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AYI Aims to Be the LinkedIn of Online Dating

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Facebook's Mobile App Install Ads tool is helping companies like AYI acquire new users and optimize their experiences.

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Launched in 2007, AYI -- short for "Are You Interested?" -- was one of the first dating applications on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). Today, the app has 20 million Facebook-connected profiles. Thanks to Facebook's mobile ad apps launched last fall, the dating site is expanding further, particularly into mobile.

The story of AYI is illustrative of how small, agile companies are using Facebook's developer tools to harness the social network's incredible scale and its plethora of user details to better reach and serve customers. In AYI's case, the dating app is using Facebook data to do for dating what LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) did for professional networking.

AYI, owned by Snap Interactive Inc (OTCBB:STVI) has native apps for Apple Inc.'s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google Inc's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, in addition to its original app built on top of Facebook. A user can establish a profile by simply using Facebook's connect feature, which shares a user's profile data with third parties. Instead of going to Match.com or OKCupid.com, both of which are owned by IACI/InterActiveCorp (NASDAQ:IACI), and filling in your data, all of your information comes from your existing Facebook profile. AYI was fortunate to begin working with Facebook in 2007 and was able to ride the tidal wave of the social network's massive growth in users.

One of the reasons AYI works so well is because it avoids some of the common pitfalls of online dating, according to the company. "When you talk to people that use online dating products and meet new people, it's just not a great experience: There's a lot of work, there's a lot of bad dates, and people aren't very authentic in their profiles," Cliff Lerner, CEO of Snap Interactive, tells Minyanville.

"We think the way we solve that is by bringing your friends and interests into the game. You meet people through your friends; that's how it works in the real world. We're bringing that online. It's just more compelling. We're uniquely positioned to do that because the only place that has the social graph is Facebook," he adds.

On top of using friend connections, AYI has access to "over a billion pieces of interest data points because of the integration with Facebook." As we know, the social graph is a fun tool for Facebook users, but for third-party companies, the social graph has become a top tool for bringing in new users and new revenue.

Facebook's Mobile App Install Ads tool also allows AYI to optimize the way it acquires new customers down to specific details. Explaining that process with an example, Lerner told us, "What this tool allows us to do is literally say: We want to [reach] a 30- to 40-year-old female who lives in New York City who's on an iOS device, and it will tell us how much it will cost, how much we'll pay [to reach] that user. Not only that -- you can take that to a whole other level; we want to target the same user, but also only if they like the Tar Heels."

(Lerner had obviously done his homework: I am a proud alumni of UNC Chapel Hill.)

Mobile is currently AYI's fastest growing segment, with the Android app debuting in April (61,000 downloads as of June 11) and with the company's iOS app getting a major overhaul last month (4 million downloads). Mobile logins account for 15% of daily AYI logins, but nearly one-third of new users are on mobile devices.

Lerner thinks that Facebook's Mobile App Install Ads tool is the best way to acquire new mobile users for two simple reasons: the huge scale (around 750 million people use Facebook on a mobile device every month) and the granularity of data, meaning how specific and significant every piece of data is. As Lerner said, "Any product and every company now has a mobile presence. If they want to acquire users at scale on mobile, there's just not another game in town where you can do it at such a scale and on such a targeted level."

As Lerner said, "The way dating sites differentiate themselves is their matching algorithm." AYI is set apart because its matching algorithm is Facebook, with all the scale and specificity that comes with it.

To put this into context for those of you readers who have never dabbled in online dating, Lerner described what Facebook allows AYI to do in terms of LinkedIn:

When you think about what LinkedIn did, it really disrupted professional networking. It used to be Monster.com, or really, nothing, but LinkedIn said, "You know what? It would make for a great experience and a great product if we could connect you with people based on who your professional contacts are, and your interests." And we've all had experiences on LinkedIn where we look on the right side at the "People You May Know" widget, and we're like, "Whoa, that's a great connection," and none of it is random.

Of course, other major tech companies, such as Google and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), also have access to vast tracts of data. The takeaway is that social media is finally finding its footing in terms of business. Facebook helps AYI attract and engage users, and then Facebook places ads on the AYI screen.

Small, agile dating companies like AYI and its competitors that also use Facebook -- including Circl.es, FaceDating, and LikeBright -- are able to take advantage of tools like Facebook's Mobile App Install Ads as soon as they are released. As Lerner told us, "It just takes a little more time for the much bigger companies to analyze it, warm up to it, and understand it, because they move a little slower."

AYI does not release official statistics about the effectiveness of its dating services, but the app does have 3.3 million likes on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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