Let me take a selfie – Manifestations of narcissism or innocent status updates?

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A recent ANU study titled ‘Classifying the narrated #selfie: genre typing human-branding activity’ recently utilised software to randomly select 5,000 selfies over a period of 10 days. The study’s co-authors, Dr Toni Eagar and Dr Stephen Dann of the ANU College of Business and Economics, analysed the selfies and found that users were mimicking the marketing practices of small businesses in order to build up an audience – whether they knew it or not. In this ‘commercial exchange’ people were selling a view of themselves and their lifestyles, with likes and follows being the currency of the transaction. The advertising is deliberate and well thought through, though only 1/10 users were found to have purely be looking to attract paid endorsements or ‘insta-fame’.

Woroni sat down with Dr Toni Eagar to learn a little more about the findings of the study.

L: What got you interested in doing the research in the first place?

T: The media has placed a lot of attention on selfies recently. A lot of the coverage criticises selfies as a form of narcissism and vanity. We are selfie-takers ourselves, and we didn’t think that selfies were purely driven by narcissism. We wanted to discover the different types of selfies and the motivations behind them.

L: What was the main tool that people are using selfies as?

T: From our research, we discovered that the majority of people (35%) were using selfies as an autobiography. It was personal correspondence. These selfies ranged from showing their friends and family that they graduated, to selfies in front of a television or at the grocery store. The selfie that was most associated with narcissism was the propaganda selfie (11%), which communicated physical attractiveness for the sole purpose of seeking followers. The other selfies ranged from celebrating being with a significant other (21%), to self-help (7%) and parody (12%).

I think this really helped us demonstrate that selfies aren’t only outlets for the narcissistic.

L: In your study, you mention that some people use Instagram as a means of advertising for a larger business. How effective do you think Instagram is in selling products?

T: It’s a grey area. It depends on how aware the audience is of the person’s sponsorship status. People get followed for positive things, but that positive thing might not necessarily be market-driven. There are a lot of ethical issues that arise as well. Are instagrammers required to disclose their sponsorships with their audience? This disclosure can really change the relationship between the audience and the instagrammer, and can have some negative consequences at times.

L: Are you planning to go into more depth into your selfie research?

T: We’re thinking about a plan to go into timelines and segment the selfie-takers based on their narratives, instead of singular images. We’re also thinking about looking at audience responses to the usage of types of narratives and the timing of the selfies. This will really help us look at the negative behaviour, like compulsively uploading selfies, and see how true the criticisms from the media really are.

The study has been recently published in the European Journal of Marketing.