In the past six months I have been in several meetings at international brands where I was told: “selfies will be a major part of our brand strategy for 2015”.

Every time I made a point to ask why.
Every time this seemingly simple question was met with blank stares and uncomfortable silence.

It could be that my test sample was too small or it could be that brands and agencies are again blindly following a trend because …… well….. it’s a trend and that’s what they do.

I’m not saying selfies shouldn’t be a major part of your brand strategy for 2015, but I am saying that you will see better ROI if you understood why.

So, let’s delve into that for a moment………

Identity

Some analysts and my dad have described the selfie revolution as an explosion of narcissism, powered by technology“Kids these days think they’re so cool and they want all their friends on Myspace to know it” (paraphrasing the analysts here).

The reality, however, is that technology is but an enabler and self love a mere subset of the actual motivation to post.

The real motivation behind the selfie culture is our existential need to articulate our identity.
The fact that some of these identities are authentic while others are fake or fragile is not the point.
The universal driver is our need to articulate who we are or want to be.

All selfies (and this is contentious, so please hit the comment section if you differ) have the exact same message at the core: “Here I am, this is me” (Yes sadly, exactly like the Bryan Adams song.)

Examples

Not being a prolific selfie generator myself, I had to scour my Facebook feed for examples to illuminate the point.

In each case, if I’m honest, the posting of the picture had something to do with articulating my identity.
Perceived, projected, truthful or aspirational identity – but identity none the less.

It’s not the full picture of course, as I’m not nearly as content as portrayed, but that does not diminish the fact that selfies are essentially self published branding efforts.

How to Leverage the trend

So, back to the brands – and how they should approach this phenomenon of self branding?
Well, the most important first step is to try and understand the psychological driver.

Instead of simply following the trend, make sure you understand the ‘why?’
Your answer may be different from mine, but without understanding the driver, you will simply be a follower of trends and find yourself (and your brand) constantly behind the next one.

What underpins the selfie phenomenon is more important than its first mass expression and your campaigns should feed off the driver, not its expression.

For example: If you understand that the selfie is an expression of identity then the most obvious brand opportunity would be positively associated with that expression. Translated: As a brand, you want to be in it!

Two general approaches here:

Option #1. You can buy the rights to be associated by offering incentives.
“Send us a selfie with our product in it and stand the chance to win.”
It works, but the incentive generally needs to be substantial and mass engagement is difficult to generate.
These campaigns also run the danger of negatively affecting the authenticity of the selfie, which is the main reason you wanted to be a part of it in the first place.

Option #2. You find ways to facilitate/create the moment.
We see this with Red Bull events.
The event is created by the brand, fans want to be associated with the event and (without incentive) post (more authentic) content. “I’m at the X-fighters event.” (It’s cool and therefore I’m cool.)

Another good example was Taco Bell’s approach to the College Football playoffs.
They couldn’t own the event in the way Red Bull owns theirs, but they created an aspirational moment by giving away tickets to 500 students from each participating school.
You can be sure those students tweeted, posted and shared without being asked to do so and their friends thought: “Wow, you’re lucky and Taco Bell is kinda cool.” Instead of: “I’m not really thinking about the brand in your selfie because I know it’s essentially a competition entry.”

So whereas both approaches work, finding ways to facilitate/create the moment is much better aligned with the natural driver behind self publication and therefore has a better chance to succeed.

Embedded reporting?

Yes, I have a gross incentive to believe my own drivel on this subject.
It just happens that I work at a company which makes a strong case for brands to use gigapixel photography to facilitate branded personalised content.
Luckily for me we didn’t design Fancam with this trend in mind, we developed it because we thought it was cool and only later started to understand why it continued to work.

Back in 2010, I sat in many meetings where people tried to tell me Fancam was a technological gimmick and our engagement numbers would go down.  I tried to explain that it’s not really about the technology, but about tribalism, fans proving they belong to a group, articulating their identity and all that.

Thankfully we’re a tenacious bunch and we stuck around long enough to prove our theory – and prove it we did!

Our time on site has quadrupled in the past four years and as social sharing has become easier we’ve seen traffic and engagement increase as well. It’s not about the technology you see… that’s just an enabler.

The real driver is identity. People like sharing content that proved they were somewhere they wanted to be. Go figure.

Anyway, if you’re a brand or agency planning to run from snapchat to selfie to wearable tech this year, and whatever proliferates your twitter timeline next year, good luck with that.

We’ll be here in the corner delivering opportunities for millions of fans to articulate who they are and giving the brands who understand it an opportunity to be associated with those very special moments, in an authentic and valuable way.

texas selfies

Longhorn fans taking selfies while being captured on the Fancam. Kinda meta. If you click on the image it will open the actual Fancam and zoom into this position.

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