So, apparently GIFs are back in a big way. For the Buzzfeed faithful I guess it feels like they never left. But for some of you they may have been difficult to make, dizzying to watch and…I suppose, mildly amusing if used in the right context.

In the past few months, Snapchat trialled and announced profile GIFs, allowing you to shoot a series of five animated selfies as profile pictures. Interestingly, this will be the only photo on Snapchat that won’t go away. The start-up Flyr is currentlygetting a lot of buzz around their app that lets you quickly piece together a couple of captions on an animated GIF so you can whizz off party invites to your social networks in a rush. Perhaps the most interesting though, is Facebook’s latest mobile update which allows users to add a 7 second looping video as their profile pic. They’re calling it a video, but it’s essentially a GIF. Some will say Giphy has allowed GIFs on Facebook for a while, but no auto-play is an immediate disqualification in my eyes.

Now, GIFs aren’t exactly new. But it’s clear that all the mainstream social networks are seeing value in investing in short-form video. After the success with Facebook video, it’s no surprise they’re trying to make it easier for the everyday Joe to create and engage with. They’re even trialling GIFs with selected brands. The thing with GIFs is, they can go either way. Sometimes they’re intriguing, topical and incredibly hypnotising, and other times they’re spammy, annoying and potentially nauseating. But if a brand can nail it, they may find themselves perched in the happy medium between the declining rate of image engagement and the expensive production costs of a full scale video. Here’s why your brand needs to up the GIF game.

Facebook is coming around

They were trying to hold out for so long, but it’s getting harder to ignore with GIFs making a comeback. All the other major sites have turned to snackable content as their new go-to; Twitter has GIFs, Instagram and Vine have short video (which doesn’t really translate as well to Facebook), Snapchat has…well, Snapchat. The takeaway from this slow burn is that each platform is realising that GIFs are fun, but we’re also well aware how spammy and annoying they can come across. The slow rollout puts the power in safe hands so that we’re not turned off the platform from terrible branded GIFs and only exposed to the fun or informative type.

GIFs are the perfect team-up

As explained by Giphy’s chief operating officer, Adam Leibsohn, “We are starting to see this behavior where people are using content and culture to communicate — they’re not using words anymore. When they’re doing that, there’s an opportunity for that culture to come from a brand.” GIFs are the product of culture and content. Our young attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and with too many images and not enough time for videos, we’re turning to GIFs to express our thoughts and feelings.

They’re easy to make and cost effective

GIFs come as a small sized, commonly recognised file format and they translate well to a range of different mediums, whether it’s web, mobile or both through social. These moving, looping wonders are like the chameleons of the internet, nailing it in every scenario. Also, with so many new tools available to piece together quick GIFs, it means social teams can construct content within the specific tone and message of the brand at a much cheaper cost than a subscription to a stock imagery supplier or developing complete video content.

They’ve got potential, kid

Now this might be a bit too early to call and based on my personal bias and love for GIFs, but many sources argue that these moving pictures have the potential to generate more attention from viewers than still images while being a non-disruptive yet engaging way to enhance a message across multiple channels. As Writers Access points out, “They feature no audio and don’t distract from the main point of the content, but still create a dynamic visual element that no other format can offer.”

Ultimately, brands should tread carefully in this domain. As mentioned, GIFs can come across spammy (putting it lightly). If done correctly though, they can be a unique and engaging way to catch your audience’s attention without becoming as intrusive and expensive as other formats.

At this stage, GIFs on social are only being tested by brands and it’s really too early to report their effectiveness next to other formats, but there’s a reason they keep making a comeback and it’s not because all the social networks think it’s hilarious to annoy their user base. If you’re brave enough to test the waters, your audience may just loop back for more…geddit?

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