By now you’ve probably heard that the Oxford Dictionary word of the year  for 2013 is “selfie.”
What Exactly is a Selfie?
A selfie is nothing more than a self-portrait photograph that you share via social media.
Of course, the selfie isn’t new. The black and white photograph above is a selfie of Grand Duchess Anastasia of the Russian Romanovs (yeah, that Anastasia) from 1914.
Apparently 100 years ago girls were just as into themselves as they are today. They simply didn’t have Facebook or Instagram to share their selfies on.
But it wasn’t as easy to shoot selfies back then. You had to aim a camera in the mirror to shoot a selfie in those days.
Today, with ubiquitous camera phones and front-facing cameras on laptops and tablets, it’s incredibly easy to take a selfie. It’s become a cultural phenomenon and a form of entertainment.
There have even been a number of quick-to-arrive and quick-to-go fads when it comes to posing for selfies. “Duck face” is the term used to describe people who pucker their lips for their selfies (usually young women trying to look like Angelina Jolie). But for those keeping track, there’s also the sparrow face (wide eyes, lifted brows); the frog face (tongue out); and the trout face (open trout-like mouth) — among others .
And then you have the weird penchant for taking selfies at funerals — something that Jason Feifer, a Fast Company editor, chronicled at Selfies at Funerals , a Tumblr site he set up. The fad prompted this hilarious headline at the Huffington Post, “Funeral Selfies Are The Latest Evidence Apocalypse Can’t Come Soon Enough .”
And finally, you have three heads of government taking a selfie at a memorial service for the deceased Nelson Mandela:
Some speculated that First Lady Michelle Obama was angry due to her husband laughing with the blonde Danish Prime Minister. I think the answer is simpler. Mrs. Obama, with her dignified demeanor, just had a better sense of decorum. She didn’t look angry to me — just like she hoped nobody would notice she was with those other three! She was mindful of the time and place.
As a business owner, when it comes to selfies, it’s also about being mindful of the time and place, and how others will react to your selfie.
Should You Use The Selfie in Business?
I’m going to go with “No” on this 90% of the time for small businesses.
Let’s face it: most selfies are horrendous — the kind of picture only a teenager’s friends can appreciate. If you have a traditional small business and are thinking a duck-face selfie of you as the owner will somehow bring profitable attention to your business, well … it probably won’t.
However, there are exceptions. Sometimes selfies can be good. So let’s take a look at some times when selfies makes sense and can help your business:
- Entertainers — If you are a musician or other entertainer-entrepreneur, your fans want to hear from you and they want to see you. The right kind of selfie can create a closer bond with your fan base. Go for it.
- Professional personalities — If you are a professional personality like Chris Pirillo , and your life is your business — consisting of a constant stream of videos taken in your home of you because you are a figure your audience wants to hear from — then selfies would fit right in. Just keep in mind that long before the current selfie trend, Pirillo was videoing himself. His YouTube channel has nearly 6,000 videos — most with him in them. Opening up his personal life is part of Pirillo’s mystique.
- Professional speakers — If you are a professional speaker, then a tasteful, and I emphasize tasteful, selfie occasionally can be slipped in. As a professional speaker, you are your product. So images of your product — you — make sense. In all likelihood you have fans who want to know more about you as the person. Think creatively on this. Take a selfie showing you getting set up for your next speech. Or showing the audience over your shoulder. Just keep the selfie consistent with your image. If you are known as a speaker with gravitas, then a silly selfie would be out of character and diminish your image.
- Authors — You’ve probably seen authors who encourage readers to submit a headshot of themselves holding the author’s latest book up. In this case, it’s the reader’s selfie you are looking for. Each selfie-with-book shows that the reader liked the book. Each selfie-with-book also serves as an effective way of “advertising” the book without it being an advertisement.
What if you’re not an entertainer or personality, but run some other kind of traditional small business? There’s still room for selfies. Here are some ways other types of small businesses can leverage selfies:
- Contests — Hold a “selfie” contest and encourage customers to submit selfies of themselves using your product. Give a prize for the best one. This past year saw Jamba Juice leverage the selfie trend with its #SmoothieSelfie  contest (see image above). The contest made sense because the selfie naturally lends itself to a smoothie product AND the customer’s face while drinking it.
- Engagement — You don’t even necessarily need to hold a contest. Encourage people to use and engage with your product, and share a picture of themselves doing so. For example, those in the beauty business could encourage customers to submit before and after selfies of themselves showing the difference the product makes. Consider setting up a hashtag and thread on your Facebook page for sharing their selfies. Be careful if you establish a hashtag — try not to make it self-laudatory, or it may be hijacked by detractors .
- Human interest — Include some fun selfies of your team on the company blog. Or feature a customer-of-the-month selfie in your newsletter. People love human interest. It’s why newspapers and magazines run profiles of individuals or companies, or stories of rescued puppies and New Year’s births. Used in the right place (such as an informal setting like the company blog or Facebook page), and at the right time (for light diversion and human interest), selfies can humanize your business.
For more ideas, see 25 tips on using Instagram — Instagram is ground zero for selfies.
The point is, keep your customers top of mind as to what you think they would want to see or find interesting. If use of a selfie would be welcome by them, or benefit them, or cause them to think better of your business interests, then by all means go for it.
As marketing firm Hero Farm says, make sure your use of selfies “goes beyond feeding egos.” And always remember to be mindful of the time and place when sharing selfies.
Images: Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook