Whenever I engage Zimbabweans on the issue of trying to find love using virtual means, a version of one argument always comes up: dating sites in the traditional sense are not necessary in Zimbabwe.
Young people and middle-aged singles, the argument goes on, actually use social media to hook up with those they like. WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are supposed to have supplanted traditional online dating platforms.
I have two things to say to those who advance this argument:
- They are missing the point of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, which is not dating. The first three are social networking sites first, while WhatsApp is an instant-messaging platform. People go to these to share, catch up, read news, etc, but not primarily to find Mr/Miss Right.
- They underestimate how difficult it is to (mis)-use the aforementioned sites to scout for romantic partners. People may project sanitized, perfect versions of themselves on Facebook, but on a deeper, psychological level, they are not trying to use the site for hookups. Even when they are definitely single and searching. So much that anyone who interacts with them from an angle of trying to hook up simply comes simply as misguided at best and at worst, creepy.
That said, people approach dating sites differently. As as user of a dating site I am aware of the fact that everyone I see on the site – every profile I check out – belongs to someone who is also searching. This optimizes everyone’s time and leaves no room for ambiguity.
Zimbabwe is readier for a dating website than ever before
Africa has the youngest population in the world. Zimbabwe does not buck the trend. It’s not only youths who are priming the demographics towards entrepreneurship around dating, but middle-agers too are part of the mix, as they comprise what is surprisingly the most active group on Facebook.
With internet penetration and smartphone usage surging in Zimbabwe, the circumstances are ripe.
It is my impression that Zimbabweans who want to find love or hookups online are a frustrated lot. Foreign options (extensions of international dating sites) are expensive and sparse in options.
Local options are poor. A Techzim article on a related topic concluded that while a few enterprising Zimbabweans have attempted bringing Zimbabwean singles onto one natively created platform (examples: topface.com, zimbabweonlinedating.com, zimhookup.com) the market was tepid and in great need of a game-changer.
From my observations, local attempts at creating the Zimbabwean solutions suffer challenges that range from lack of maintenance, under-subscription, and technical inadequacy.
In Kenya, for contrast, those using the internet to find their better halves have many options, two of which are DateMeKenya and KenyanCupid.com. The East Africans (along with South Africa) frequently lead they way, ahead of Zimbabwe, in finding digital solutions to everyday challenges. This is one more area Zimbabwe can learn from Kenya.
My 3 Ideas for Changing the Game:
Mixing things up, especially along racial lines, might be a difficult thing to pull off but it will be worth the shot. Zimbabwean social media, except a little bit on Twitter, hardly reflects the country’s diversity to the fullest.
The innovator who will finally create the dating app that takes off in Zimbabwe will cater to, and attract, people from all cultural backgrounds. Don’t ask me how.
That is simply how Zimbabweans are browsing the web. Again, this makes it even harder because a dating site that carries full functionality depends on the visual presentation of members’ profiles – pictures are especially important – and this is harder to incorporate in mobile. However, if Facebook and other major social networking sites are pulling it off, so can a dating app!
Focus on millennials
This should be primary focus group, for the simple reasons that internet use, social media use, and other aspects of digital occur as more “natural” to people in this group.
In Zimbabwe, with its booming population of college students, there are no prizes for guessing the demographic where “all the money” is lying. Remember how Facebook started, right? Bingo.
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