Tips for initiating online contact

online datingRecently a DG reader asked:

Do you have any tips on initiating online contact in a way that will get someone’s attention without sending them running for the hills? I’ve tried commenting on common interests or similar life situations with little success. In the last 3 weeks I’ve contacted 6 potential dates and had one response, who said he was seeing someone.

What are some things to avoid when making contact with a hot prospect? I’m looking for men in the same age range, comparable level of activity and attractiveness. I must be missing something.

What are your suggestions for online pictures? Most seem to be digital self portraits.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this, but let me share my observations.

Generally, my experience is it’s nearly futile to initiate contact (See “Don’t initiate“). I know, it sounds antiquated for an assertive, confident woman to not use these attributes in the online world. I’m just reporting my findings: When I’ve initiated, very few men have responded, and those who did, didn’t last past a coffee date even if I was interested in more. All of the men with whom I’ve had second dates and beyond have initiated contact. Perhaps our men readers can illuminate why this might be, as I can only speculate.

That said, when I do decide to make contact, here are some of my strategies.

Make an initial email short, upbeat, and comment on items he mentions in his profile that you found interesting or you have in common. If he’s got the trite “I like sunsets, dining out, and chilling at home,” I don’t say I, too, like what 90% of every profile states. (In fact, if he’s that clichéd, I probably won’t be drawn to him in the first place.)

The key is to not be too short, e.g., “You’re cute. Call me.” But also don’t get verbose telling him all the reasons you think you’re a match. If you have a humorous personality, let it shine through and be sure to add the smiley emoticon so there’s no confusion that you’re trying to be funny, not whacked.

I’ve also learned from the men I’ve gone out with that many find it a turn off to be told to call you, and they don’t want you offering your number too soon. In “Don’t give your phone number too soon” I share that guys have said they want to be invited to call after the second, third or fourth email. So don’t give it on the first email or you’ll appear desperate or easy.

I have a standard email template that I adapt to the individual. You don’t want to spend too much time crafting a specific email as you’ll only hear back from 10% of those you contact. I figure they don’t respond because they are 1) uninterested and don’t know how to say that nicely, 2) are involved with someone, 3) aren’t a member of the site so can’t respond without joining. Whatever the reason, don’t take it personally and just move on. If you want to try again in a few weeks, you can, just don’t give it more than twice or you’ll seem desperate or like a stalker. For the second email, see “Use funny emails for unresponsive contacts” for one approach.

Even following these guidelines, you’ll still only hear back from 1 in 10 contacts — if that. It is somewhat of a numbers game.

In terms of photos, I always scratch my head when I look at men’s profile pics. All but a few are too small, too dark, out of focus, over 5 years old, or with a hat and sunglasses, not showing the guy’s face. Please, no self-portraits taken at arm’s length or in a mirror. That screams that you don’t have at least one friend who is willing to take a picture of you in a suitable surrounding when you’re dressed presentably and in good lighting.

I suggest having a professional pic taken, but not a glamour shot. You don’t want to have professional hair, make up, lighting, and Photoshopping if you rarely look that way. You want to present yourself at your best, but also how you are likely to look when he meets you. One of the most pervasive complaints about online dating is that people don’t look at all like their pictures. (See “Is that you? Pictures are just a rough facsimile of the real thing.”)

I recommend posting several photos, some in casual settings, some in more professional attire, and one or two in formal togs. Make sure you choose ones that show your attractiveness, not whatever you happen to have around. Also, avoid showing too much skin, as men interpret that as you are easy.

My friend Rachel Sarah, author of Single Mom Seeking recently said in her blog that single moms should avoid posting pics with their kids because there have been some psychos who get to the kids through dating the mom. Ugh! Generally, I think it’s probably a good idea to not post pics of your kids anyway.

And no matter how much you love your favorite location, too many pics of landscapes make me wonder if the person doesn’t want to show their own face. One or two is okay, as is one of your pet, but if there are too many pics without you in them, it makes me wonder. And please, please, please don’t post photos over 5 years old, ideally within the last 3 years. No one wants to think they are showing up for the 25-year-old babe who now is 50.

For those who feel they’ve had more than 10% success in initiating contact, what can you share that works?

