A Graphics Interchange Format image, better known as a GIF, consists of picture files compressed to decrease transfer rate. GIFs possess several pictures in one file to create an animated effect. GIFs are prevalent in modern day cyberspace because the images are quick to download and the animations are often entertaining. For marketers, animated GIFs can be incredibly useful for improving engagement online.
We’re not here to settle the GIF pronunciation debate: Does it sound like gift without the “t,” or should it be pronounced like the peanut butter brand Jif? Instead, we want to offer you a rundown of the types of GIFs available, how you can make your own, and the legal considerations involved in GIF sharing.
Prevalence of GIFs in Social Media
Although GIFs can be used in blog posts (such as this one) and in website content, people primarily think of these animated images in the context of social media conversations. Here’s a quick breakdown of how many GIFs are posted to different social media platforms, according to the New York Times:
- Tumblr: An average of 23 million GIFs posted every day
- Facebook Messenger: Roughly 5 million GIFs sent between users every day
- Slack: More than 2 million GIFs sent between users each month
- Twitter: More than 100 million GIFs shared in 2015
The Different Types of GIFs
Not all GIFs are created equal. Before you go attaching a GIF on a social media post or your website, it’s best to know the different types of GIF images and to make sure you’re using the right one for the right situation.
1. The Replay GIF
There was a time not too long ago when sports fans had only a couple of opportunities to watch a replay of their favorite touchdown catch or slam dunk. It was either shortly after the play occurred via instant replay, or later during ESPN highlights. If you missed those windows of opportunity, your last option would have been hoping someone recorded it on VHS.
In the age of YouTube, those days are gone. GIFs, however, let fans replay highlights in a condensed format. The replay GIF changes the game by continuously looping virtually any notable footage – from last night’s game winning field goal to even a memorable scene from your favorite movie.
On Twitter, the official accounts for the NFL and NBA were recently using a high volume of Vine videos for replays. But with Vine supposedly on its way out the door, the NFL and NBA are slowly turning to GIFs and native Twitter video to highlight must-see moments.
Replay GIFs are not limited to entertainment. This style of GIFs can be helpful for the marketer who wants to share current company news or connect a current event to their business.
2. The Reaction GIF
Emotions are studied on replay with the reaction GIF, which is arguably the most popular style on social media. Film and TV are the industries most responsible for content you’ll see in most reaction GIFs. Outside of Hollywood, reaction GIFs serve marketing industries by replacing textual replies with animations. For example, a creative GIF could be used as a social media reply.
Reaction GIFs are typically used to enhance whatever comment a user is making online. These looping images express whichever emotion the user is feeling or trying to convey at the time. No matter the emotion, reaction GIFs typically elicit a laugh out of the viewer, especially if the image is used in a clever way in reaction to a particular topic.
3. The Cinemagraph
The cinemagraph is the black-tie affair GIF. More formal than its GIF relatives, the cinemagraph GIF is a still shot-animation hybrid. The viewer of this GIF doesn’t experience one event in a loop, but one event continuously progressing through time. In a cinemagraph, one element of the image is in motion while the rest stay still.
Because cinemagraph GIFs have a limited number of moving parts in the image, the viewer is left with a tranquil feeling. Travel and fashion companies gravitate toward the cinemagraph GIF because of its professional appearance and quiet tone. The visual benefits and complex consistency of the cinemagraph GIF demand advanced editing skills and usually begin with footage captured by a camera on a tripod.
4. Technical GIFs
Browsing through the internet for useful marketing data is no longer a painful chore thanks to technical GIFs. Technical GIFs transform boring figures into engaging content. These types of GIFs are especially useful for marketers who want to include statistics, diagrams or graphs for product summaries.
Technical GIFs are interactive, as opposed to a black-and-white graph on a PowerPoint slide. Video marketing combined with a technical GIF creates an even deeper animation experience.
5. The Perfect-Loop GIF
Whereas the cinemagraph GIF is still and serene, the perfect-loop GIF is active and busy. This GIF consists of a seamlessly looped camcorder recording of an event. The final frame of the shot leads back to the initial frame without missing a beat. Even though the viewer relives the same 7-or-so seconds over and over, he or she can lose track of time due to the seamlessness of the GIF.
