I have just come out of long-term confinement. Can we be friends?

The entanglements of love are not what comes first on the minds of many people emerging from long periods of pandemic isolation. Instead, they seek out the friendships and social groups that they have been deprived of over the past year.

That’s the verdict of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, which are launching or acquiring new services entirely focused on making and keeping friends.

“There’s a really interesting trend that’s happened in the connection space, which is this desire to have platonic relationships,” said Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder and CEO of Bumble.

“People are looking for friendship in a way they would only have done offline before the pandemic. “

Her company is investing in its Bumble BFF (Best Friends Forever) feature, which she says accounted for around 9% of total monthly active Bumble users as of September 2020 and “has room to grow as we focus. more about this space “.

Meanwhile, its big rival Match Group – owner of a series of apps including Tinder and Hinge – is also going beyond love and lust. It paid $ 1.7 billion this year for South Korean social media company Hyperconnect, whose apps allow people to chat around the world using real-time translation.

Hyperconnect revenue jumped 50% last year, while Meetup, which helps you meet like-minded people at local events or online, saw a 22% increase in newcomers. members since January.

The most searched word for Meetup this year was “friends”.

‘Find companionship and connection’

These friendship services have seen increased engagement from users since COVID-19 restrictions were gradually lifted around the world, allowing people to meet in person, according to Evercore analyst Shweta Kharjuria, who said it made sense for the business to court more clients.

“This opens up the total available market from targeting singles to singles and married people,” she said.

The importance of physical contact was echoed by Amos, a 22 year old French au pair using Bumble BFF in London.

“It’s hard to gain momentum online and if everything in IRL (in real life) is closed,” he said. “You never really connect until you meet in person.”

Bumble invests in its BFF (Best Friends Forever) feature [File: Jillian Kitchener/Reuters]

Rosie, a 24-year-old dental nurse living in the city of Bristol in the south-west of England, struggled to connect with her older colleagues during the lockdown and started using Bumble BFF ago three weeks to meet new people.

“I’m a very outgoing person and I love meeting new people, but never found any opportunities. I went from just texting from Vodafone to this buzzing app a lot, which is good, it looks like a lot of girls are in my shoes, ”she said.

Nupur, a 25-year-old teacher from the western Indian city of Pune, who uses both Tinder and Bumble, said the apps’ efforts to promote themselves as a way to find friends rather than simple relationships and love “could work very well”.

“I have met a few people online and we have met and been friends for over a year now.”

Indeed, friendship networks like MeetMe and Yubo have even overtaken some popular dating apps in terms of daily engagement in recent months, according to market research firm Apptopia.

Jess Carbino, online dating expert and former Tinder and Bumble sociologist, told Reuters the social isolation has been “staggering” due to the pandemic, especially for singles living alone.

“(It) inspired people to use the tools at their disposal, namely technology, to find companionship and connection.”

“Trends are here to stay”

According to brokerage firm Canaccord Genuity, LGBTQ + dating apps have done a lot to promote the social aspect of dating, with Chinese Blued offering surrogacy services, for example, and Taimi providing live streaming.

The Hornet gay dating app, on the other hand, aims to be more of a social network focused on users’ personal interests, rather than just a hookup service focused on physical appearance and closeness.

Hornet founder and CEO Christof Wittig said people were unlikely to revert to “old ways” of connecting with their exclusively offline community, such as nightlife, activism or LGBTQ sporting events.

Witting said the number of users using the news feed, comments and videos increased by 37% in the year through May.

He said the number of people looking for friendship and online community increased during the closures as people turned to digital platforms for a sense of belonging when bars, gyms and events in pride were closed.

“These trends are here to stay,” he added. “Just like videoconferencing and teleworking.