Do you remember a time where the internet didn’t GIFs? Honestly, I can’t.

Having grown up right around the time that the internet and personal computers really started to explode, I’ve seen lots of changes. I witnessed the rise and fall of Ask Jeeves. I survived those long, horrible years of dial-up internet.

But through it all, GIFs have always been there. In fact, I would say they are more prevalent than ever. They have made their way into just about every social media timeline there is. We send them to each other in text messages.

Twitter and Facebook even have a GIF search tool built into their post options. And that wasn’t just a throw-away feature – it was a calculated move. In 2015, the year before Twitter’s debut of the search tool, Twitter claimed 100 million GIFs were shared on the platform.

So, why the hell are GIFs so popular? Science.

Sure, they are delightful and fun and you could say their popularity starts and ends there. But, there is actually a little science behind it that may help put GIFs into context.

While doing research for a completely unrelated blog post, I stumbled upon this fascinating article about how people absorb information and data. Some of the data it presented explains why GIFs have become such a phenomena and also helps explain their effectiveness, as well as the effectiveness and sudden Renaissance of video on social media.

The article claims that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text. Some people may work better with words, others with numbers, but everyone gets pictures. The article also stated that 90% of information transmitted to the human brain is visual. That was staggering to me – but it also made a lot of sense.

The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is quite cliche. But that doesn’t make it any less true, especially in marketing and particularly in the instant-gratification, short attention span world we live in today. Getting folks to retain (or even register) your messages and content or take action is harder than ever, especially if all you are giving them is words.

Images are stronger than words. However, the fast-moving nature of GIFs make them stronger than images and their shorter length make them more digestible than video. That’s the short answer.

How do you make GIFs work for you?

So, people love GIFs – where does that leave you?

Using GIFs in certain aspects of your social media and content marketing can help increase their effectiveness. Because of the way the brain works, information presented within, or alongside GIFs, will be retained more easily by consumers because of its association with the GIF.

Tweets with GIFs are 34% more likely to get a retweet than a tweet that is just text. If you are trying to give a link to a blog post or landing page more legs, try sharing the link with a GIF. Not only will this increase the chances of it being read and shared, the GIF helps your post stand out more in timelines.

This idea of GIFs driving action also makes them an attractive addition to email newsletter campaigns. Whether you are using something pulled from GIPHY or something created on your own, GIFs in email campaigns can be used as call-to-actions, make them more attractive and make them stand out more.

GIFs can help give your brand more personality. Engaging with your community over social media is one of the best practices for successful social media. It makes your brand more approachable which promotes interaction. Interaction in turn promotes the growth of your community as the communities of those you are interacting with become introduced to you through their timelines.

GIFs are fun, but they can also be an effective tool.

Social Media Starter Kit