5 lessons for institutions from selfie culture

It doesn't matter if your young or old, the selfie has become an epidemic. A study from a project called Selfiecity, backed by the City University of New York, California Institute of Telecommunication and Information, shows that selfies are more popular with women under 40 and men over 40. In recent weeks selfie culture has popped up in the Oscars, and last week President Obama was snapped by the Red Sox's David Ortiz. The Selfie has a love hate relationship, as those that don't participant often discard the act as 'exhibitionist.' But what lessons does selfie culture have for large institutions?

Ortiz Obama Selfie

The Selfie and Institutions

Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on CBS’s "Face the Nation" that the White House (one of the most conservative institutions) counsel's office has had "conversations" with Samsung, after Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz took a selfie of himself and President Barack Obama during a visit to the White House by the 2013 World Series winners. Ortiz, who has an endorsement deal with the Samsung, tweeted out the picture and Samsung retweeted the post to its 5.2 million followers. Was the Obama Selfie a commercial stunt? Ortiz denies there is any link. Samsung recently came under heat when celebrities took the now infamous Oscar's Selfie.

Is Samsung paying for selfie moments?

The Selfie can also be a force for good. The #nomakeupselfies campaign raised the money in just 48 hours, with hundreds of thousands of donations from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter users sharing selfies of themselves without makeup and nominating a friend to do the same. Cancer Research UK said it had not initiated this particular campaign, but was alerted to the #nomakeupselfies trend on Tuesday and began to ask users to add a donation request and text code to their posts. Since then, the money has flooded into the UK charity.

The Selfie has become an instrument of expression as digital mastery has us reach for our mobile phones to capture moments to share, store and engage. It's easy: Flip the view on your phone and hold it at a high angle, making your eyes look bigger and your cheekbones more defined. Position your thumb over the button, turn to your best side, and click. Have a go now and tweet your selfie to me (@scottebales).


Part of the reason for their popularity? "The cult of the selfie celebrates regular people," says Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. "There are many more photographs available now of real people than models." And posting selfies is an empowering act for another reason: It allows you to control your image online. "I am painfully self-conscious about photos of myself," admits Samantha, nineteen, from Missouri. "I like having the power to choose how I look, even if I'm making a funny face."

Whether you like it or not, selfie culture is hear to stay and it will evolve as millions more join in. There are some great lessons on culture that institutions should be paying attention to, with the aim to learn and potentials join the selfie culture.

Selfie culture lessons for institutions

Lesson #1: It Enables independence

Our mobile devices are EXTREMELY personal, people often defend their 'mobile domain' as their most scared possession. It's our connection to the world. So as the world becomes more visual, our personal mobile device becomes a key enabler of self expression in the visual form, enter the SELFIE. But with one key ingredient, you don't need anyone else to take a selfie. Independant self expression therefore becomes a tipping point for the individual, and a major leap in technology use. How long is to until we see SLR cameras built with features to enable the selfie?

Lesson #2: I've learned to love myself, flaws included

One of the truly liberating parts of digital culture, especially amongst digital natives is their total comfort to be genuine, authentic and raw. Moments like #nomakeupselfies are full of pride, as culture norms embrace, accept and encourage authentic engagement. A complete contrary to the over engineered and planned communication methods of most multi-national companies. How ready are companies to be authentic, and let selfies happen behind closed doors?

Lesson #3: Accessorise a message

Digital culture and the increased enablement of multimedia have driven a highly visual culture of expression. Coupling an image with a tweet length message has immensely strong social engagement, catering for multiple types of consumption. As the saying goes 'a picture tells a thousand words', so adding expression to ones face in a selfie enhances the volume of communication in a single message. The level of engagement people get from a selfie and caption is something most brands would pay millions for. So why isn't your brand a part of this visual culture and dialogue?

Kevin Rudd Selfie

Lesson #4: We all secretly love ourselves, that's a good thing

A growing majority take a selfie and therefore it's reasonable to assume that we all secretly like ourselves – or at least something about ourselves. That's huge because people walk around ashamed or they lack confidence. The ability to take a selfie and send or post a selfie is a giant step in accepting who we are. Digital natives are often critiqued for the perceived withdrawn from human interaction. But there are an abundance of studies that suggest digital natives are actually reaching greater heights in Maslow's Hierarchy as they build new communities, belongingness and self actualisation. Is your company so proud of who they are that they are prepared to show the world? Genuinely.

Lesson #5: Even when you don't look picture-perfect

I've seen people take selfies in the strangest of places. Mostly at the gym. I find that weird because it's a place where no one looks their best. Yet in between sets, people are snapping a photo of themselves. Yes, this is crazy. but its expression of one's self in ALL moment. One of the things most companies struggle with in the social domain is the discomfort they have in having something shared that isn't 'perfect'. Let's face it, inside the majority of traditional institutions around the world there are hundreds of things we are glad the outside world doesn't know about.

Why would I Selfie?

At the end of the day, the selfie is about a culture change amongst a digital generation. So if you want to stand a chance of succeeding in a marketplace and workforce that will soon be dominated by digital natives, it's time to pucker up and snap those selfies, in the vein of self development, empathy and culture understanding. Nothing beats first hand experience when it comes to strategy.

How to Take The Perfect Selfie

So are you ready to give it a go? Here is a popular 'How to' video on selfies from Fashion Blogger Michelle Phan