Like it or not, when the Oxford English Dictionary named “selfie” as its 2013 Word of the Year, we knew the phenomenon wasn’t going away. A glance at almost any Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed confirms it: Try to find one that doesn’t feature a snapped-at-arm’s-length image of a doe-eyed face looking at an upward angle into a smartphone’s camera, head tilted to the perfect degree to display a hint of cheekbone.
It’s the selfie, and it’s everywhere. More than a million are taken every day and shared across all the major social media platforms: Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and others. A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year shows that 55% of Millennials (people aged 18-33) and 26% of Americans overall have posted a “selfie” on a photo-sharing or social networking site. These statistics present brands with a unique opportunity to garner unearned media: Leverage this trend that incorporates so many demographics.
It’s key to note here that there’s more to a selfie than just a self-portrait: When we share a selfie, we’re sharing an experience. That photo reveals more than just a smile, it reveals a feeling. And that’s a near-perfect way to enhance branding. Whether the consumer is posting a shot of themselves at the rail of a ship, backed by a beautiful sunset view from their Royal Caribbean cruise vacation, or a shot from the selfie sub-genre known as “footsies” that shows off their new shoes from Foot Locker, the consumer engages with a brand by promoting the experience and emotion that the brand created for them. These photos become viral and showcase enticing moments that are shared not only with the brand but also with the posters’ friends and followers.
This is why companies must develop a brand identity that isn’t just worth sharing, but one that becomes the identity of a particular person or group: brands that people relate to and want to project as an extension of themselves. Jonah Peretti, founder of the popular content-driven site Buzzfeed, has said, “Nobody wants to be a shill for your brand, but they are happy to share information and content that helps them promote their own identity.”
Such shares are the ultimate unearned media, and brands can take advantage of the selfie craze by becoming the driving force behind their creation and sharing. Give consumers a reason to take out their phone and share their experience of a product or service and then sit back and let the consumer become an extension of your brand’s marketing department. If brands provide share-worthy content that social media will latch on to and spread like wildfire, everyone wins. Consumers can share their experiences, and brands get the free exposure they so love to receive.
Opportunities abound for brands to leverage this unpaid media. Companies can encourage more engagement through promoted hashtags, downloadable apps and contests. For example, Royal Caribbean might initiate a “#SeaMe” selfie contest, with a free cruise for two as the prize, encouraging guests to post their hashtagged cruise photos in order to enter. Or take it a step further: Give each passenger a logoed pin featuring the iconic Royal Caribbean logo and the #SeaMe hashtag, and make its appearance in the selfie a condition of entry. The pins cost pennies, while the exposure is worth millions.
The possibilities are endless, and at Zimmerman Advertising we explore them all. And when it comes to selfies, we tell our clients what they have to do is to give the social world what they want: A little more of themselves… or themselfies.