In the most recent issue of Huffington, our weekly magazine, I write about the growing number of people who are dating online without online dating sites: They’re logging out of the Match.coms and OKCupids of the world to search for (and find) a soul mate on social networking sites.
Does flirting on Twitter sound more appealing than trolling through pages of profiles on Chemistry.com? Would you rather “poke” a love interest on Facebook than “wink” at him on Match.com?
If so, here’s some advice straight from social daters, as well as professional online dating coaches, on how to use social sites to find"The One."
Talk about what you love, not who you’d like to fall in love with
Increase your chances of meeting someone who shares your interests by, well, sharing your interests. Social sites offer a place where people can meet (and judge) each other by what they say about their passions for Pad Thai or baseball, and the couples I interviewed for my story came together because they’d bonded over a passion for Phish (Turntable.fm), food (Yelp) or Roaring '20s nostalgia (Instagram).
As one social dater who met her boyfriend on Yelp noted, “You get to know a lot about someone when they write a review, even without having to spend time with them.”
Whether it’s Amazon.com or YouTube, Goodreads or Google+, Pinterest or the comments section of your favorite website, any place where people hang out online can be -- and probably already has been -- used to find romance. Now it’s your turn. Just sign up for a site and start sharing.
It’s okay to say you’re single
Including some personal details in your profile offers an instant icebreaker, so don’t leave it blank. And don’t shy away from mentioning that you’re single.
According to online dating coach Julie Spira, “Nothing is more powerful than the Facebook relationship status.”
Meet people: friends, followers and fellow users are your wingmen (and dating pool)
Expand your social circle via social media sites. Whereas stalking people you’ve never met is frowned upon on Facebook, buddying up to strangers won’t get you any weird looks on the likes of Twitter, Instagram or even Yelp. And those strangers can set you up.
“Twitter for me was like having another group of friends who could set me up with people,” said Christina Coster, who met her boyfriend on the micro-blogging site.
Let’s say you’re on Twitter. First, foster a fresh group of friends by following people who share your interests, along with the people they follow or mention in their tweets. It could be something even simpler that helps break the ice: one person’s now-boyfriend started tweeting with her because he thought her profile picture was cute.
Engage with the people you follow by name dropping them in your tweets with “@ mentions,” retweeting interesting things you see them post and, when the time is right, sending them private direct messages. Or you could just invite yourself along to whatever they’re doing.
“Once it’s out on Twitter it’s kind of open game for people to say, ‘Oh, you’re getting drinks after I work? Mind if I join you?’” Coster said.
The same holds true for other social sites. Whatever website you’re on, people notice (and love it) when others take a shine to what they’re sharing. Use your interest in what they’re saying as an "in."
Get a room, you two. No, really.
Once you’ve made initial contact and things get even slightly more personal, move the conversation to a private place.
On Facebook, it might mean messaging instead of public wall posts. On Instagram, chatting on a private messaging app like Kik instead of commenting on photos. There’s also good old email, Gmail chat, Skype and AOL Instant Messenger.
And move it offline -- fast
Unless you’re Anthony Weiner, you’ll never be satisfied by flirting solely through a screen.
“The most important part of online dating, whether it’s traditional online dating or not, is getting offline,” said Laurie Davis, a dating coach and founder of eFlirt Expert.
Here’s Davis’ step-by-step guide to moving from Facebook to face-to-face: First, start messaging privately by sending a link to something that touches on a topic you and your love interest discussed before. Then, if the person bites, you can “get a little bit more flirty and more personal,” Davis advises. Step three: If it seems like there’s a connection, ask them out.
Of course, while everyone on a dating site is (presumably) single, there’s no guarantee the person you’re messaging with on Facebook or Yelp is even available. That’s a risk to be wary of, and all the more reason to be sure that…
…Before you meet, do some sleuthing
Finally, a reason to embrace oversharing: Use all of that information people put on social sites to your advantage. In the hopes of avoiding a meet up with a married weasel (or worse), social daters will often "friend" a person on Facebook, then do some snooping on their friends, interests and activities.
Successful social daters also recommend reviewing what someone has shared on the social network to be sure his or her story isn’t riddled with inconsistencies. The public nature of most social sites ensures that you can check up on other people someone has been flirting with and what sort of tales they've been telling.
And no matter what site you're using, don't trust the photos.
You can read the original story, "You Had Me @ LOL: Finding Your Soul Mate on Social Sites," here and you can download the Huffington app here.
