What makes the perfect selfie?

In the world of social media influencers, a good selfie is worth its weight in gold. A well-executed selfie can be the difference between plain, old narcissism and a genius bit of self-promotion.

But what elevates a humble picture of your own face into a powerful engagement tool that gets people sharing, liking and commenting?

A research paper set to appear in the European Journal of Marketing claims to have distilled the essence of the perfect selfie into three rules.

The research team conducted experiments where participants were showed different images and then asked to rate them on different elements such as content and artistic quality. Finally, the participants were asked how likely they were to engage with a picture if they were to see it on social media.

“We were able to isolate what elements people find the most and least engaging with selfies,” said report co-author and senior lecturer at Cass Business School, Dr Tom Van Laer.

“Then, we could determine the type of pictures people are most likely to comment on. Our research revealed three recurring techniques that encourage user interaction.”

So what are the rules of engagement when it comes to selfies?


Participants preferred selfies to pictures taken of the subject by another person, indicating a pronounced lack of enthusiasm for third person pictures.


The results showed that the participants were 15% more likely to comment on a selfie if the person was performing an action rather than being static.

The researchers put this down to the fact that ‘selfie-takers have agency beyond just being the subject of their own pictures’. This action then captures the attention and inspires people to interact with the picture.


Perhaps the most interesting finding was that participants responded more positively to pictures that had been adapted using filters or other tools. They were 125 more likely to engage with adapted selfies then unaltered ones. The researchers put this down to the idea that users do not want to consumer ‘images that are faithful representations of reality’.

“Experts who complain that selfies are poor representations of reality are missing the point - taking selfies is not representation in anything but the loosest sense,” added Dr Van Laer.

“Social media users who want to increase their engagement rates should deploy the full power of techniques, such as emojis, filters, lenses, and tools such as selfie-sticks. Social media influencers have been doing this for years and now brands need to take note, especially as the world of advertising and social media influencers becomes increasingly blurred.”

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