The Power of the GIF

When shared on social media, GIFs generate more views and engagement than videos of the same event.



Mike Folgner is the co-founder and CEO of SnappyTV, a cloud-based, video platform that makes TV and live web streams social, mobile and viral.

What is a GIF? Is it a moving photo? A short video with no sound? Actually, it’s a series of image files. But the real question is, why is it so compelling? In a digital era where online content is woven into our lives, GIFs have become a mesmerizing exclamation point for our most-powerful social media moments. A GIF is a moving picture that tells the story of the moment better than either a photo or a video ever could.

The power of a GIF lies in its ability to capture a moment or series of events. Often, things happen too quickly for people to properly digest the details with a video. The GIF can slow down a fantastic finish or a spectacular slam dunk and let you watch that moment repeatedly until it sets in.

The guts of the GIF
Sometimes events play out over a brief period of time. GIFs can compress a Jennifer Lawrence fall or a 109-yard touchdown into an easily-digestible snippet that can be watched again and again. Perhaps the most appealing part for social media audiences is that you never have to hit “play,” creating a mesmerizing experience that is engagement gold.

Compelling GIFs are easy to create if you have interesting moments to work from. Your chances of capturing the perfect sequence of events increases dramatically when you have a camera (or multiple cameras) rolling for an extended period of time. This is a significant reason why GIFs from TV and web streams have surged to the top of the social video food chain.

The GIF that keeps on giving
GIFs are shared across social media and spark conversations around the moment far more than any other type of media. Based on our data, GIFs typically generate seven times the views and engagement of a video from the same event.

Additional insights we’ve gained through experience have shown that publishing a GIF in the “viral window,” within 10 minutes of the moment happening, results in 800 percent more engagement than publishing outside the window. The faster content is shared, the more integral it becomes to the conversation. Providing GIFs of moments everyone is talking about as they’re happening will drive engagement around content both online and off.

What makes a GIF great
Everyone from celebrities to brands to media companies can learn something about social media from the mighty GIF. In order for these videos to go viral, a successful GIF should have three key elements when it comes to content: 1) A compelling subject, 2) high-quality video and 3) a real-time moment from a live event that resonates with viewers.

For example, the NBA utilized GIFs during its Slam Dunk competition earlier this year to break down dunks that happen in just a second into beautiful, looping replays of athleticism. The GIF featuring the winning slam dunk, made by Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, drove massive engagement on Twitter and was shared and mentioned for days.

As its core, the GIF is different than any type of digital content to date. While video highlights are great, the GIF creates a new type of engagement. Often times with live broadcasts, it’s the obscure moments that make the best GIFs: the fight in the penalty box and the photobomb at the awards show. It might not seem like too much goes into a GIF, but what you get out of it is an entirely new way to engage with audiences and create viral gold.

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