 'he's cute'. I'll message them with my business hat on, but I'll be hoping that it will develop into something else. This has yet to happen!"
* Laura's name has been changed for the purposes of this article