Hinge CEO Justin McLeod Has an Idea to Combat Social Media Loneliness

Hinge founder Justin McLeod
Hinge founder Justin McLeod believes social platforms can ultimately help combat loneliness. Travis P. Ball/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty Images

Even the founder of Hinge would agree that social media has made society lonelier. The solution he proposes, however, is not less, but more, tech to create a whole new category of what he calls “social wellness” apps. 

“We know about personal wellness, we know about eating right and meditating and doing all these things, but connection and belonging are one of our most fundamental human needs,” Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, said during an onstage conversation with Ann Shoket, the CEO of the professional social networking site TheLi.st, at SXSW today (March 11) in Austin, Texas.

During the session, McLeod discussed his personal struggle with loneliness and how much the issue is connected to rapidly advancing technology and isolation in the workplace. McLeod, who founded the dating app in 2011, reflected on the first few years of Hinge and how the platform initially focused more on keeping users on the app than on fostering real relationships.

“We were so driven by metrics like engagement and retention and all these other metrics that social media companies are paying attention to,” McLeod said. “VCs equated us to social media companies.” 

A wakeup call came in 2015 when Vanity Fair published a story that heavily featured Hinge as one of the apps that had created a “dating apocalypse.” The report led McLeod to think about the difference between social media and social networks: While companies like Facebook and Twitter were founded with the intention of creating communities and allowing people to socialize online, the ad revenue-centric business model of these companies meant they were more incentivized to amplify influencers and attention-grabbing content. Bonding with people made way for monetization. 

Hinge completely changed its goals, specifically its main metric, McLeod said, to helping users actually go out on dates. The company now focuses on how many dates people go on and it asks them if they enjoyed the date. And with artificial intelligence (A.I.) in the focus for every industry, McLeod hopes the technology can be used to achieve this social wellness initiative. 

“I think A.I. can very much stand behind us and help us become better connected and coach us with how to be more relational and how to build better relationships,” he said. “Or it can stand between us. It can be the thing that we interact with instead of other humans.”

Hinge Founder Justin McLeod Has an Idea to Fix Social Media’s Loneliness Problem

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