Moveable Hype? For Mobile Messaging, GIFs Prove to Be Worth at Least a Thousand Words


Technology writer Mike Issac’s piece in the New York Times points out an interesting emerging trend in communications: the use of GIFs (originally known as graphics interchange format) as a new “language” for smart phone users.

The use of GIFs, Isaac notes, “have become a mainstream form of digital expression, a way to relay complex feelings and thoughts in ways beyond words and even photographs, making them hugely popular with young audiences who never leave home without their smartphones.”

You see them everywhere; listicles, memes and emails feature your favorite moments from TV, movies and music – quick moments that live forever and often dance silently on your screen.

Fueling the popularity of GIFs as a form of electronic communication, according to Isaac, are small, venture-capital backed start-ups like Riffsy and Giphy, which have further eased the use of the animated snippets on smart phones. In personal communications and now corporate communications, GIFs are emerging as a new online “story-telling method.”

Isaac points out some inherent advantages in using GIFs to tell a story or provide a reaction: “A GIF, in many ways, can be an even more effective form of visual communication than emoji because of the movement in an animation that provides a greater range of expression.”

So what does this mean for communicators? If adding pictures can increased the richness of a narrative or help drive home meaning, then why not GIFs too? The question for communicators — especially corporations – is finding a way to embrace the often-silly nature of GIFs that doesn’t water down the importance of a particular message.