To Die For

08.05.13

Professional Matchmakers Build Business on Facebook

Far from being disintermediated by technology, professionals who put singles together for a living are embracing social media.

A few weeks ago Jason Silver was surfing Facebook and came across K. Aleisha Fetters, a 26-year-old freelance writer in Chicago. They had no mutual friends, but Silver found her by plugging in some basic age, location, and relationship guidelines into Graph Search; thought she was cute; and contacted her. The pair exchanged a few messages before meeting for a two-hour coffee date. They both felt it went really well, and a few days later Silver contacted her—with the name and number of a guy he thought would be a perfect match.

Silver, 31, is a professional matchmaker. He frequently scours networking events, meetups, and other social gatherings in search of good partners for his clients. But he and other matchmakers have also begun using Facebook, the social network that has already neatly gathered and organized millions of eligible singles. Silver started experimenting when the specialized Graph Search first came out. To help his single friend who was into the Chicago improv scene, he punched those terms into the search. Soon, he had hooked him up, and Silver himself was hooked on the matchmaking magic of Facebook.

In an age when maintaining an online presence is inescapable, Facebook has emerged as the go-to tool for savvy career cupids. On Facebook, they find an almost limitless opportunity to discover more clients and matches and a great venue in which to share tips among themselves. And online, flattered men and women contacted by these matchmakers are receptive to the concept. Fetters had never considered matchmaking before and was surprised by the sudden introduction, but thought there was no harm in meeting. “Our generation is pretty open to it,” she says. “You’re out there on the Internet, and Facebook’s all about connecting people.”

A few days ago, 31-year-old matchmaker Lori Salkin posted some information about a client who posed a special challenge: he’s an ultra-religious rabbi in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a very narrow sect of Judaism with a very interconnected following. “Have an amazing 27 year old Lubavitch Rabbi from San Diego looking for an interesting girl interested in Kiruv. He's going to be on the east coast all of August, who's interested!!!!!!!!!” she wrote enthusiastically in a message to her personal Facebook profile, some singles groups, and the page for the Jewish matchmaking organization she works with, Saw You at Sinai. Soon after, a friend reposted it in a private group. “I know the perfect girl,” a woman replied. Within an hour, Salkin had 30 responses, along with messages like “Oh, you’re a matchmaker? Do you have someone for my brother?” Within the day, she had bagged six new clients.

Matchmaking is still stuck within the constraints of numerous archaic portrayals. “Everyone thinks of Yenta on Fiddler on the Roof, and they’re terrified,” says Salkin. And for K. Aleisha Fetters, seeing shows like Millionaire Matchmaker initially made her hesitant. “The idea of getting matched with men looking for arm candy was not my style,” she says. But her fears were alleviated after discussing matchmaking with Silver, who always meets with prospective matches in person to get a better feel for their personality and interests than the online profile offers.

The proliferation of online dating sites has paved the way for matchmaking to enter the mainstream. According to data compiled in June by Statistics Brain, 40 million Americans have tried searching for love on one of the many sites. Silver says when he and his wife first got engaged and would tell people they met on JDate, others would reply that they too had met online—but in a shameful whisper. “Now people are much more willing to say ‘We tried out this site’ or ‘We went to a matchmaker,’" he says. And as online dating services offer the paralyzing prospect of infinite choice, many people are opting to pay real humans to do some sifting for them. In 2012 research firm Marketdata Enterprises published a study finding at least 1,800 independent matchmakers operating in the U.S. within a $293 million market, expected to grow 6 percent to 7 percent per year. Of course, with quality comes price. Depending on the level and type of dates, matchmaking services can run from a few hundred dollars to $250,000.

That same year, Silver quit his job as an Internet marketer for Restaurant.com and turned a newfound talent into a business called We Just Match. Silver uses a database of singles to connect them with other matchmakers’ clients, like brokers do for homebuyers. Online, he prefers to work within the friend-of-a-friend network, which is more effective, because there’s a built-in trust connection. And if the person on the other end declines, he or she will often offer up another friend as a referral. His clients, he’s found, are completely fine with Facebook-sourced matches, so long as the people remain of the quality promised.

Facebook has also turned matchmaking into a more flexible profession. As Silver spoke to me, he was simultaneously relaxing at a camp in Wisconsin while keeping in touch and working with his clients online. “I’m out here looking at trees, but I’m instantly connected to all the major cities.” Matchmakers themselves also gather on the site in private groups to swap tips and mix and match their clients.

A year and a half ago Lori Salkin left her job as an assignment editor at NBC in Boston to pursue matchmaking—a hobby that stretches back to college—as a full-time gig. Today she’s in talks to create a reality show. She stays connected with clients via phone, email, text, Gchat, Facebook, and Twitter. When she gets up in the middle of the night to feed her 7-month-old, she often finds herself debriefing clients on Facebook chat who just returned from late dates. “I couldn’t do what I do today without modern technology and social media,” she said.

Recently a frustrated mother asked Salkin to find her son a girlfriend, but do so without him knowing she was behind it. So Salkin looked him up on Facebook, and though they didn’t have any mutual friends, shot him a message: “Hi, you don’t know me,” she remembers writing, “but I’m a matchmaker and you’re the hottest guy I’ve seen on Facebook in a long time. I have someone I’d love to set you up with.”

“Is this a joke?” he replied. But within four minutes, she had buttered him up and sent him a name, which he had checked out on Facebook, and he agreed to be set up. Salkin hasn’t yet tested out Graph Search, but she adds her potential clients all the time via suggestions or the site’s friend recommendations. “Every last person does a Facebook check before they go on a date,” she notes. “As soon as I call them and say my name, they’re typing me into Facebook to see who I am.”

Validation for the new breed of digitally savvy matchmakers doesn’t just come from converts like Fetters, successful matches, or weddings. Recently Salkin was surprised by a phone call from a woman whose elderly mother has been working as a traditional matchmaker for 60 years—a real-life Yenta, you might say—with hundreds of matches under her belt, but no cellphone or email address. “Listen, you are connected,” the daughter told Salkin. “You can reach all corners of the world. Let’s work together.”