Our Obsession with the GIF – A Native Storytelling Device

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The GIF turns 30 this year and is older than the average person using it. What accounts for its longevity, and how has it influenced the use of video on social media?

Ask any random group of people how to pronounce GIF and you’ll start an intense debate. The creator of GIF, Steve Wilhite, publicly stated it’s pronounced with a soft-g (“Jif”), but many, myself included, represent the hard-g team.

Whatever your stance, there’s no arguing the GIF’s longevity and dominance in popular culture. As the format turns 30 this year, I’d like to raise a glass to how it has highlighted the importance of native content on social media and inspired new video formats we see emerging today.

A Truly Native Format for Social Platforms

We should thank millennials for the popularity of GIFs on social media. They are the largest living generation in America and continue to shake things up.

Millennials want content that is creative, relatable and easy to consume. They are the “show, don’t tell” generation and require a certain level of engagement. Apps like Snapchat and Vine, you could argue, were influenced by the GIF’s ability to tell a story in a few seconds. Like GIFs, videos on social media must be brief and connect with their audience in a relatable, yet highly emotional level.

However, the reason these formats have been so successful is that, unlike linked content, GIFs and videos are truly native social formats. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of adults in the U.S. report receiving their news via social media. Millennials, even more so than other generations, don’t want to waste time being redirected through multiple platforms or websites to access their content. Consumers go on social media for the content so naturally, that native social formats like GIFs and video are at a clear advantage.

Pushing the Creative Envelope

Storytelling is essential to any content creator’s marketing campaign. In the past, a simple magazine spread, billboard or ad in the newspaper would do. Today, we want our stories to be informative, engaging and on social media. Part of the reason GIF and video content has been so successful is because it hits these targets.

There is an art to understanding how to use video content. As marketers and content creators, you should start learning if you’re not already video savvy.

The use of GIFs and video on social media is dominating other formats; we’d be silly not to capitalize on it.

According to a Cisco Systems report, 84 percent of communication in 2018 will be video-related, and Animoto says four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than read about it.

In order to retain the attention of millennials, I’ve observed content creators step up their creativity:

  • Dell’s GIF-inspired email marketing campaign saw a 42 percent increase in click rate;
  • Netflix did an outdoor campaign made entirely of GIFs;
  • Instagram introduced a Boomerang and a video function, and users share 95 million photos and videos daily;
  • VSCO created the DSCO app, confirming video creation as a necessary skill for professional photographers;
  • The cinemagraph, one of my favorite examples, incorporates a GIF and a still image. The subtle movements elevate a brand’s aesthetic on social media.

Taken one step further, moving images have given rise to live video streaming. Facebook, YouTube, Periscope and Instagram have adopted this trend. We are only seeing the beginning.

With technology’s constant evolution, it’s hard to predict how video will be used on social in 30 years. One thing I do know native video formats will continue to thrive and incorporating them into your social strategy is a must.

Happy birthday GIF (said with a hard-g). Let the debate rage on.

The Keli Network is a video-first social channel creator, distributing vertically-focused content through its owned brands, including Gamology, OhMyGoal, Genius Club and Beauty Studio, with others launching in upcoming months. Keli reached 960 million video views across its channels in the month of May (Source: Tubular Labs). 

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