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Pay Your Selfie: How you can make money taking photos of yourself

A collection of selfies sent to the app Pay Your Selfie is seen here. (Pay Your Selfie)

Snapping a selfie? Why not make some money on the side at the same?

That's what a new app is hoping its users will do: turn over pictures of them completing “tasks,” which will be used by a variety of companies for market research, in exchange for cold, hard cash. 

Users of Pay Your Selfie can earn between 20 cents and $1 for completing an assortment of mundane activities, from going to the movies, drinking a beer, a day at the beach and even brushing their teeth.

When users accrue $20 in their virtual piggy banks, they’re eligible to cash out.

“We appeal to anyone who is taking pictures throughout their life,” explained Pay Your Selfie’s cofounder and CEO Michelle Smyth.

“Capturing what they love, their favourite products, the places they hangout, them crossing a five kilometer (race) finish line that they’re very proud of, or they’re on vacation and they’re happy … and since they’re sharing them on social media you might as well get paid to share them with Pay Your Selfie.”

Smyth said the app offers users an opportunity to make money off their consumption habits, something she says many other companies are already doing without their knowledge

“We want to be straight-up about what we're doing, and its not about one consumer it's about the trends in aggregate,” she said.

“We want consumers to know that if they come onto the Pay Your Selfie app and share their selfies with us, we’re going to incentivize and reward them.”

The trove of images collected, along with location data on tasks that require it, help create snapshots of people in their “natural environment” that the company says is valuable to retailers.

“If you’re looking at 20, 30 or 40 images, or more, over a period two months, four months or six months, you establish a consumer profile,” said Smyth.

The company initially started out as a marketing venture, hoping to engage users with brands. But it discovered they were receiving valuable data from the selfies that users were sending back. 

Smyth said tasks provide a quick and cost-efficient “selfie survey” for companies, in comparison to traditional focus groups, surveys, data mining and other forms of market research. 

“Our methodology doesn’t have the same rigor as a traditional market research firm, nor does it necessarily have the cost or timeline.”

“The difference is we're quick and we deliver a very strong indication of what is going on and we can validate assumptions and we show visual proof of those assumptions.”

Pay Your Selfie delivers data to companies as well as a relevant sample gallery of selfies. 

The app launched in Sept. 2015 and celebrated taking its 500,000 selfie at the end of March.

Smyth also said it has “tens of thousands” of users – 60 per cent of whom are “Millennials”  and continues to grow.

The app is currently not available in Canada, but the company has plans to expand globally.

Smyth wouldn’t reveal a full list of companies that are working with Pay Your Selfie, but listed Procter and Gamble’s Crest line of oral hygiene products, Red Frog (the company behind Warrior Dash obstacle courses) and Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery.

Crest’s goal, according to Smyth, was to promote a new product and receive information about others that were already in use.

Smyth said Pay Your Selfie’s data showed men preferred cavity protection toothpaste and often used travel-sized tubes. On the other hand, women opted for more adventurous flavours and tooth whitening.

Not a ‘panacea’

Despite buzz surrounding selfie-related data tools, Markus Giesler, chair of the marketing department at York University in Toronto, said he has reservations about the technology. 

Giesler said selfies are a “staged portrayal,” and any data drawn from them should be “taken with a grain of salt.”

It is not always that consumers are going to do what they would naturally do when they take a selfie,” he said.

“Instead, they stage their behavior, so that is why I would say that that this method, while providing one additional data point, is also one that should be taken with caution when it comes to trying understand consumers."

Giesler said people are “very clever” and many will likely try to “make stuff up,” which could in turn reduce the overall results’ accuracy.

He added that using selfies for market research is a new trend  noting that data from podcasts, Facebook, Twitter and cellphones have all had their moments in the past  and many businesses believe it to be a “panacea.”

“That’s like every company’s dream that all of sudden (they) can understand consumers with a convenience and ease that only technology can afford  something like that is always promising but probably more often wrong,” said Giesler. 

Giesler said traditional ethnographical market research is more reliable, while selfies can’t capture the full extent of “what we as consumers do."

“It is now this idea that you can get that same insight for less amount and in a shorter amount time, but I doubt that you would get that same nuanced understanding of consumers through selfies,” he said. 

“Ethnographic researchers are probably better trained, or better equipped, to really understand the data …than … what 50 selfies can provide,” he added.