More and more of my conversations these days are spoken without words. In fact, it’s not too weird to have an entire conversation communicated solely through GIFs. Right? … right?
It’s the beauty of the language of the GIF. You let the pixels speak for themselves. Steve Wilhite debuted the GIF in 1987. And despite how fun GIFs are, the acronym actually only stands for graphics interchange format. This file format encompasses 256 different colors (compared to 16.7 million in JPEG) and supports animations. The GIF and its animation capabilities does not lend well to high quality color photographs but is very suitable for simple images with solid areas of color. Simply put, an animated GIF is a series of individual images coded into a single file.
1. Understand The Context Of Why GIFs Work
GIFs have been around for a while. They’re older than I am, in fact, but the file type hasn’t been allowed to sit at the cool kid table for all that long. Twitter announced support of GIFs on June 18, 2014, while Facebook finally conformed this past May (2015). But here we are. It’s 2015, and we use GIFs to stay connected with friends who’ve moved across the country, and the Shorty Awards have an entire category dedicated to “Best Use of Animated GIFs.” Oxford Dictionaries named GIF the 2012 word of the year.
Why is that? And why did it take so long?
For one, GIFs have surged in popularity recently because they’re just ridiculously awesome, and they’re the perfect little bundles of content joy we all deserve. They’re not quite an image, yet they’re certainly not a video. They’re awkward — and that’s why I like them. The quality is low, but the emotion runs high.
They’re consumable. We’ve somehow become content hungry monsters who want rich, flashy information right now. But wait. Not if it’s too much information. Ain’t nobody got time for that. A 5-minute-long video? Pass. A photo? Well, better than simply text. But hold on — back to the perfect little bundle of content joy that we all deserve. The GIF. It’s visual and it moves. It’s like a video but it’s not. It hits the pleasure center of your brain in just the right spot. You get in, get your information, and you get out.
They’re relatable. Much of the existing GIF content on the web is sourced from popular culture. Memorable scenes from blockbuster movies have been immortalized into miniature replicas of cinematic moments. And the best part is that we all “get” that moment. The connection is made without further explanation.
They’re credible. You can either go about announcing that two weeks remain in the semester with a simple, boring line of text or you can own that tweet with a GIF of Amy Poehler. Because who doesn’t love Amy Poehler?
— Colorado State Univ (@ColoradoStateU) November 9, 2015
They’re personable. GIFs are a handy little way of expressing your brand’s voice and tone, especially if your voice is fun, modern, and intends to relate to a younger demographic. Social engagement increases the more your brand comes across as pop culturally adept. The key here is to be fully aware of your intention. Always choose carefully which GIF will allow your audience to project their own self identity into the context of the conversation.
Hello, Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/JzkSDt0Wya
— Colorado State Univ (@ColoradoStateU) November 17, 2015
2. Use The GIF As A Storytelling Mechanism
Your story can be many things: a short tutorial, a product overview, a heartfelt message, etc.
The main gist here is that a GIF provides the opportunity to story tell in unique fashion. The 140-character constricting nature of Twitter can be circumvented with the movie-like aspect of a GIF. Together, the complemented story tells much, much more. The below tweet tells a story of success. A touchdown. A march down the field bringing our team’s lead to 14-0.
— Colorado State Univ (@ColoradoStateU) September 19, 2015
People want stories to be told to them. And videos require the extra step of clicking play that often people don’t want to bother with. The GIF tells the story automatically, on repeat.
3. Tap Into What’s Happening Right Here, Right Now
“GIFs pull into sharp focus the tiny detail we don’t get to catch in the sonorous, overwhelming broader media landscape, thereby creating out of the familiar something that feels brand-new unto itself. It’s like plucking a single tiny silver fish out of a cloud-like school to examine the under-appreciated natural detail; the luminous radial of its glass-like eye, the articulated grace of its minuscule scale pattern. In that regard, it’s like stopping time. – Leigh Alexander
Good use of the GIF illustrates emotion and whets your appetite. It leaves more to be desired but provides enough to pique your interest. When students recently came back from Fall Break, the song “Hello” by Adele was all over the airwaves. So I made the below joke about returning to campus.
— Colorado State Univ (@ColoradoStateU) November 30, 2015
The success of a GIF on social media is largely dependent upon the timeliness of what you’re posting. Recently, our hometown favorite Denver Broncos stunned the New England Patriots with an impressive victory, and a former Colorado State Ram football player made one of the standout plays. This was the perfect formula for us. The Broncos were riding a big wave of social buzz at the time, and we had a perfect tie-in to ride that wave while connecting the story to our university. The result: Tom Brady meets Shaq Barrett. Our Facebook post reached 170,803 people.
— Colorado State Univ (@ColoradoStateU) November 30, 2015
4. Be Wary. Use GIFs Appropriately
Here are some things to remember when deciding whether the GIF is right for you.
Embed issues still exist. Instagram, for example, does not support GIFs at this time.
The nature of GIFs can cheapen your brand. Be careful about how you use them. If your brand’s image is classy and elegant, you’ll want to focus more on the artistic side of GIFs (cinemagraphs, for example). A good case study for this is MySpace. GIFs ran rampant on MySpace and before long, the site was cluttered with glittery, flashy animations and became an eyesore. Information overload. Personally, I believe this contributed to the downfall of the site.
Find your balance. You can come across as trying too hard. Funny is a good tone for us depending on context. But it might not be for your brand. If everything you tweet is a GIF, you’ll lose your credibility because a higher percentage won’t strike the right chord with your audience.
5. Resources To Help You Get Giffy
How to create a GIF if you have Photoshop and basic design skills.
How to create an elegant cinemagraph.
Record a portion of your screen and easily turn it into a GIF.
There you have it. Get GIFFY!