Almost immediately after “selfies” became a thing, people started bashing them. And sure, that kind of makes sense – there’s something mockery-worthy about taking lots of photos of yourself.
But if selfies are so silly, why do they get so much social media engagement (likes, retweets, etc.)? I have a couple of theories, and I’m going to share them with you.
1) People like people
Ah, humans. We’re just naturally social, and we want to look at other people (and ourselves – hence the selfie). What other explanation could there be for TMZ?
Online, selfies and pictures of people in general get more engagement in the form of likes and comments. A Georgia Institute of Technology study found that Instagram pictures with human faces are 38% more likely to get likes and 32% more likely to get comments than photos with no faces.
Social media itself fulfills the need and desire to connect with other people, and it’s easier to do that when you’re looking at an actual person rather than a picture of someone’s lunch order. Basically, this theory boils down to “Hey, look – you have eyes and ears and a nose just like I do! We should be friends!”
2) You’re really real!
Socialmedialand is a place where we can connect with new people every day, many of whom we don’t know in real life.
In any case, pictures of your face allow all people to connect or reconnect with you as a person instead of as a tweet or Facebook post. Sharing selfies is a way of saying, “Hello! This is me, @DrifterMama, and I’m more than just 140 characters of text. I’m a person, too!”
Seeing the faces of your virtual friends (which I have more of than real friends) helps you connect with them on a personal level, rather than follow them as a faceless feed of information.
3) It’s all about the context, baby
The context of your selfie could also be the reason it’s getting a fair amount of engagement. Are you at #Bonnaroo, or is it your #Birthday? Maybe it’s #TBT (Throwback Thursday) or the ever-popular #MCM/#WCW (Man Crush Monday/Woman Crush Wednesday)?
The context, of course, doesn’t have to be connected to a popular hashtag. Life events can impact engagement more than attaching your selfie to a trending topic. Celebrating an occurrence in the moment tends to spread more virally, whether it’s a newly-adopted pet or just an amazing summer day.
The context of the image makes people feel good and relate the image to their own lives, compelling them to engage with the photo. Creating context around a selfie makes it feel less like a plea for attention, and more like you’re telling a story.
The end… or just the beginning?
A lot has been written about improving your selfies, and in my opinion, this post by Dan Zarrella on “The Science of Selfies” is the best of the bunch. In it, he breaks down data from over 160,000 images with the #selfie tag and points out which colors, filters, and hashtags result in the most likes. It’s a great read that helps us understand the psychology behind why people like selfies, and what pushes them over the edge into selfie-hate.
Whether you’re snapping a picture of yourself with a friend during a night out or sharing a new hairstyle, selfies have become a staple of social media sharing. After all, if you didn’t take a selfie, how will you prove that it really happened?
What are your theories on why selfies are so popular?
Originally published Dec 8, 2014 11:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017