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How PR and corporate communications can use animated gifs

In Harry Potter newspaper pictures are alive with characters that move. Animated gifs are a type of image file format that are like photographs alive with movement.

GIFs

As public relations and corporate communications needs to become increasingly more visual gifs are one of the easiest and most effective ways to do it.

However, many PR professionals are put off the idea of using gifs because their main knowledge and experience of them are the the humorous ones they see on social media with brief clips of characters from popular films or TV shows. They are meant to be popular with the mythical millennials and are often used to express an emotion. For consumer PR and marketing it’s not hard to imagine how you can use these gifs, but corporate PR, public affairs and corporate communications professionals often find it harder to to see how animated gifs will benefit them.

Yoda I sense much fear in you gif

Why use animated gifs?

There are several reasons to use animated gifs including:

  • More visually engaging and memorable than static images
  • Mobile friendly and work across platform including social media, web sites. messaging apps and even email
  • Can make something complex much easier to understand
  • Faster, easier and cheaper than video
  • Cnvey emotional messages

Seven ways PR and corporate communications can use GIFs

Charts – use animated gifs to bring numbers to life by showing how data grows or shrinks. One of my favourites is to promote a commuter toolkit from the International Sustainability Institute in Seattle. The gif which shows the impact of different community choices was covered by The Washington Post.

International Sustainability Institute

Ideas – The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is often true, especially when it is a moving picture to explain a complicated idea. The Center for Investigative Reporting created this gif to illustrate the consumption of caffeine in the USA:

Reveal | The buzz(kill) about caffeine photo

Stories – if you string a series of static images together you can tell a story like this great example from the New York Times which announced a new homepage by showing how the site has changed over time.

New York Times new home page gif

Reactions – if people can use gifs to communicate their reaction to something then why can’t companies? That’s exactly what Google did when the Daily Dot asked it for a quote for a story about livestreaming. Unfortunately the journalist assumed Google’s gif reply was “a joke” and ran the story without Google’s response prompting Google to reply to say this gif was its official response:

Google no comment gif photo

This wasn’t a one-off for Google either as this tweet from reporter Danny Sulivan shows:

Another way for PR or corporate communications to use a reaction gif is to create your own of a real corporate spokesperson to show that the faceless corporation is run by human beings that care. Like this example here of me, which took me just a couple of minutes to create:

Stuart Bruce awful reaction gif

Summaries – create a short looping gif to summarise a news release, a white paper, by-lined article or speech. Use a photo, or photos, of the author and include the two or three main messages. Like this example I’ve created summarising this blog post:

How PR and corporate communications can use animated gifs.

Maps – Gifs can be amazing way to show how things have changed or are going to change. The Telegraph newspaper in the UK used an animated map gif to show the change in seats after the 2015 UK general election.

The Telegraph - UK general election 2015 seats map

Processes – Gifs can also be used to illustrate complex business processes like this animated infographic from South African brewery Stellenbrau showing how beer is brewed:

Graphic showing how beer is brewed.

Gifs for employee engagement and internal communications

Just because little start-ups like Slack are making it easy for employees to use gifs to communicate with their fellow team members doesn’t mean that gifs are ready for the corporate mainstream in big enterprises. But when Microsoft partnered with Giphy, one of the world’s largest sources of animated gifs, you know that gifs have hit the mainstream.

Microsoft has now made gifs an integral part of its enterprise messaging offerings including Lync, Skype and its latest team collaboration tool Teams, which is now part of most commercial Office 365 licences.

How to avoid problems with gifs

Althought gifs are excellent for public relations and corporate communications they are like every other form of communication and there are some potential pitfalls. Three important ones to be aware of are interpretation, legal and accessibility.

One of the benefits of the written word, and reasons why grammar and spelling are so important, is that if used carefully you can convey very precise meanings. However, visual communication while often being perceived as easier to understand, suffers from the possibility of being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Is that an ironic shrug or a brusque brush-off?

Funny or humorous gifs of scenes from TV or films are great for personal use, but if you’re using them for a business or organisation then you’ve got to be careful to respect copyright. Universal are hopefully quite relaxed about me using the Harry Potter newspaper gif on my personal blog, but the global entertainment companies might be less sanguine about a large company with deep pockets using their intellectual property for commercial gain.

Another potential problem with gifs is that they potentially exclude the visually impaired as they can’t be read by screen readers, which in some countries is also a legal problem. For example in the UK the Disability Discrimination Act doesn’t just cover accessibility to premises and buildings, but also to digital media such as websites.

How to create and find gifs for public relations and corporate communications

Please subscribe by email or RSS to make sure you don’t miss part two of this article where I’ll cover the tools and service that PR professionals can use to create and find gifs.

The Harry Potter and Yoda gifs are both via Giphy.com.

Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs