Science investigates selfies and finds it's rarely about vanity

Actor Daniel Radcliffe takes selfies with fans. Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

About one in 10 people use selfies as a form of self promotion or marketing to build their online profiles, according to the latest Australian research.

Dr Toni Eagar and Dr Stephen Dann of the ANU College of Business and Economics say these selfie posters are successfully mimicking the marketing practices of businesses in a bid to build their profile.

“These are people selling a view of their lifestyle or themselves, and the currency of the transaction is likes and follows,” says Dr Eagar.

“The aim is to build an audience and establish a type of fame or admiration on social media.”

The Australian study of more than 5,000 randomly selected Instagram selfies found that 75% were posted by women.

And one in 10 was posted by those purely looking to build an audience, usually in the hope of attracting paid endorsements or some form of insta-fame.

There’s a large body of research into selfies, mostly how narcissism relates to selfie-posting. Unsurprisingly, those with a degree of narcissism have a more favorable attitude toward the act of posting selfies.

The Australian research found that selfies are a deliberate form of advertising for some.

“It was very deliberate, they had plans and they clearly had ambitions,” says Eagar.

The goal for these users was often to attract companies looking to promote their products. This is being driven by a trend for marketers to move towards social media influencers to sell products.

The researchers say they are seeing a lot more interest in the smaller Instagrammers who have 500-1,000 followers but have high engagement.

However, the research disputes the idea that selfies are a form of vanity.

“Around nine-in-10 selfies are not posted with the intent of self-promotion,” says Dr Eagar.

“There were a lot more selfies aimed at friends and family than there were trying to gain an audience. It’s neither narcissism nor self-empowerment. People are using selfies as a tool as part of their everyday life.”

The study, “Classifying the narrated #selfie: genre typing human-branding activity”, is published in the European Journal of Marketing.

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