Black love is typically just seen through the lens of romance. But for BLK, their platform is created to be a loving space for the Black community, no matter their reason for joining. Of course, the Match Group extension, which launched in 2017, is primarily a place for Black singles to connect and potentially find a life partner, but BLK is also a hub for enlightening conversations around social issues and a space to reaffirm the Black American experience.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, BLK launched “Once You Go BLK” campaign, a celebration of the unlimited potential of Black love. The initiative showcases the journeys of BLK users and small business owners to acknowledge how real people date.
“Once You Go BLK embraces the culture of the Black community, while also shedding light on important community topics from state violence to supporting Black-owned businesses,” said Jonathan Kirkland, Head of Marketing & Brand for BLK. “Our ambition for this campaign is to foster more solidarity, from a cultural level, with our users while taking the power away from an ugly adage used against us.”
AfroTech spoke with Kirkland — who joined BLK in April 2020 — about Once You Go BLK, how BLK has a deeper responsibility to the community beyond dating, and a special Black History Month partnership with &pizza.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
AfroTech: Why was BLK created?
Jonathan Kirkland: BLK is the largest dating app for Black singles that launched in August of 2017, and it’s a part of the Match Group, which owns all the popular dating apps like Tinder and OK Cupid. Being a behemoth in the industry, Match recognized that Black people weren’t being served in the dating app landscape and that Black experiences are different from other people’s experiences in America. So, BLK was really creating an inclusive community where like-minded people can connect, can have deeper, meaningful conversations with people who get each other and who experience similar things.
AfroTech: It’s true that sometimes Black singles feel alienated on dating apps, so BLK seems like a safer, more enjoyable space for us.
Jonathan Kirkland: Our sister company, OK Cupid, did a study in 2014 and found out that on their app and other general market apps, Black women are considered the least desirable. That means that Black women get the least amount of messages, right swipes, and replies to them. So for BLK, understanding that stat, that’s a focus of ours.
For example, when the Breonna Taylor decision was made not to charge the cops involved, we took out five full-page ads in newspapers around the country that read, “Black women deserve better period.” And we followed up with similar programming to target Black women, like a survey asking our Black female users if they feel safe in America. We found out that only 3.5% of Black women on BLK feel safe. So, now that we know that, what are we doing to help change that or mitigate that as much as we can?
AfroTech: Why is it important for BLK to address the needs of the Black community outside of dating?
Jonathan Kirkland: Unlike other apps, we have a deeper responsibility to be more than just a dating app. We really just want to be responsive to what’s going on in the world, highlight the conversations that are already happening in the Black community, and give recognition to everyday Black people like our users.
AfroTech: What can users look forward to from BLK’s upcoming Valentine’s Day campaign, Once You Go BLK.
Jonathan Kirkland: Instead of “praising” outdated stereotypes of Black people, this initiative will chronicle how Black singles take their own distinct approach to dating, from what they look for in a partner and their outlook on both romantic and platonic relationships. In order to bring this campaign to life, BLK partnered with its local network of Black business owners and creatives, such as T&J Hair Designs for hair, honeybeebeats for makeup, a Paola Mathe headscarf design, and Darian Younce as the set stylist.
AfroTech: We’ll get to get real Black love success stories. That’s inspiring.
Jonathan Kirkland: Yeah, and while dating will always be our core product, BLK will be moving more into a lifestyle platform as well. You’ll be able to use BLK in “date mode” for a one-to-one connection and “non-date mode” for a one-to-many connection. We’re also considering integrating culturally relevant games like Culture Tags and Black Card Revoked into the app, and live-streaming for virtual meet-ups.
AfroTech: Besides the V-Day campaign, what other initiatives can users look forward to?
Jonathan Kirkland: We’re currently partnering with &pizza for Black History Month to create the crowd-sourced BLK Pizza Pie based on BLK app users’ favorite selections. We surveyed them on toppings and other ingredients and came up with the final pie. The final ingredients include &pizza dough, classic tomato sauce, basil, fresh mozzarella, grilled onion, chicken, crushed red and black pepper, and garlic puree. It’ll be available from now until March 31.
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AfroTech: During a weekend all about love, what advice do you have for Black singles who are hesitant about dating apps, especially during the pandemic?
Jonathan Kirkland: Be open! And as long as you’re upfront with your intentions on the app in the beginning, that’ll help save time. If you’re just looking for friendship, say that early on. If you are looking for something long-term or just casual, state it that way. People are engaging with each other more than pre-COVID-19. We’ve seen an 80 to 90% increase in newly registered users coming to the end of 2020. A lot of that has to do with the mindset changing as well. People want to be socially distant, so they’re coming to dating apps to have conversations instead. They’re sending more messages, replying more, and swiping more. Overall, the pandemic has been very good for the dating app industry because it’s a safer way for you to connect with somebody in these times.