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3 responses to “Tips for initiating online contact”

  1. Kelly Avatar

    I have noticed the same thing, although my reply-back rate is more like 60%. I only e-mail people I really like, so maybe they reply back because we really are compatible. I don’t e-mail a lot of people. I just can’t bear to meet people I’m only mildly interested in. And I notice that I have a lower reply-back rate with people that I wasn’t really excited about.

    All the same, all these numbers seem way too low! If any of us were to walk into a bar or other public place and smile at a guy and say hello, we’d get a 90% positive response. Practically reversing the odds! This has been scientifically documented!

    That’s why we go online in the first place, right? We’d like to find someone compatible, beneath the surface. We can’t just go out there and give out our phone numbers to random people all day long.

    So, given the success rate in the real world with being friendly, what is going on with the online thing? Here’s what I think: I think there is some kind of male self-pride thing going on here. I think there is something that happens inside the male brain when a woman contacts him first online. I think most guys are still subconsciously ashamed to be online, because they feel like they shouldn’t have to be there, since their male prowess should be enough as it is. And therefore it’s a case of not wanting to be a member of the club that would have them. They would rather be the one reaching out and making contact because then they will still have their male pride intact. Conversely, when you see a guy on the street or in a bar or in the multitude of other places you see a guy, they know how rare and precious it is for a woman to smile at him and say hello, and they don’t take you for granted, and it still allows them to maintain their self-respect because they can still be in control of taking the initiative to ask you out or ask you for your phone number.

    The bottom line is these guys have self-esteem issues. And I have to question their motivations for being online. Maybe it’s just a hobby, like collecting baseball cards. I don’t worry about it. If they don’t feel compelled to respond to me, then we’re obviously not compatible in some important ways. Their loss!

  2. walt Avatar

    Like so much, I think these issues are common to both genders. First, be aware that people of both genders look at the pictures first, so unless you are exceptionally good-looking, the response rate is not going to be super-high. My own response rate has been about 40%, but at least half of those never progress beyond an email or two. I have had good success when a woman writes to me, and consider it a nice compliment. I think that guys without the self-esteem issues Kelly mentions willl see it the same way. Having said that, I’ve responded to a low percentage of those who’ve written to me, mostly because a lot of the women simply ignored the criteria I listed (eg, age range, geographic distance, body type, education). While it’s possible that I might connect with someone who didn’t exactly meet my criteria, and thus be willing to overlook it, I don’t feel it’s necessary to respond to someone who didn’t take the time to read what I was looking for, or didn’t care. BTW, I think that the best response when uninterested is no response – a rejection, no matter who politely written, is still a rejection. Better to let them think you’re involved with someone, or too busy to read your emails.

    The benefit of initiating contract is that you can look for someone who seems right for you, and not be limited to the best of who decides to contact you. My #1 tip is to avoid writing to the very best looking person you can find – he or she is getting hordes of responders. Instead, choose someone who you think looks nice, but short of gorgeous, and seems to have some other interesting things going on. While my overall response rate may be 40%, my response rate is close to 100% when I come across someone who seems to have the kind of personality I would really connect with.

    Finally, Kelly, you may get a 90% response rate to a smile, but you don’t know anything about those guys, and they don’t know anything you. In contrast, when you read about a guy and find him interesting, and he reads about you and finds you interesting, a 60% connection rate is very good, and at least as good as a 90% response rate from a smile!

  3. Gatti Avatar

    I wrote to the sweetie first, though we had been on each others favourites-list from when he signed on the site a few weeks before. He had been very interested but we live a smidge far away (about 70 miles) and since he lives in a more populous area he was getting more hits. But once I wrote the response was immediate and positive.

    I would say that I initiated first contact in most of my contacts and most responded positively, but, as with Kelly, perhaps I only picked people who were very good matches. A number of people contacted me (sorry now I didn’t keep percentages!) and most of them were not good matches. All but one of the men I dated would have wanted to continue seeing me (the exception called me “a near miss”!). And, funnily enough, I checked in the last few weeks and nearly everyone I dated is still on the site, updating their profiles, so they must still be actively dating.

    There is no way I can express enough how happy I am to have met the sweetie. He’s worth every penny and minute I spent on the site!