Across the landscape of social media platforms there seems to be an endless set of tools to utilize for your content creation. Emoji’s, memes, Vine-style videos, long-form videos, branded photography, text joke formats, leetspeak, the list goes on. One tool that users have been all over the past few years has been GIFs. The GIF file was invented by Steve Wilhite in 1987 and they’ve been around since the beginning of Internet culture in one form or another. The “dancing baby” and “hamster dance” were classics from the late 1990s. Countless GIFs were shared across Myspace in its heyday and many more are created every day on platforms like Twitter or Reddit.
The usage of GIFs as a medium to express a user’s feelings was really popularized by blogs on Tumblr. They became a playful way of communicating visually via pop culture references or reactions that people in a given fandom or niche would understand. In the mid-2000s, social media users began using GIFs more widely across media outlets. Reaction GIFs exploded. Everyone remembers sharing ones from The Office or Anchorman on Facebook. Nowadays those are mostly for normies and older folks. The younger generations have moved onto more obscure and dank references.
No matter your intended audience, GIFs can be a useful tool in establishing a database of content for social media users to willingly participate in. They don’t function the same way as ads from a brand. If you do this right and can encourage users to share your GIFs, they become a piece of entertainment content. Some brands will incorporate their product in fun ways, some will create ambiguously branded text animations, others will be more upfront with their purposes. For our client, Steak-umm, we developed a branded box head character for reactions on GIPHY.com
What made this set of GIFs so successful is primarily how absurd they are. A box of the product as a character’s head? It’s so ridiculous, you almost want to share it for that reason alone. Our audience is “extremely online” so the attractions are irony, absurdity, and humor. At first we released a set of a dozen reactions and started using them in response to people on Twitter or Facebook. Once people caught on that they could search for these themselves, it took off. We then began adding to the set every few weeks. 3 months into creating this database, the GIFs already have over a million views.
For Steak-umm, thus far we’ve stayed in the realm of reaction GIFs, but we’ll soon venture into areas of fun text and product-based material as well.
Branded GIFs are some of the best user-generated content you could put there for people to share. If executed with the right creative and strategy, they’re something people will actually want to share. Keep them fun and don’t get too branded with the whole thing, unless you’re going for an ironic vibe like Steak-umm or you want to get featured on Reddit.com/r/fellowkids.