We’ve all done it. In front of the Grand Canyon, with your two college friends, a solo shot post-workout—there really isn’t a wrong place to take a selfie. Selfies have evolved from a tourist mannerism to a normal daily activity and in doing so, have completely transformed how we interact in the world. Like most social phenomena, selfies have gradually seeped their way into all aspects of life—altering the way we interact with peers, the way we market ourselves, and even the way we view ourselves. Our lives have been totally eclipsed by this sensation of self-promotion and the result has been increasingly controversial. Images are becoming the single most important determinant in promotional articles. Articles that include images get 94% more views than those that don’t. There has been a fundamental shift to the visual side of marketing that makes social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest even more crucial to driving sales. Selfie images themselves are becoming their own independent platform with which brands can promote themselves through campaigns, competitions and hashtags. Samsung, who has seemingly made it their marketing goal to own the selfie, has been particularly successful at harnessing the power of it. David Ortiz received an outrageous amount of press for his recent selfie with President Obama.
What an honor! Thanks for the #selfie, @BarackObama pic.twitter.com/y5Ww74sEID — David Ortiz (@davidortiz) April 1, 2014
While he was accused of taking the picture as part of his promotional deal with Samsung and received a lot of criticism for it, the exposure it brought to Samsung and their Galaxy Note 3 device was well worth the debate. Controversial press is still press; and it can have positive results if handled correctly. Ellen DeGeneres, another sponsor of Samsung, went viral with her Oscars selfie, which was subsequently retweeted over 3 million times, a twitter record and brought the company over $1 billion dollars worth of attention. Both instances were met with extreme popularity and resulted in unbelievable exposure. As the selfie makes its way up the ranks of trending social behaviors, it simultaneously tests the waters of modern PR tactics. Cancer Research UK hitched on to the trending #NoMakeUpSelfies and transformed the trend into a fundraising campaign. While the Facebook page has accumulated thousands of selfies and the campaign has been successful in terms of participation, it has also gained a lot of criticism for encouraging narcissism and creating hype around something that shouldn’t be that profound (women without makeup). Regardless, the campaign raised over 2 million dollars in just 48 hours and since then has latched onto various other campaigns to become an even larger sensation. Similarly, the theme for the 10th Anniversary Celebration of BlogHer Conferences that took place in San Jose last week was #selfiebration. For ten weeks prior to the event, an online selfie contest was held as bloggers responded to hashtags and prompts with pictures of themselves. The idea was to demonstrate how blogging is an extension of oneself, and that the true power of blogging comes from understanding and revealing your true self. Blogging today, like PR, is about transparency and creating an identity around a product or a brand so that it transforms into something more real and therefore valued. On the BlogHer event website they describe the selfie as “a new way of sharing, a new way of telling stories, a new way to be a part of media, a new way to connect with brands, a new way to disrupt the old ways—[it] is bigger than we can even fully see and understand right now, because it is happening every day, with us in smack-dab in the middle.” Through this contest, BlogHer was able to garner hundreds of participants while simultaneously generating enormous buzz for their upcoming anniversary event. As the selfie takes on new roles in the marketing world, controversy around it has become increasingly tense. The growing political, social and behavioral power it has on the public is changing the environment of marketing. Selfies are becoming an important and influential way to endorse yourself, and bond with the public over something simple and universal. If PR firms can harness the influence that a selfie has over the public and use it in a way to build brand awareness, it can be a huge asset. In the case of Cara Delevinge, a famous model who took a selfie video on the catwalk of Giles Deacon’s runway last February, she was able to give 2% of the twitter activity during London Fashion Week to Giles Deacon himself, not to mention the additional 4 million followers on her Instagram that watched the videos. In terms of the President of the United States and his participation in the selfie phenomenon – people seem less enthralled. In his case, the selfie takes on a petty and conceited nature, one that the public and press aren’t impressed by. Selfies live in a specific and spontaneous environment, and it is up to you to determine the right moment. They are a whole new beast to tame in the world of social media and public relations, but when used appropriately, they can break open a whole new level of exposure and brand awareness with minimal resources. All you need is yourself. **Written by Abby Bunting, International Relations major at Brown University (Class of 2015).