Spotlight for Career Services ProfessionalsMarch 19, 2014by Shannon C. Kelly
GIF … This three-letter word represents the animated images that have become one of the most popular trends to hit the social media-tech world in recent months. It also happens to be one of the most mispronounced tech terms (it’s pronounced “jif,” like the peanut butter).
If you’ve been on Facebook lately, a friend may have shared an animated GIF-based list from Buzzfeed, or if you use Tumblr, you likely encounter blog posts with GIFs regularly. Between these popular sites, GIFs are almost unavoidable. This begs the question: If career services departments engage students and alumni through popular trends, such as adding more images to our websites and social media accounts, is there a place for GIFs in our strategies?
Before we explore that in more depth, let’s start with the basics. Wikipedia explains that a GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, is a bitmap image format that can show animation, which only lasts a few seconds, sometimes even less. Creators of animated GIFs take a video recording or a series of still shots and create a very brief sequence that repeats on a loop. Given the short, animated, visual nature of GIFs, combined with the short attention span of consumers today and their positive response to images, it’s no wonder these graphics have become so popular.
Why might you incorporate GIFs into your strategy? They are popular, largely because they not only support the trend of instant, visually based communication, they also incorporate popular media. What better way to draw someone’s attention to your Facebook page than by incorporating a well-known moment from your favorite movie? It can establish a connection with your audience by showcasing something you have in common. However, it is important to remember to think about copyright.
Do you need to cite the source of a GIF you embed or link to? What about copyright infringement? These are important questions to ask. First, I’d recommend making sure you search for GIFs that are free to use and share (an advanced search function in Google). If you find a popular GIF that you want to use, it’s important to cite the source. If you can’t credit, then you should consult your institution’s legal counsel about use of a GIF.
There is, of course, an alternative. You can create your own, original, animated GIFs. There are many how-to articles and sites to create GIFs, such as this article from DigitalTrends.com or GIFMaker, PhotoShop, or GIF Brewery, to name a few. Here is an excellent blog post by Richard Naples, Library Hacks: Creating Animated GIFs, on the Smithsonian Libraries’ blog. Naples created animated GIFs from image archives that are no longer under copyright restriction. There is a wealth of information within the article if you’re interested in creating GIFs. It also is an example of how animated GIFs can add a creative element to an article.
Animated GIFs, in essence, are another way to draw your audience in and follow the trend of visually based communication. Keep copyright considerations in mind if you want to incorporate popular media, but also remember you can create your own, original content that can highlight your department, students, alumni, and employer partners. GIFs are certainly worth considering given their popularity and the potential connection they can build with your audience.
Shannon C. Kelly is an associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow her on twitter at @shannonckelly or www.socialatedu.com.
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