How content appeals to our inner narcissist

  • 1
  • July 31, 2015
Meg Tapp

Meg Tapp

Executive Content Editor

Generally speaking, the most shareable content lets us indirectly speak about ourselves. From quizzes showing off just how much we really know about that big film franchise, to a list of things you would only know if you grew up in a certain place, content relating directly to a specific type of person or interest allows you to indulge in a bit of online narcissism.

So what does this mean for the future of content? From the words themselves to the way they are presented to users, we no longer have to go looking for the content that interests us; like magnets to the metal core of our own self-importance, content comes to us.

It’s all about me

Narcissism is something I’m a bit of an expert in. (I’m actually quite proud that it’s taken three paragraphs for me to mention myself.) The sheer volume of websites devoted to making my vanity socially-acceptable – not to mention socially-shareable – means the internet is a very happy place for me.

This is especially true when it comes to content. Writing reams and reams of statuses / Tweets / Pins from your own perspective could be met with accusations of self-indulgence, and yet a post from Buzzfeed or Distractify saying much the same is always better received by friends and followers.

For instance, a status saying “OMG GUYS did you know how many fun facts I know about Star Wars?!” just looks like showing off, but sharing your results of ‘The hardest Star Wars quiz you will ever take!’ is fine.

It will also make your friends wonder how much they know, too, letting their competitive instincts kick in as well as their own inner narcissists. It’s infectious and, therefore, a winning formula.

I’m not complaining – anything that makes the internet more about me is ideal. But sadly, we’re not talking about my narcissism here; we’re talking about that of users.

How does this relate to content marketing?

From a psychological / social studies perspective, this is bonkers. However, from a content marketing perspective, it’s gold dust.

The trick to success? Tap into people’s inherent desire to talk about themselves all day long, and let them do it through a third-party medium. Let them show off their amazing holiday stories in a How many of these incredible secret paradise destinations have you visited? quiz. Give them the chance to whinge about their #firstworldproblems with a post called The 27 issues all girls with ginger hair will know. (The struggle is so real.)

When creating content strategies, it’s all about the Atticus Finch approach:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Developing any content strategy needs to consider user intent. That’s been discussed a million times already, but a huge part of this has to revolve around users’ narcissistic tendencies, putting them at the centre of the online universe.

Tapping into users’ most passionate likes and dislikes will uncover how you can appeal to their need to talk about themselves, whether it’s to do with their personalities, hobbies, life experiences, or environment.

Cue Google, stage left

The impact of user narcissism is already evident. Google’s Venice update from 2012 made localised search so much more important, and this (combined with the Search, plus Your World changes) means that the majority of SERPs nowadays feature results that are most relevant to both the query and users themselves, geographically and personally. Indeed, if you want to get any kind of objective result you’ve got to go through Google Incognito – something we rarely do on desktop, let alone on mobile!

Google builds up a dedicated user profile based on your search history and activity online, which feeds into all the results and content it pushes towards you. This means that, gradually, the balance of power between the user and the content is changing.

10 years ago, if you wanted to find out the best places to eat in Crete before your holiday, you would have to do some serious digging, and if the answers were even available, chances are you wouldn’t have been able to translate them from the original Greek.

These days, once you’ve booked the flights and hotel (which Google suggested because it has the same star-rating as the hotel you visited in Tallin the year before), you’re being shown the top results on TripAdvisor for Italian restaurants in Crete (because Google remembered how often you’ve booked tables at Bella Italia and checked into Carluccio’s on Facebook in the past few months).

Reviewing who the user is as an online person helps target them more directly when it comes to search. This means brands are visible to people who want to buy from them, videos appear to those who are likely to view them, and content is shown to people who are going to read it. Everyone’s a winner.

What does this mean for the future?

Answer, converse, anticipate

In 2013, Google’s Amit Singhal defined the three key functions Google needs to perform: answer, converse, and anticipate. Answers come courtesy of the Knowledge Graph, and conversing is done by the Voice Search function.

‘Anticipate’ is where user narcissism comes in. Google and other search engines need to anticipate the user’s needs before they even ask a question, helping make the internet all about them and their daily lives.

Right now, this function is performed by Google Now. Before I leave for work, I’m told at a glance how warm it is and what the traffic is like, along with an exact ETA at the office, without even having to click on my weather or traffic app. Genius.

I get my football team’s results pushed through to me as they happen, as well as the headlines about topics I’m clearly interested in based on my search history. It’s like having someone walking with me at all times telling me exactly what I want to know before I’ve even said “hey, I’ve got a question”.

Users can already filter what they see on their social media. Where once we were subjected to every thought and holiday snap that our Facebook friends shared, we can now click ‘I don’t want to see posts like this’, and Facebook won’t show anything like it again. Where once we only had power over what we shared, now we can control what we see of what other people have shared.

Eventually, will everything a user sees online be tailored to their personality? If they hated a horror film and left it a scathing review on a cinema’s website, will Google stop showing them results about films starring that actress or director they hated?

This eliminates the freedom of curiosity somewhat, so I highly doubt it, but where does the personalisation of the internet end? At what point does it just become censorship, picking and choosing for us exactly what we see online?

Users still need to discover, and only being shown content relating to their existing interests will limit their ability to find anything new. Variety is the spice of life, after all, so whilst obviously we would rather see content regarding something in a geographically relevant area, or about the topics we subconsciously always search around, chancing upon something different is still vital.

The element of SERPrise

Pride was a deadly sin for a reason. The evolution of the internet to appeal to our inner narcissist helps us find the results that are the most relevant to us and our needs, but curiosity and human vagaries mean that we’re not always looking for the same thing.

Content needs to tap into that desire to talk about ourselves relentlessly, but also still facilitate journeys of discovery, for which the internet is the perfect place.

The sheer volume of material available online means users can and will constantly explore and stumble upon new things to entertain or inform them. However, based on the continuing popularity of websites whose content is so centred around narcissism, it seems that this tactic will continue to add that crucial confirmation of self to the invaluable freedom of search for users.

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