While it might be nice to hear from Facebook well-wishers on your birthday, you should think twice before posting your full birthday. Beth Givens, executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse advises that revealing your exact birthday and your place of birth is like handing over your financial security to thieves. Furthermore, Carnegie Mellon researchers recently discovered that they could reconstruct social security numbers using an individual's birthday and place of birth. Rather than remove your birthday entirely, you could enter a date that's just a few days off from your real birthday.
"Your mother’s maiden name is an especially valuable bit of information, not least since it’s often the answer to security questions on many sites," writes the New York Times. Credit card companies, your wireless service provider, and numerous other firms frequently rely on this tidbit to protect your personal information.
Publicizing your home address enables everyone and anyone with whom you've shared that information to see where you live, from exes to employers. Opening up in this way could have negative repercussions: for example, there have been instances in which burglars have used Facebook to target users who said they were not at home.
Don't post status updates that mention when you will be away from home, advises New York Times columnist Ron Lieber. When you broadcast your vacation dates, you might be telling untrustworthy Facebook "friends" that your house is empty and unwatched. "[R]emind 'friends' that you have an alarm or a guard dog," Lieber writes.
Although new features like Facebook Places encourage you to check in during outings and broadcast your location (be it at a restaurant, park, or store), you might think twice even before sharing information about shorter departures from your home. "Don’t post messages such as 'out for a run' or 'at the mall shopping for my sweetie,'" Identity Theft 911 cautions. "Thieves could use that information to physically break in your house."
By now, nearly everyone knows that racy, illicit, or otherwise incriminating photos posted on Facebook can cost you a job (or worse). But even deleted photos could come back to haunt you. Ars Technica recently discovered that Facebook's servers can store deleted photos for an unspecified amount of time. "It's possible," a Facebook spokesperson told Ars Technica, "that someone who previously had access to a photo and saved the direct URL from our content delivery network partner could still access the photo."
Flubbing on your tax returns? Can't stand your boss? Pulled a 'dine and dash?' Don't tell Facebook. The site's privacy settings allow you to control with whom you share certain information--for example, you can create a Group that consists only of your closest friends--but, once posted, it can be hard to erase proof of your illicit or illegal activities, and difficult to keep it from spreading. There are countless examples of workers getting the axe for oversharing on Facebook, as well as many instances in which people have been arrested for information they shared on the social networking site. (Click here to see a few examples of Facebook posts that got people canned.)
Watch where you post your phone number. Include it in your profile and, depending on your privacy settings, even your most distant Facebook "friends" (think exes, elementary school contacts, friends-of-friends) might be able to access it and give you a ring. Sharing it with Facebook Pages can also get you in trouble. Developer Tom Scott created an app called Evil that displays phone numbers published anywhere on Facebook. According to Scott, "There are uncountable numbers of groups on Facebook called 'lost my phone!!!!! need ur numbers!!!!!' [...] Most of them are marked as 'public', and a lot of folks don't understand what that means in Facebook's context -- to Facebook, 'public' means everyone in the world, whether they're a Facebook member or not."
CBSMoneyWatch.com warns social network users that counting down the days to a vacation can be as negligent as stating how many days the vacation will last. "There may be a better way to say 'Rob me, please' than posting something along the lines of: 'Count-down to Maui! Two days and Ritz Carlton, here we come!' on [a social networking site]. But it's hard to think of one. Post the photos on Facebook when you return, if you like. But don't invite criminals in by telling them specifically when you'll be gone," MoneyWatch writes.
Identity thieves also target children. "Don't use a child's name in photo tags or captions," writes Consumer Reports. "If someone else does, delete it by clicking on Remove Tag. If your child isn't on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name."
CBSMoneyWatch.com writes: You take your classic Camaro out for street racing, soar above the hills in a hang glider, or smoke like a chimney? Insurers are increasingly turning to the web to figure out whether their applicants and customers are putting their lives or property at risk, according to Insure.com. There have been additional reports that insurance companies may adjust users' premiums based what they post to Facebook. Given that criminals are turning to high-tech tools like Google Street View and Facebook to target victims, "I wouldn't be surprised if, as social media grow in popularity and more location-based applications come to fore, insurance providers consider these in their pricing of an individual's risk," says Darren Black, head of home insurance for Confused.com.
Identity Theft 911 reminds Facebook users never to post photos that reveal the layout of an apartment or home and the valuables therein.
Do you want your Facebook profile--even bare-bones information like your gender, name, and profile picture--appearing in a Google search? If not, you should should block your profile from appearing in search engine results. Consumer Reports advises that doing so will "help prevent strangers from accessing your page." To change this privacy setting, go to Privacy Settings under Account, then Sharing on Facebook.