Happy Valentine's Day! Who's your Valentine? If it's you, yourself, and you, you may be in good company (in more than one way).
The “selfie” has gained so much cultural traction, with 17,000 percent growth in usage from October 2012 to October 2013, that it was named word of the year by The Oxford Dictionary. What exactly happened this year, and what cultural significance does this trend have on both our personal and professional brands?
The “selfie” has become grounded in vernacular due to our photo-sharing behaviors across ever-expanding opportunities on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter, in addition to blogging and dating sites.
One hypothesis is that this cultural dynamic can be boiled down to an interest in two things: celebrities and ourselves. The birth of the “selfie,” made popular by the likes of Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber, provided fans a glimpse into celebrities’ most personal and intimate moments, while giving the world a new form of self-expression and control over how we are represented across the digital landscape.
Susan Sontag explains our obsession with this form of photography as a form of “aesthetic consumerism” in which we are all now addicted, pushing us to frame our identity for “presentation and idealization” in a currency of envy (i.e., a form of narcissism being fed by permanent connection to social media and mobile phones).
Our social feeds have become full of “humble brags” simultaneously flaunting and hiding information, photo streams oscillate between party and vacation — or parties while on vacation. It’s the fantasy life we’re creating. Claiming our 15 minutes, and anchoring ourselves in aspiration, all through a filter — but at what point do we start to believe our own stories, fall for our own narrative based on creating our ideal self?
And how does this impact our careers? This fantasy life doesn’t always align with the values of the companies we work for, or if independent, represent an image of trust or reliability.
Thanks to the continued emergence of digital technology platforms, we are faced with an increasingly fuzzy line between work and play. We’re expected to be “continuously on;” answering emails out of the office, and working from home on weekends. So, when it comes to our social media presence, where does the separation of personal and work identities exist? Should we even try to separate these ideals?
It’s not a simple fix of shutting down access to your social networks, only allowing employers or colleagues to see a fraction of your online identity. Digital asset and identity management can be a major driver for employment or promotion. How you act online can show so much more than the traditional CV or resume, acting as a catalyst for more interesting conversations in your current company or opening up future opportunities. Do you show that you’re creative? Do you have an eye for detail? Are you a brilliant photographer or do you have a way with words, perfectly crafting the ideal 140 characters? It can demonstrate that you have a well-informed opinion, that you’re an influencer, or connected to a deep network of industry-related power players, upping your overall value and potential equity.
It’s not just “selfies” we need to think about. University of Cambridge researchers developed a study last year to determine whether “we are what we like.” It turns out they can predict race, gender, and political affiliation with accuracy and point to specific personality traits. All that insight in just a few clicks!
“Likes” are also hangovers from the past, a nod to the cultural digital action of the time, and perhaps where “selfies” may go. Mashable recently published an article, “15 Facebook pages you forgot you liked,” — in a few years’ time it may be “15 ‘selfies’ you wished you hadn’t shared.” Ajax even released an app called, “Ajax Social Wipes: A Tool To Clean Up Your Feed,” allowing you to clean up digital remnants across Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook seems to be the most obvious platform to shut down access, migrating colleagues to LinkedIn, where the majority of content is professional. But if you do this, be conscious of the signals you may be sending — following a bunch of companies or updating your profile can all be signs that someone is looking for a new gig. While underutilized in general, Google+ can be your best friend, optimized specifically to show up in search results, allowing you to share valuable content, ideas, and articles linking the activity to your profile. Pinterest and Instagram should be handled with care but not disregarded, as they provide an opportunity to show your passions and talents outside of the workplace.
Overall, the growth of aesthetic consumerism, penetration of the “selfie,” and the need for digital image management presents an opportunity (perhaps even a necessity) for brands and companies to act as tools, symbols, and identity-signifiers. And as identities continue to merge together, there will be several layers of consideration, leaving us to ask ourselves — will this brand (or company) provide status in both my work and personal arenas or enable greater individual appeal and desirability during the 9–5 and beyond?
This piece is an adaptation from MEC’s annual global report, “Review Preview.” You can read the full report here.
Allison Sims is a senior planner with Integrated Planning at MEC