If you aren’t using GIFs in your brand’s digital content, you’re missing a massive engagement opportunity.
We all know that our audiences crave bigger, better, more invigorating visual content. But what can you do if you don’t have the budget or resources for unlimited unique designs?
Enter the GIF.
A GIF (or Graphics Interchange Format file) is a bitmap-type file that supports animation. When you’re scrolling through your newsfeed and see a clip of a cat falling on an endless loop, it’s probably a GIF.
The beauty of GIFs for social media marketing is that they can potentially convey more complex or complete statements than stand-alone visuals – and still leave room for a message. Plus, animation naturally draws the eye.
Launching a new product? You could create a Facebook post that says “We’re incredibly excited about this new product.” You could write the same text and add a photo, such as your team looking thrilled. Or, you could post the same text and add a GIF of an enthusiastic high-five.
That’s the winner.
GIFs aren’t just about adding a slapstick comedy element to your blog or social media content. They can also be used to accentuate announcements, provide quick demos, and add a personal touch to messages. Buffer regularly emails its users congratulatory messages that include a GIF of a staff member.
Here are my 10 top tips for choosing and posting the perfect GIFs to make people stop and take note of your content.
- 1. Put your audience first
- 2. Know your pop culture
- 3. Choose quality (even if it means sacrificing the GIF of your dreams)
- 4. Beware migraine-inducing loops
- 5. On that note, beware tiny text!
- 6. Don’t GIF up the works
- 7. Make your point
- 8. Post correctly for your network
- 9. Let the GIF be your inspiration
- 10. Make your own GIFs
- GIFs and copyright law
1. Put your audience first
All of your marketing should be based on the person intended to consume it, and that includes GIFs.
- If your business is more serious or somber, like certain medical or legal professions, you might want to stick to gentler GIF humour like animals or kids due to the sensitive mental state your audience is likely in when reading your content.
- If you’re in an industry geared toward younger or more relaxed audiences, go for the cheeky, sarcastic, trendy, or niche-y GIFs.
- Never go too far with lewd or offensive humour, such as political, racial, cultural, or adult GIFs. All it takes to undo years of hard work is one slip-up. Make sure you know the source of the GIF, and that it, too, is audience-appropriate.
2. Know your pop culture
When choosing GIFs of celebrities, think about which pop culture references will most appeal to your target demographic.
- If your ideal market is senior citizens, you might not want to rely on GIFs of semi-nude Justin Bieber. Likewise, if your marketing is meant for teens, the best GIF probably isn’t from a ‘50s sitcom (unless that’s the current retro resurgence).
- Take advantage of trends and nostalgia! Whether it’s a Saturday morning cartoon or Elaine doing “the dance” on Seinfeld, a familiar smile-inducing scene is likely to increase engagement.
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) December 12, 2015
3. Choose quality (even if it means sacrificing the GIF of your dreams)
There are millions of GIFs in the sea, so there’s no reason to settle for something grainy, glitchy, or (when used in blogs) disappointingly small. Put your audience first, accept that you have to try a new search, and move on.
4. Beware migraine-inducing loops
A GIF that plays out a little is preferable to a super-short clip that repeats every second. The result can be jarring. Your image needs to draw the reader’s eye, not make the person scroll extra quickly just to make it go away.
5. On that note, beware tiny text!
Sometimes text is necessary to remind your audience of the great one-liner, lyric, or catch phrase that the image represents. A single line that remains throughout the animation is fine, but avoid images with multiple lines or text that only appears briefly and can’t be read in that time.
6. Don’t GIF up the works
You might love GIFs, but marketing isn’t about what you like. Only post them as often as drives value for your viewers. Teen and Millennial audiences, gamers, and people who work in marketing or media might appreciate frequent GIFs, while someone seeking a personal injury law firm or infertility treatment not so much. That isn’t to say none, just fewer.
7. Make your point
If you’re having a hard time finding a GIF that illustrates what you’re going for, think outside the box.
- Let go of literal! If you’re tweeting a link to your staff page, you don’t have to search “team” GIFs. Think of a word that describes your team (like “awesome”), a famous team (like superheroes), or a movie quote that references teams or teamwork. When tweeting Shawn’s blog on leadership without isolation, my process went like this: isolation = loneliness, search “lonely” = nostalgic sitcom GIF.
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) November 26, 2015
- Reaction GIFs are an easy win if you’re stuck for time or drawing a blank. Think of the desired reaction to either your topic or to the problem the audience has that your content will resolve.
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) January 19, 2016
8. Post correctly for your network
- Whether you’re using scheduling tools or posting live, on Facebook be sure to delete the link text after the preview appears. Leaving link text looks unprofessional.
- Giphy offers one-click GIFs within tweets, but that only works if you’re tweeting natively and not if you’re using a social media scheduling tool. Your best bet for scheduled tweets is to download the GIF and add it as media so that it appears directly in the Twitter feed.
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) December 3, 2015
9. Let the GIF be your inspiration
Sometimes you’ll see a GIF and just know you need it, but the right application remains to be seen. When you know your brand’s tone and your audience’s taste, it’s easy to build up a small GIF arsenal for those times when you’re in a crunch.
- Make the GIF funny by context, or make a straight subject enticing with a funny GIF. I was inspired to use someone motioning “come here” to represent inbound marketing, and Adam Sandler shouting at a golf ball became a metaphor for web design.
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) November 14, 2015
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) January 2, 2016
- Every now and then, let an irresistible GIF dictate the content. This sounds like crazy talk, but again – if you know your audience, looking through GIFs can remind you of content you have. For example, I just knew I had to use this GIF in a tweet about Damian, and saved it until a moment presented itself.
— Forge and Smith (@forgeandsmith) October 16, 2015
10. Make your own GIFs
Create unique GIFs of your team, your products, or your services using the multitude of free apps and software out there. You’ll have eye-catching visual content and put a human face on your business. Win/win.
GIFs and copyright law
On a more serious note, it would be irresponsible to not mention the legal aspect of GIFs. While no one has been sued over a GIF, there is weight to the debate over whether they’re copyright infringement (both from the source and from using a GIF someone else created) or whether they’re fair use.
If in doubt, I recommend doing a little reading or asking a legal professional to decide if they’re right for your business.
In the meantime, this cat failing to cat is a reminder of how powerful GIFs can be as visual marketing tools.