Op-Ed: Just like anything else good in the world, the “selfie” can and will be abused. But, honestly… can we just please calm down about selfies?
The term “groupthink” refers to, “groups of people ignoring alternatives and taking irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.”
Yep, the same sort of thing frequently happens on social media when we all make a tacit and unspoken agreement to hate the same thing, person or group of people. Sometimes it’s warranted, but it’s often blown way out of proportion.
Take selfies, for example. For years and years and years (seriously, so many years), we’ve been taking self-portraits and nobody said boo. But at some point, it became a thing we all had to be up in arms about.
But why? Are they really that bad? Do we really need to throw such vitriol at those who take or post them online?
I mean, honestly… can we just please calm down about selfies?
A Rich History of Selfies
Though the word, “selfie” might be new, the act of capturing your own likeness hardly is. If you’ll allow me to go there, artists have been creating selfies for thousands of years. But Van Gogh didn’t catch hell when he painted himself; no one called him narcissistic and pathetically self-obsessed.
Sure, he didn’t go around painting versions of his now-famous self-portrait all around the world, but he very well might have done so if it were as easy as clicking a button and having his painting instantly appear in front of a ginormous audience.
And not long ago, we started unearthing self-taken daguerreotype photos from the early days of photography. The one people are calling the world’ first selfie, taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839, required him to stand still for several minutes to capture a clear image of himself, but you know what? It’s a beautiful picture and he looks like a badass.
Then we’ve got cool selfies from the likes of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Colin Powell, Sammy Davis Jr., and the freaking Kennedys. The fact is that all of these people were guided by the same impulse you are when you whip out your iPhone, reverse the camera and start snapping.
Selfie or Self-Obsessed?
It certainly can’t be denied that some people have abused the selfie and provided endless ammunition for the selfie haters out there. Holding your phone up to flash a sparkly smile when your backdrop is a funeral or a disaster of some sort is not kosher, and is frankly pretty disturbing.
But their behavior doesn’t make the form bad in itself. Just like anything good, the selfie can and will be abused – the same is true for alcohol, food and “that’s what she said” jokes. In fact, it might be said that one reliable indication that something is pretty rad is that people start exploiting it in all the wrong ways.
Kim Kardashian’s excessive selfie publications, however, don’t make the selfies with your children or your best friends disgusting or egotistical. It doesn’t even mean there’s anything wrong with you snapping a mirror shot in your bedroom when you’re feeling particularly fly. Now, when you Photoshop it to hell and post 10 different versions of the same picture to your Instagram, we get into murky territory. But again, in the wise words of Eric Clapton, it’s in the way that you use it.
Because of the extreme backlash the selfie has received in the media, some companies might be a little gun-shy about using selfies in their social media marketing. But they ought not to be.
It’s an indisputable fact that images are the most powerful tool of the social media marketer today, and they become even more powerful when they reveal the humans and the personality that make a brand what it is.
There are several effective ways that businesses can responsibly harness the power of the selfie. The first is pretty obvious, but highly underutilized – encourage your team to snap the occasional selfie on an average day at work or during an exciting company event. It’s never a bad idea to show your customers that people like being a part of your brand and that the environment you create is conducive to a little goofing around once in a while. You can also invite customers to take their own selfies with your product or using your service in some way.
Really, it just comes down to approaching social media marketing somewhat similarly to the way people approach personal social media and, like it or not, selfies are a big part of the personal approach that endears your followers to your brand in an authentic way.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t let the funeral selfie-snappers or the Kim Kardashians or the groupthink condemnation of the selfie stop you or your company from taking part in the selfie movement.
Selfies are simply one way that people are choosing to express themselves online, and the only reason they’re everywhere now is that they’re easier than ever to take. No, they’re not ruining society and they don’t mean we’re destined to become a superficial and soulless people; they’re just pictures of ourselves, and those have been around in some form for about as long as we have.
… And yes, there are even people reviewing selfie-sticks online.
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Written by: Anna Garvey