Three Mobile Monetization Strategy Lessons from Tinder Plus

By Alex Walz | March 31st, 2015

The IAC-developed Tinder app set the world of online dating on fire - resulting in an astonishing 50 million matches in 2014. Almost overnight, Tinder became one of the most engaging apps in the market - with the average user logging in 11 times and spending up to 90 minutes in the app each day. For a little bit of perspective, two of the app categories leading the way in engagement and retention - weather and news - see only 5% of Tinder’s weekly opens.App publishers everywhere had a lot to learn from Tinder’s success, but now it seems like there may be a few other lessons to be learned. Earlier this month, Tinder attempted to cash in on its rapid growth. Tinder, Inc. rolled out a new paid service, Tinder Plus, to the company’s previously-free dating app.


The Plus subscription gives users access to two new features. The first is Passport, which allows frequent travelers to set their location and browse potential matches anywhere in the world. The second, Rewind, allows swipers to ‘undo’ an action in the event of a change of heart after swiping left on someone you wanted to connect with or swiping right to someone you didn’t.With the new Tinder Plus model, non-paying users can still use the matchmaking app in their current location, but with a new constraint: A limited number of swipes. After reaching their limit, free users can either upgrade to Tinder Plus for unlimited swipes or wait 24 hours to reset daily limit. While it’s too soon to tell the profitability of the new strategy, Tinder reports a better overall experience for its users. According to a statement on the Tinder blog, “Charging for this simultaneously curbs excessive right swiping, making the ecosystem better for everyone.” Tinder Plus was launched, at least publicly, to restrict the “small number of users only swipe right just to see who likes them back, diminish the fun for everyone else by creating low quality matches that never lead to conversations.”Tinder, Inc. has since reported a 25% increase in the number of matches per swipe, a 25% increase in the number of messages per match, and a 52% decrease in the number of spambots.

But Is There a Cost of Putting a Price on Love?

A quick trip to the App Store would suggest that there is.Prior to releasing Tinder Plus on March 2, Tinder’s iOS app had a 4-star average rating with almost 33,000 5-star ratings and 9,000 1-star ratings. Tinder was held up as a shining example for mobile apps seeking to tackle the increasingly difficult challenges of user retention and engagement.Immediately after the launching the update, Tinder’s ratings plummeted. A lot.In the past two and a half weeks, Tinder has seen a mere 600 new 5-star ratings and over 6,500 new 1-star ratings. The latest version has a 1.5-star average.


The consequences of this drop in ratings go further: it seems that, following the 1-star rating average, Apple pulled its App Store feature of Tinder in many countries.


So What Can We Learn from Tinder Plus?

Of course, we can’t exactly fault Tinder for wanting to monetize their immensely popular app. Mobile apps need a monetization strategy, and when all is said is done, any app that charges for once-free features is going to face some annoyed customers.But is attempting to cash the only wrong turn Tinder faced?The real problem lies a little deeper - in the way Tinder, Inc. rolled out and communicated the new Premium model. Here are three lessons app publishers can learn from Tinder on rolling out a new subscription model:

1. Communicate Pending Changes Ahead of Time

Let’s face it. There’s no going cold turkey on Tinderitis. Tinder has done an incredible job engaging its users - which has made cutting them off all the more painful. Many Tinder users reported having no idea of the new pricing model until their swipes came to an abrupt end.Developers looking to roll out their own premium pricing model should from this a lesson to communicate honestly and openly with their customers through in-app content prior to the rollout.A gradual rollout process can also help curb retention. By offering a free trial period of the new release, developers can let users test it out - and see its value - before making a payment. Tinder Plus offered a lot more than just unlimited swipes, but the abrupt swipe wall (internally referred to as The Bouncer by the Tinder team) overshadowed any other element of Tinder’s new premium plan.

2. Make Pricing Transparent

Pricing for a Tinder Plus subscription may seem arbitrary at best and discriminatory at worst. Theoretically, Tinder Plus costs $9.99 for users under 30 and twice as much for users older than 30.


Claims of ageism aside (Tinder claims its success is dependent on engaging a particular demographic), many users have no idea how much they’ll be asked to pay until they hit their swipe limit as the undisclosed algorithm factors in both age and location. The result? Subscription prices are all over the map, with a 27-year-old user in the United Kingdom paying up a mere $6 for a monthly description, while a 28-year-old U.K. user is charged a whopping $24.The lesson here, once again, goes back to communication. If you want to factor age and location into pricing, that’s your prerogative - but, be transparent about your pricing strategy so users can know what to expect before they hit their limit. The more control you have on your communication, the more you can deal with potential issues and pushback - before they make their way into the app store reviews.

3. Test your Assumptions and Strategy

And the number one takeaway from Tinder’s blunder? Do your research. Tinder offers incredible value for its 50 million users. (After all, over one third of U.S. marriages resulted from online dating.) It’s, therefore, totally understandable that many users should be not only willing but happy to pay a small monthly fee in exchange for potentially meeting the love of their life. But, before you jump the gun with this assumption, identify those elements of the app experience customers find the most value in - and what added features they actually want to see added.


Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to collect customer insights on a large scale with the ever-increasing open and completion rates of in-app surveys and feedback tools. With access to this data, mobile app publishers should be able to track exactly what adds value to the app experience and create a premium subscription package that is desirable enough to warrant the added cost.It’s not unreasonable to think that Tinder Plus may have been a much bigger success if it had been communicated in response to the validated demand for its Rewind and Passport features, while framing unlimited swipes as an added bonus. But without this market research, its value was lost to both the publisher and the customer.I hope these three tips have helped balance your monetization strategy with your goals around retention and engagement. No one likes paying for a formerly-free app, but a little communication can go a long way in curtailing pushback.

Alex Walz
Alex Walz is the author of The Mobile Marketer’s Guide to App Store Ratings & Reviews, and manages content for mobile engagement solutions provider Apptentive. He frequently writes and tweets on all things mobile. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter to continue this conversation.

Alex walz