There’s an art to using icons and GIFs in marketing (hint: think diamond rings)
Adam Leibsohn, chief operating officer of Giphy, the largest search platform for GIFs (those short, repetitive video clips) on the Web, may be overreaching a bit when he says that one day soon “we’re not going to communicate through words anymore” on social media and in emails. “We don’t have time for words because they’re not fast enough, nor are they descriptive enough about the things we want to convey.”
Still, considering how ubiquitous GIFs—and to a greater extent, the sticker-like emojis—have become in our daily lives, the sentiment feels vaguely prescient. At the very least, we agree with Leibsohn’s assertion that when you post a perfectly timed visual on Facebook or Instagram, “you make everyone a little happier.” That includes consumers, who not only use emojis and GIFs but also are becoming more tolerant of the ever-blurring line between person-to-person and brand-based messaging online.
Marketers shouldn’t hesitate to utilize the playful tools, says Jennifer Kane, owner of marketing and communications firm Kane Consulting. “You want to talk to people the way they like to be spoken to,” Kane adds. “And if you use emojis and GIFs wisely, you’re being smart by capitalizing on those trends.”
It would be easy to dismiss GIFs and emojis (which translates to “picture characters” in Japanese) as too casual or goofy for business use. But the days of marketing language that feels stiff and formal are over.
Last Fourth of July, Bud Light tweeted an American flag made entirely out of emojis that went mega-viral. And in May, the social media campaign for Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted a spate of Star Wars head emojis for public use, created in collaboration with Twitter. Creative marketers are striving to meet consumers where they are online—even if that means posting the occasional funny cat GIF to a feline-loving customer on Instagram.
But using emojis and GIFs “has to be part of a consistent communication style you maintain on social media,” Kane says. And that consistency is most easily achieved through a savvy social media strategy.
“A company that goes there but doesn’t have any engagement shouldn’t bother using [them],” she says. “When that happens, you see a company post a super cute thing that as a user you comment on—and they never talk back to you. That’s not right. And don’t throw something fun at me one day, then start talking to me like you’re reading from an annual report the next day.”
Easy Does It
Ready to experiment with a well-placed GIF or emoji? Start small and aim for the familiar, we’d suggest.
According to a SwiftKey study on emoji use on Twitter, the round yellow faces are the most used, followed by hearts of all colors. And stay away from anything potentially offensive. (The poop-with-eyes emoji is strangely cute, but unusable for most marketers!)
Instead, try inserting a heart emoji where you would usually type out the word love; announce an in-store party with a GIF that shows a celebrity dancing with abandon; text the diamond ring emoji to prospective bridal clients with a note that says, “I have some gorgeous new rings in!”
Above all, never overdo it or “try to co-opt something from the trend that feels inauthentic,” Kane says. In other words, pick your moments—and your happy faces—very carefully.