Outside of some hip B2C social media marketers, communications professionals generally don’t bother with GIFs (which stands for graphics interchange format). They likely consider the humorous looping video clips nonprofessional and associate them with brief, humorous clips of popular films or TV shows.
But GIFs, now ubiquitous on social media, can offer a terrific tool for PR and corporate communications as well as social media marketing.
GIFs can increase engagement, highlight a brand’s personality, showcase new products and offers, and generally spice up social media posts as well as ordinarily mundane marketing emails and newsletters. Following the axiom that a picture says a thousand words, communications pros can use GIFs to improve their messaging and even communicate complex ideas. GIFs are mobile-friendly since they typically have small file sizes and are well-suited for conveying humor. They’re also affordable and relatively easy to create with tools like Giphy or CloudApp.
Stuart Bruce, a PR and corporate communications consultant based in London, lists several uses of GIFs beyond funny social media clips. GIFs can:
Bring numbers to life in charts. They’re especially useful for illustrating how numbers change over time.
Express complex ideas. The Center for Investigative Reporting used GIFs to show the impact of caffeine consumption.
Tell a story with a series of static images. The New York Times did that to show how its homepage had changed over time when it announced a new site.
Express reactions. Companies can express reactions with GIFs, just as people do. Google sent the Daily Dot a GIF when asked to comment about a story on YouTube video streaming. The Daily Dot first mistook the response as a no comment, but Google asked it to include the GIF in the story as its official response.
Summarize a news release, a white paper, by-lined article or speech. Use a photo, or photos, of the author and include two or three main messages.
Illustrate complex business processes. South African brewery Stellenbrau showed how beer is brewed.
Possible GIF Pitfalls for Brands
Beware of these pitfalls, Bruce warns.
Interpretation. The images can be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted. Viewers can mistake an ironic shrug for a brusque brush-off.
Copyrights. Individuals can share clips of movies and TV shows for personal use on social media, but copyright holders are not so relaxed about businesses, especially large corporations, using their intellectual property for commercial use.
Accessibility. GIFs exclude the visually impaired as they can’t be read by screen readers, which can pose legal problems in some countries.
Tips for Creating and Sharing GIFs
Communications pros can follow these steps recommended by 5W Public Relations for creating and sharing GIFs.
Select software that meets your goals. Platforms include GIPHY, Canva, Adobe Photoshop, Gyazo, GIFBrewery and Recordit. For complete control and to access premium services, consider paid platforms.
After selecting a template for the platform, select a static background. The background remains unchanged in each frame. Add text and elements based on the campaign’s content.
Compress the size of images to reduce loading times with tools like Kraken.io or Compressor.io. But be careful to select the correct dimensions to retain image quality. Premium tools like Adobe Photoshop provide features that minimize a file’s size while retaining quality.
Use GIFs judiciously. Some marketers overuse the format. Some audiences may be more annoyed than amused by the looping images. The main guideline is to add them selectively and not overburden viewers.
Bottom Line: GIFs can enhance PR and marketing and add personality to normally staid corporate communications. The animated, looping images are no longer only for amusing social media responses.
Michael Kling is manager of public relations, marketing and social media at Glean.info, a media monitoring and measurement service that provides customized media monitoring and PR analytics solutions.