Associate professor talks selfies and brand management in social media series

Jane Gu, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut spoke on Friday, Sept. 23, in the Advanced Technologies Laboratory on consumer social sharing and firm competition that explored the economic implications of social media on the market. (Sean MacEntee/Flickr Creative Commons)

Bright signs, story-high illuminated billboards. These mediums have existed for years as ways to communicate advertising for a certain product and suggest the success of brands. In the digital age, social media has taken on a new role in marketing and consumer trends, but in an unexpected way.

This past Friday in the Advanced Technologies Laboratory, Jane Gu, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut, led a discussion on consumer social sharing and firm competition that explored the economic implications of social media on the market.

Gu has designed a formula to evaluate exactly how social media and the activities of other consumers affect the social utility of certain items.

The majority of the discussion focused on fashion and clothing products, as these items are often featured on Instagram, Tumblr and other social media platforms.

Gu points out that each selfie posted suggests a number of things about a person’s identity, both in obvious and in more covert ways. For example, someone wearing an Adidas hat in a picture can imply several things about their personality, hobbies and financial status, among other things.

Simply by looking at a picture, viewers can infer that a person is trendy, and may subscribe to similar values as the Adidas company.

Even similar brands like Adidas and Nike whose products are strikingly similar in appearance, quality and price can convey entirely different messages to the consumer and to those around them.

Beyond the direct exposure to certain products that social media provides, many platforms allow users to limit their audience or to share their photos and trends with certain groups of people. As a result, audiences see only those who they follow and care about which may provide a disproportionate view on certain patterns and fashion trends.

For example, a community of skaters might follow each other and constantly see their fellow skaters wearing a certain brand or style of clothing. They then might try to follow these trends so that they attract friends who also enjoy skating, and people view them according to their own self-image of being a “skater.”

Wearing these items on social media can also skew an audience’s image of a skater if non-skaters start to wear the design and if the brand begins to suggest other things about the wearer, such as “trying to look like a skater.” Thus, the heart of the issue arises when the loyal customers, in this case the skaters, stop buying a product when the non-skaters start to wear the brand, ruining its reputation.

While similar issues have existed in the past, social media has perpetuated these trends and caused many loyal customers to turn on brands they would normally buy in mass amounts.

Although Gu did not incorporate empirical data into her study, her theories were well thought out and her experience in the field was evident. Her research will provide helpful insight to both consumers and large corporations, and will become increasingly important in years to come as social media becomes increasingly and public.


Sara Coiro is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at sara.corio@uconn.edu.