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Many of us are familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus, who was known for his beautiful physique. The son of river god Cephisus and nymph Lyriope once walked by a lake or river when he saw his reflection in the water. He became entranced by his reflection, but realizing that he could not obtain the object of his desire, he fell into sorrow and eventually died. Narcissism was coined to describe “excessive interest in one’s physical appearance.”
In this age of social media, narcissistic behavior is becoming a trend both among brands and consumers. Peter Kim, the chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide, remarked that this behavior has “driven the social media landscape to the point of self-obsessed absurdity.”
Let us briefly explore the correlation between social media and brand narcissism.
Understanding brand narcissism
A study by the University of Michigan suggests that adults use Facebook as a mirror and Twitter as a megaphone to increase their influence and broaden their social circles. “It’s about curating your image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image,” says researcher Elliot Panek.
Like your high school classmate who regularly logs her daily activities, including photos of her dinner and real-time feelings about the weather, brands are also guilty of over-promotion on social media platforms. If you see regular posts from a brand about promotions, comments on various topics, or anything to remind you never to forget about it, you’re following a narcissistic brand.
Consumers want “real” brands.
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Too much exposure on news feeds can turn off consumers when it comes to brands. Sometimes, it can be an honest mistake, such as when a company’s social media team doesn’t have a grasp of the identity/voice of the brand. According to Landor’s 2014 Breakaway Brands study, down-to-earth brands “has built the greatest brand momentum in the past few years.” Consumers want more tangible experiences, not pompous and irrelevant materials.
Social media: going beyond brand narcissism
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After confirming earlier reports, Google recently surprised many digital marketers by not using social signals in its search ranking factors. Instead of depending on likes and retweets, the world’s largest search engine encourages brands to focus on the quality of their content.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, Cheil Worldwide’s Peter Kim said that there is a “broader trend in marketing where companies are placing purpose ahead of profit” in the interest of long-term growth. This is evident in global brands such as Dove and Nike that create inspirational videos on embracing diversity, natural beauty, and life goals. In addition, there is also an increasing number of companies that engage in content marketing, producing quality articles, videos, and photos aimed at genuine empowerment.
The role of social media management in the significant shift
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Social media narcissism is rampant and more people recognize this. Consumers are suffocated by repetitive posts and tweets from brands, unfollowing more narcissistic “friends” on Facebook. It’s all about “sharing the right content in your news feed at the right time to the right people,” according to Rod Ulrich of The Richards Group.
For a brand to elevate beyond narcissism on social media platforms, it needs to identify and embrace its business goal, know the right channel, truly understand its customers, and maximize the power of analytics. Creating quality content for the audience takes serious effort. The key is social media management.
Turn your brand into a real source of empowerment
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After understanding social media and brand narcissism, or the basics of it, where do you go now? How can your brand boost its social media presence while striving to be a real source of empowerment?
Stop feeding the consumer ego, and use your core values to reach out to people from socially disadvantaged sectors. For example, look at Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign for women.
- We can all use a little humility.
- Identify your branding archetype to ensure you’re properly communicating with your customers. A Nurturer business such as Ford and Compare aim to protect and support their clients. It creates content that appeals to emotions. Meanwhile, a Creator brand challenges standards but avoids being melodramatic and narcissistic. Think Apple.
- Be cautious of your social media chatter. You don’t need daily updates to be remembered. But, on the other hand, your over-exposure can increase the risk of your social media team committing a faux pas. No one wants to go viral for the wrong reasons.
- “Give, give, give, then ask.” We are in the age of content marketing. Consumers shun aggressive advertising where brands incessantly ask something from the audience. Keep on offering things of value such as original and insightful articles before asking for anything, like buying your product.
Meaningful branding = long-term growth
.As technology shapes the way the world operates, it’s imperative for brands to know how to position themselves and stay relevant. Self-promotion may have been the hottest trend in the past years, but it’s already starting to decline as social media noise is going beyond tolerable levels.
Brands, which are equally guilty of narcissism, are shifting towards meaningful connections with consumers. “We are long overdue for a course correction, which will require brands to stop feeding consumer egos and start working on platforms for social good,” Peter Kim of Cheil Worldwide shares. Understand how social media and branding work against the backdrop of long-term growth. It’s about purpose versus short-term profit.
Whether humans’ narcissistic tendencies are innate or the result of social trends is debated. Did social media create self-indulgent individuals, or were these online platforms mere products of our constant need for acknowledgment? We need to answer these questions to grasp narcissism in the age of social media and how to improve for the better either as individuals or brands.