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Rom.com - Read our research into relationships in the digital age

In a post-pandemic era where the pub is struggling to regain its appeal from the hug of home(1), how are relationships playing out online?  What’s new, what’s changing, and more importantly, is love everlasting?


Using consumer data, social listening and digital signals, learn how brands can interact and understand how we live and love.

Relationships matter

Existing relationships are being reframed in importance. In the past 5 years the proportion of people who agree “family over everything” has risen 12% (now 76%) and “a wedding should be a large celebration with lots of people” has fallen 9% (now 28%)(2). This year, just 23% of UK consumers report going out socially as much as they did pre-pandemic(3)- though Google Trends data suggests searches for family holidays are slightly up on pre-pandemic levels as well as searches for ‘family activities’.


On social media, conversation around ‘family’ in combination with terms such as ‘outing’, ‘day out’, and ‘activity’ have grown 83% (38k) in the past year(4), suggesting a growing trend for people to showcase what they are doing with loved ones and discuss ideas for how to spend their time.



Figure 1: Searches for family activities have remained heightened post-pandemic.
Figure 1: Searches for family activities have remained heightened post-pandemic.

 

The types of relationships are changing

However, the meaning of the term ‘family’ is also evolving. The proportion of people in the UK who agree “it is important to be married before having children” has fallen 6% in the past 5 years (to 35% of people)(5) and, with the introduction of new grounds for divorce making it easier for people to end a marriage(6), families are more than ever being reconstituted into broader groups.


One user openly discusses their divorce on Twitter.
One user openly discusses their divorce on Twitter.

In fact, search data reveals that relative to stabilised searches for marriage licences, divorce application interest has continued to climb post-pandemic(7). This is echoed in social data, with conversation about ‘divorce’ and ‘family separation’ rising 87% (430K) in the past year(8).


However, new brands such as Amicable are emerging to help people navigate the difficulty posed by separation, without solicitors - suggesting we will see greater emphasis on people finding more private ways to deal with their affairs in the future.



Figure 2: Divorce application in blue, marriage licence in red demonstrating the continued rise of interest in divorce post-pandemic.
Figure 2: Divorce application in blue, marriage licence in red demonstrating the continued rise of interest in divorce post-pandemic.

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus

Women in the UK are now around 25% more liberal on issues such as immigration and racial justice than their male counterparts - a difference that grows in younger generations(9) and signals increasing fragmentation ahead. On social media 51% of users in the UK are female(10), suggesting a roughly equal possibility for conversation about political issues online.

 

However, a 2019 study (US and UK) found that while gender does not predict political posting on Facebook, on Twitter there is a more pronounced gender gap - more than half of women said they have experienced mansplaining on the platform, especially those who were younger, well educated, and left-leaning(11.)

 

Looking at discussion of personal issues, Facebook has found that women are more likely to discuss things such as their own family, while men are more likely to discuss public events on the platform(12). For friendships and heterosexual relationships alike, this of course has implications for interactions with each other if women feel less able to express their views.


Considering dating, a global survey conducted by Bumble(13) found that one in three (31%) women are no longer focused on adhering to traditional milestones such as marriage - perhaps as a response to the trends we see above in the failure of existing marriages. Only one in five (23%) women surveyed were seeking marriage, whereas nearly three-quarters (72%) were looking for a long-term relationship. In line with the wider shift in gender-based attitudes, nearly a third (31%) of women would only date people who have the same perspective on life.


So, what commonality remains between people who are dating?

Bumble found that a shared love of sports has now become a non-negotiable for 1 in 3 (31%) - regardless of whether you’re playing or spectating. With the recent rise of trends related to sport on TikTok, such as #running - which has had 561M views and 98K posts in the last 4 months and is still trending upwards, it’s easy to see that people will be connecting over such passions on social media. Furthermore, the integration of Instagram profiles on dating apps means that it’s more achievable than ever to signpost an interest in such activities in an authentic way.

 

Another study by Match.com found that animals remain a passion – with 24% of people looking for dog ownership and 17% for cats(14). Another finding was a desire for self-employment in a partner, which is closely related to the hustle culture conversation which we have seen for some time in social media and has half a million mentions in the past year alone when searching for the keywords “hustle” and “grind”(15). On the more physical side of things, 20% of people find blue eyes most attractive.


 

Meetup to matchup

At a total population level, 8% of people meet their partners online - a minority when compared to the 15% who meet via mutual friends(16), suggesting personal networks remain very important for relationship formation. When this is filtered to the 18-24 age group, however, dating apps are as widely reported as mutual friends as the way couples meet. The finding is similar for 25-49 year-olds, though workplace romances rank similarly as well. This suggests that in coming years online dating could well become the dominant way people meet their partners as generations with purchasing power will increasingly be digital natives.

A man attempting to reach out to a woman, asking if she is on dating apps.
A man attempting to reach out to a woman, asking if she is on dating apps.

Conversation about the dominant dating apps has increased by approximately 90% y-o-y(17), suggesting an increase in people discussing their romantic lives. Tinder had 83% brand awareness in 2023 in the UK as compared to rival app Bumble, which has an awareness of 58%(18), and Hinge with 42% - this dominance is replicated in social media mentions from the past year (85.3K Tinder, 73.4K Hinge, 39.3K Bumble(19). Themes in this conversation include perceptions of success when using the apps and, commonly, the pitfalls such as being ghosted or catfished.

 

Competition is hotting up, however, with an indication that speeding up the in-person dating process is becoming increasingly desirable.

 

Thursday is a new app that’s only live for the 24 hours of Thursday, showing only people free for that specific day, with conversations deleting at the end of the time period. What this suggests is that the emphasis on finding a connection quickly is growing in appeal, almost reverting to the days of speed dating but within a digital framework. We are also seeing dating in general becoming amplified in social media by brands - with related keywords rising in popularity in the past 4 months



Figure 3:Dating-related keywords in ad scripts on TikTok.
Figure 3:Dating-related keywords in ad scripts on TikTok.

 

What does it mean for brands?

  • Relationships are as core to our online as offline worlds - framing content through this lens drives engagement and relevance through positive associations

  • Dating apps are the oxygen of younger dating - integrate them to content, consider partnering for experiences

  • The young are less defined by their age than their gender and attitudes - they are a fragmented cohort, best marketed to as diverse groups, not “Gen Z” or similar descriptors

  • Don’t underestimate gender - the single biggest defining predictor of how someone will (or won’t discuss relationships online, let alone their attitude towards them)




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Let us know if you have any questions on this or if you want to discuss methods of keeping up to date with the newest consumer trends

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2 – YOUGOV, 2024

4 - MELTWATER, 2024

5 - YOUGOV, 2024.

7 –  GOOGLE TRENDS, 2024.

8 –  MELTWATER, 2024.

15 - MELTWATER, 2024

17 -  MELTWATER, 2024.

19 –  MELTWATER, 2024

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