I’ll just get this out of the way quickly- according to the creator of the GIF, it’s pronounced with a soft g (like jiffy) not a hard g (like great).
So you want to master the art of the GIF, eh? Short for Graphics Interchange Format, they are attention-catching, but can also come off as cheesy and distracting ads when improperly used. However, they make for a smaller project, with a smaller budget, meaning they are less of a risk for your content marketing department.
With the popularity of image-centric sites like Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr, GIFs have proven paramount in their ability to show, not tell. Basically, they speak the language of the internet (which consists of memes, reaction gifs and cats, as far as I’m concerned).
Able to evoke powerful emotions, GIFs can be soothing, funny, artful, or pleasing. You have the freedom to choose and create whichever is ideal for your content and brand. They fare best when used in Tumblr blogs, to tell a story, or for a call-to-action. They can be used to demonstrate your product, or to spice up your email marketing campaign more exciting. They can bring your metrics to life! However you use them, they catch people’s attention.
Before you create your GIF or determine where to place it, you should know what your goals are. What resources are available to you? What is your budget? Any time constraints? What type of message do you want to put out there? Are you planning on showcasing your product, or explaining something with the intention to educate your audience? The objective drives the medium. It’s essential to have a purpose in mind when you create, and a subject that needs addressing. Don’t create content without purpose (we can tell)!
What type of people do you want viewing your GIF? What are they doing right before it catches their eye? Do they need a LOT of information? Or are they in a hurry because they are scrolling through social media?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of GIF creation, there are a few things to remember…
If you are not planning to create the GIF yourself and you want to use one that you found elsewhere, you need to try your best to link to the source of the GIFs that you choose to upload. It’s tricky using someone else’s original content; certain legal decisions have not yet been made about whether making a GIF from copyright material is technically copyright infringement. It is important to be aware of fair use rules, especially when you are using someone else’s material for commercial purposes (when in doubt, get their permission).
Now for the fun stuff! The next generation of creatives are learning their way around motion graphics, but you can use the different formats and gif makers to your advantage. Try to keep in mind the file size limitations of each social media platform (similar to Twitter's famous 140-character tweet).
With regard to GIF compression, stick to a limited color palette and avoid gradients. It’s also better to keep the number of GIFs that are playing at the same time on the same page to a minimum. Keep it small (square or 4:3) and make it work in a continuous loop. Not only does this tell a better story, but it keeps people watching for longer. In order to get your loops nice and smooth, be sure to remove that second frame that repeats at the end. Also note that depending on the media platforms built-in functions, some GIFs only play once they are in view.
It really all depends on the tool you choose, but if you’re a beginner, start off simple. There are many variables and it's easy to get overwhelmed. Try starting off with only a few elements just to understand how things move, then slowly build your way up to more complicated animation - it's still better than a static image. It may take some PhotoShop skills to import a video and convert it into a GIF; if you are lacking these, experiment with Giphy - a simple and free way to break something down into video frames. The most engaging GIF loop infinitely and seamlessly and feature lots of movement. Intuition has something to do with it, as well as a sense of rhythm.
Be sure to make it accessible for everyone. This allows you to engage with a wider audience. Describe your GIFs in text so that they can be understood by screen-readers, and avoid excessive blinking and flashing so that users with photosensitive epilepsy can still enjoy your content.
Now that your GIF has been created, re-examine your objectives. Content placement is just as important as the actual content. There’s too much noise out there and users don’t often pause until something catches their attention; on the internet, it’s harder to separate what matters from what doesn’t. Ask yourself which content medium is best: Would it converts higher as a post, video, or infographic? Where will it live, and how will it catch attention?
The thing about GIFs is that they capture a mood and convey a message rapidly. The key to creating animated gifs is to know how to get that content to last long, stay relevant. Don’t overuse them, or talk exclusively through them as a brand. Use them in context, only to serve the story you’re telling. GIF responsibly and carefully.
About the Writer: Meghan Carron is a Content Marketing Intern at Cortex, as well as Data Associate for Amazon. With a degree in Philosophy, Psychology, and Cognitive Science, she contributes what she knows about the human mind to the field of machine learning.