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Calculated PR Move or Embarrassing Blunder? PR Lessons Gleaned From Tinder's Epic 30-Tweet Meltdown.

Rather than own what they are and the services they provide, Tinder reacted in a way that made them seem both insecure and even ashamed of what they do.
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Last week, Tinder threw what is generally being described as a very public, cringe-inducing Twitter tantrum -- deemed the Tinder Meltdown. Tinder's rant, in the form of a series of "bizarre, defensive tweets," was directed at Nancy Jo Sales, who wrote a recent Vanity Fair story detailing what she terms the "Dating Apocalypse" -- that is, the hook-up culture centered around mobile dating apps like Tinder. Tinder apparently felt spurned by the piece and a resulting epic tweetstorm ensued. Tinder's 30-tweet trainwreck garnered far more attention than the article that initially set it in motion, leading many to speculate that a trigger-happy social media intern would soon be taking the fall.

Interestingly enough -- particularly to myself, having made a career out of managing crises and PR disasters -- much of the conversation around the incident has circled around the PR implications of Tinder's reaction. Some have called Tinder's response a mindfully calculated and even successful PR stunt, while others describe the bizarre ramblings as a perfect example of "how not to PR." The only real consensus seems to be that the tirade was both entertaining and captivating in its cringe-worthiness.

Unsurprisingly, it did eventually come to light that what initially appeared to be an emotionally driven, heat-of-the moment reaction of an individual Tinder employee on the warpath, was actually an intentionally planned-out PR move, albeit an incredibly misguided one. Yes, Tinder's Twitter rant got a lot of people talking about Tinder -- one need not be in PR or particularly astute to realize that the resulting press was essentially a free ad for the dating app -- but in what manner and at what cost? It also had the effect of bringing a lot more attention to the original story that Tinder found so slighting in the first place. To be clear though, the actual harm goes far beyond airing their dirty laundry in public and thrusting one Vanity Fair writer's criticism into the limelight.

First and foremost, Tinder's defensive rant should have never been directed at the writer, especially publically. Sales' story didn't misreport facts, nor was it particularly critical of Tinder itself. She painted a picture of a widely-discussed cultural phenomenon using anecdotal opinions, which, lets be honest, were already public knowledge -- opinions on today's hook-up culture are beyond trite at this point. If Tinder truly had a fair and valid objection to the way in which they were portrayed, they should have politely and professionally contacted the writer and her editors privately, correcting any actual factual inaccuracies and maintaining availability for comment for follow-ups and future articles. Instead, in a misguided attempt to garner public support, Tinder acted out like a tantrum-throwing child, likely damaging their relationship with both that individual writer and publication as well as the media as a whole. This brand of aggressively defensive and unprofessional behavior makes Tinder look like a company that has no interest in creating positive relationships with reporters and certainly won't encourage the media to work with them in the future.

Moreover, the rant itself was just odd and confusing. It managed to turn an anecdotal story on a topic that is neither new nor controversial -- the bleakness of navigating modern-day dating -- into a picture of Tinder as company that is spiteful, unprofessional, immature and most importantly, insecure. Rather than own what they are and the services they provide, connecting over 50 million users to one another with over 1 billion swipes every single day, Tinder reacted in a way that made them seem both insecure and even ashamed of what they do.

Most unfortunately though is the absolutely wasted opportunity. Sales' Vanity Fair piece served up a perfect platform for Tinder, giving the company a jumping off point to own what they are -- a mobile dating app that transforms the way people have relationships and gives users the ability to connect with more people than they ever have before -- while also giving them an opportunity to share the numerous and diverse positive stories created by Tinder. The story set in motion a conversation, creating a valuable space for Tinder to humbly discuss the variety of unique, positive narratives -- which for the record, are definitely out there -- exemplifying how their app has brought people all over the world together. Rather than looking like a loose-cannon Twitter amateur, they could have focused on the positives: the discussion on the young gay men and women using Tinder to subvert laws banning same-sex relationships in Pakistan, the divorcees getting a second chance at love, or the married couple that just happened to be on the same subway platform, that otherwise would have never met if it weren't for Tinder. All of this could have been done without referencing the original Vanity Fair piece or attacking a journalist -- if anything, a single subtweet, before then moving on to highlight the many #SwipedRight stories, would have sufficed.

Tinder won't go bankrupt from this meltdown. But all in all, the entire affair was unnecessary, unproductive and embarrassing. Tinder had an amazing gift of a PR opportunity as well as a chance to own what their app has accomplished, and they blew it. I'd swipe left.