After being named the 2013 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries, the “selfie” became more than just a popular social media hashtag — it became the new standard for brand marketing campaigns. After prompting the song #SELFIE (with over 85 million YouTube views), plus another 57 million #selfie hashtags in 2013 alone, the selfie gained mad respect in the digital marketing world.

How the

The selfie is engaging, immediately connecting the customer to the brand or celebrity spokesperson, such as Ellen’s infamous Samsung selfie Oscar tweet. Or, in some cases, the customer is the featured selfie, such as Dunkin’ Donuts campaign to spotlight a different fan on its Facebook page each week to celebrate its most committed coffee drinkers.

This is where brands have turned the selfie into successful brand marketing campaigns — capitalizing on user engagement to both encourage the use of selfies and share the brands’ campaigns via social media platforms.

Like any digital trend, though, customers will become (if they haven’t already) inundated with selfies — as the formula for selfie-generated campaigns becomes easily reproduced, audiences will lose interest. How can brands use the selfie in a bigger, more unique brand marketing strategy?

The selfie is just the beginning of visual storytelling for brand marketing. To truly capitalize on user engagement, the selfie requires a storytelling element. Take, for instance, Dove’s short film, Selfie. This project takes advantage of the selfie, yet adds the crucial storytelling element. On its own, the selfie doesn’t often command the attention and emotional investment of the audience, but with Dove’s contribution, viewers have the opportunity to become invested in the women in the film.

From selfies with the Pope to a selfie taken from space, it seems the sky isn’t even the limit to how far people will go for a selfie. But still, a selfie is a selfie; it will quickly disappear into the abyss of one’s news feed. What will stick with the audience — a more valuable selfie, in terms of both money and social clout — is one linked to a user-generated, visual story that embraces both a brand’s messaging and the individual user’s experience.

The selfie trend has proven to brands the crucial element of user engagement. With this lesson learned, it’s up to brands to take the selfie to the next level, where marketing strategies embrace elements of storytelling. These are the campaigns that put something at stake for the audience — messaging that contains emotional elements that engage users and motivate them to share. Successful brands will make selfies more than just off-the-cuff self-portraits by combining them with user engagement and storytelling to create something captivating enough to last.

Image Credit: Roel Wijnants