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The Invasion Of The Gif And Why We Need Them

This is a GIF.

You might have seen one of a cat playing the piano on your Facebook feed.  They’re great for a laugh, but for business?


A GIF is a bunch of images strung together in one file, shared by a single line of code.  It could go anywhere - in an email, on a webpage, on social media.

GIFs increase reader engagement by 80%.  It’s not a marketing novelty.

The first simple GIF was created in 1987 by CompuServe.  Their popularity surged in the 2000s when marketers realised short, moving images were easily shareable, and they now have thoroughly invaded the Internet.

Their popularity has also made them incredibly easy to find, use and create.  The main hub for finding and sharing a GIF is the appropriately named GIPHY, the world’s largest library of animated GIFs.  Sift through the categories or type in a keyword to narrow the search.

There are multiple options for sharing through social media, embedding the file, linking or downloading to incorporate them into your content.

Creating your own is equally easy.  Upload your chosen images to any of the easily accessible online tools, such as GIPHY’s GIF Maker or makeagif.com and follow the instructions.

Is it a temporary trend?

GIFs look fun; there’s no doubt.  But their appeal and marketing benefits are proven and compelling.

They demonstrate a level of modernity in your brand and a human sense of humour.  They add context to longer form information like blogs and articles.  They add intrigue to Tweets and other social media posts and, crucially, are incredibly shareable.

Content with compelling imagery gets 94% more views than bare content according to Quicksprout, and visual content gets a staggering 94% more shares than text-only versions.

What makes GIFs so marketable?

GIFs are easy to absorb, and this makes them very attractive to brands trying to meet the audience’s massive content needs in a short amount of time.

This GIF listicle (comprised only of GIFs and subheadings) reached 10,772,221 views in September 2016.  That’s an article with essentially no written content.  Twitter also reported that 100 million GIFs were shared in 2015.

They also appeal to reader emotion and work in tandem with other sharing functions like hashtags and polls.  Their popularity on Twitter stems from the ability to evoke a feeling without using up your precious characters.  Remember, a picture paints a thousand words.

GIFs elevate you above the saturated market.

Business competition has never been more heated.  Brands compete ruthlessly for niche keywords and ranking.  71% of online marketers use visuals to propel their content, so differentiating your content through tailored, appropriate use of GIFs will draw the eye and get more clicks.

Don’t think GIFs are “too fun” for a serious brand.  Cinemagraphs utterly gorgeous web pages are covered with GIFs, and they are a lesson in simplicity and elegance.

Advertising takes up space in every aspect of our lives.  Exercising a little creativity can enable your brand to stand above the crowd and draw the interest of customers who are bored of repetitive marketing.

GIFs are responsive.

GIFs can now load seamlessly on mobile.  They’re no longer the product of desktop users only.

This means they are everywhere.  Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, Vimeo and almost every social media platform imaginable can now utilise the GIF to drive consumer traffic and get shared.

This is because their relatively small file size means mobiles can handle them without freezing or crashing.  The auto-loop, already a factor that makes GIFs more accessible than videos, makes them optimised for mobile consumption.

Twitter has a specific GIF function.  When Tweeting, the GIF button is now included in the add-on options along with images and polls.  Their GIF library is massive and based on keyword searches, meaning you can find a relevant GIF for almost anything.

Facebook has recommendations for GIF use, including file size and where to share them.

It’s also easy to come up with something new.

The Internet will never go short of GIFs.  They’re easy to search, and there are thousands of them.  According to the New York Times, Facebook Messenger carries five million GIFs every day and Tumblr, the undisputed king of the GIF, posts 23 million per day.

Do GIFs have a real-world use?

They’re brilliant for email marketing as they display just like a normal JPEG file.  So long as they aren’t too large or long, they should load easily and not be obtrusive.

According to Marketing Sherpa, Dell used a GIF-centric email campaign and saw a 6% increase in open rate, a 42% increase in click rate, 103% increase in conversions and a leap of 109% in increased revenue.

Using GIFs as collateral is also a potentially high-converting possibility.  They’re essentially digital versions of billboards.  Netflix pioneered an outdoor GIF campaign for its launch in France, using 100 different GIF files to promote shows like Suits and Breaking Bad.

This campaign worked brilliantly because the GIFs used instantly recognisable, famous characters in widely-known contexts.  GIFs can be amazing for marketing, but they can also fall short if used incorrectly.

The pitfalls of using GIFs

In fact, GIFs are not cure-alls for digital marketing.  There is times when they aren’t suitable, or just plain lazy.

GIFs are moving files.  On the whole, they don’t impact user experience, but if you post one at the end of every sentence some browsers won’t be able to handle it and loading time will crash.  That’ll annoy your readers and make them click away from your carefully curated content.  Don’t use too many and your loading times won’t suffer.

Research a GIF if you aren’t sure what programme/film/setting it’s from.  Making sure it’s relevant and appropriate is critical to the GIF eliciting the emotional response you want, whether it’s humour or taking pause.  Posting something irrelevant to your content will almost certainly be picked up by an eagle-eyed reader and shared.

Ask a colleague to check or do a quick Google search to make sure you’re evoking the response you want.

It’s also bad practice to use too much product placement or branding in GIFs, whether you’re editing pre-existing ones or creating your own.  It’s difficult to be subtle in a clip lasting two seconds and will alienate your audience more than entice them.

Instead, put a little watermark in the corner or focus your branding efforts on the written content accompanying the GIF.

How do I put GIFs into action?

We’ve established GIFs when used correctly, can be traffic magnets for your business.  Here’s what to do next:

  • Strategize your context. Make sure you have a very clear sentiment or CTA, whether it’s a blog post, web article, Tweet or Pinterest post.

  • Search for the perfect GIF. Use GIPHY, What Should We Call Me, Reaction GIFs, com or another GIF platform.

  • Choose how to share. On GIPHY, you can post directly to social media, embed, copy the GIF link, the HTML5 code or download the file code.  Downloading the file code is the easiest option to paste the GIF straight into an article.

  • If you’re Tweeting, go through their extensive library to find a GIF already primed for Twitter.

  • If you already have product images or something similar, create your own by uploading the stills to a GIF creator and follow the instructions there.

  • Make sure the written content to accompany the GIF is relevant. If the GIF is standalone, use a link shortener like bit.ly or ow.ly to cut down the URL length.

  • Share the GIF! Track its progress with web analytics and compare it to other posts to see which perform best.

Visual marketing is effective, and GIFs can be used to generate quantifiable results if used correctly.  A good rule of thumb is if you’re only using it as a visual distraction, it won’t give you good results.  If however, it serves a marketing purpose then you can use it.  If you’re uncertain, try A/B testing your email or blog and act on those results.

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