The perfect-loop GIF can be used to a company’s advantage. Since the loop is inherently nonstop, it can be used to market non-stop service. It can also be used to advertise a customer demonstration’s of a successful product.
How You Can Make GIFs Yourself
Creating a GIF doesn’t take a background in computer science, IT or engineering – nor is it limited to tech-savvy people. For example, if there’s a YouTube clip for which you can’t find a corresponding GIF, there’s an easy way to to turn that video into a looping image. Follow these simple steps:
- Find a YouTube clip to make a GIF out of.
- Type “gif” before the “youtube” portion of the URL. Press enter. This will transfer you to gifyoutube.com. You can use your originally selected YouTube video to make a new GIF.
- Pick the start and stop times and add a GIF title.
- Click “create GIF.”
- A preview of the GIF will appear. If pleased with the preview, use the new URL to share across the internet. If displeased with the preview, click “go back.”
If the looping image you’d like to create doesn’t have anything to do with YouTube, you can try one of these GIF-making online tools and see which one you find easiest to use:
- Giphy Create Tool
- ScreenToGIF (lets you record a designated area of your computer screen)
- RecordIT (similar function as ScreenToGIF)
- GIF Toaster
- GifBoom or GIF Me (for turning phone videos into GIFs)
And, of course, if you have reasonable skills in the Photoshop department, you can use that software to make a GIF out of original artwork, a series of still images, or any video file you’d like to upload into the program. Here’s Adobe’s guide on how to make GIF images with Photoshop.
Sharing GIFs: Legal Considerations to Keep in Mind
Legally, individual users are given a lot of slack when it comes to GIF creation and usage. Businesses, on the other hand, are not.
Companies must be aware of the legal restrictions of GIFs. Clashes over a GIF’s origin are judged according the doctrine of fair use. This doctrine allows copyrighted material to be edited and used for alternative purposes if the copy is derived from the original and does not compete financially for copyrighting rights.
The four factors considered in the doctrine of fair use for GIFs include:
- The intent of the GIF: Is it for profit or not for profit?
- The content of the GIF.
- The ratio of GIF used to copyright material.
- How the GIF would value the potential audience.
GIFs of well-known people – namely actors, celebrities and athletes – have strict publishing guidelines. Businesses intending to post a GIF of a celebrity should gain permission from everyone in the clip, the copyright owner, and the creator of the GIF.
If a business wishes to use an athletic GIF to show a game highlight or replay, there are high hurdles to clear. The MLB and NFL are fairly strict with their GIF policies. Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee and FIFA do not allow GIFs at all. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects social media sites that post GIFs if a reporting structure is in place to eliminate content suspected of copyright violation.
For marketing companies, it’s best to follow these GIF-sharing suggestions:
- Obtain a written release. Contact the copyright owner and actors/celebrities present in the GIF for permission to share the GIF.
- Provide hyperlinks. Content shared by another should have a link to the original site. This protects the company using an unoriginal GIF and places the original site with the liability responsibility. Give recognition to the creator.
- Make your own GIFs. Creating a GIF bypasses the legal trouble. Instead of asking others for permission and risking legal ramifications, you won’t have to ask anyone permission to create your original GIF, and you won’t be under the threat of impending legal action.
We’re not saying you can’t use existing GIFs that involve movie scenes, sports footage, etc., but you’ll run the risk of legal action if you use one of these images with your business’s name behind it, especially if you stand to profit off anything associated with that particular image. Therefore, we advise being prudent with what type of GIF image you plan to use as well as the platform on which you will use it.
GIF Images Have Staying Power on the Web
GIF images can be profoundly useful when used correctly. Clever use of these animations can undoubtedly help a business reach and advance its goals. These images also add a smile and a laugh to a monotonous work day.
The graphics interchange format has actually been available since the 1980s, and tech experts have continually predicted that the format will lose favor on the web soon. Yet, thanks to Twitter and other social media platforms, GIFs have only seemed to become more popular and ubiquitous in recent years.
With so many GIFs circulating the web and even making their way into other mediums, such as text messages, these looping images have been embraced as a new way to communicate. What’s your favorite particular GIF image or style of GIF?