CT No.9: A glutton for internet culture
Gifs as empathy machines
Happy Thursday, y’all. This issue is chock full of goodness.
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Optimizing gifs for discovery and empathy
Gifs have changed conversation and online communication. They’re punctuation marks. They indicate how we should feel after consuming something. They signal how the author feels. Like having an in-person conversation with someone, gifs are empathy machines. And Giphy has become the one search engine to rule them all.
Founded in 2013, Giphy is the leading gif search engine with about 250 million daily active users. Google more or less redirects every single search phrase with a “gif” modifier to the most relevant page on Giphy. Before Giphy, we collected gifs via gif-o-pedia blog posts or tumblrs that collected the gifs of our collective emotions. Those blog posts and tumblrs are all broken now, so long live Giphy.
Now we spend an absurd amount of time searching for the right gif. Whether it’s on Slack or in texts or in literally any other channel… our gif options are so numerous that finding the right one for the situation can be so entertaining… that it becomes a bit of a slog.
The empathy factor in gif optimization
Great gif usage is not about the actual content of the gif. Someone who is quite proficient at using gifs — btw I consider myself an intermediate user— understands that it’s 85% about how the user feels after watching the gif.
Placing a gif is an empathetic tactic. A gif signals that are sharing a feeling, all the while trying to understand your audience’s mindset — whether it’s your partner or someone you’ve just met.
Giphy’s brief tagging guidelines also mention the empathy factor:
Tags should also talk about how you react to the image, how you believe the subject is reacting in the image, and any other details you think are pertinent.
When you think of the best gifs, they’re not about the subject. They’re about the conversation.
When you should consider gif optimization
Entertainment companies have it nailed: release a gifset with every new season of a tv show/movie and hopefully someone will glom on to those gifs. Of course, you can always tell the fan-made reaction gifs from the Official Promoted Gifset. The fan-made reaction gifs are better, more honest, less promotional! No matter how long you’ve been working in entertainment marketing, you can’t always figure out exactly how the internet will attach and replicate crucial emotional points in your text!
But I’m not speaking to entertainment companies here — I’m speaking with you, content enthusiast. We need more great gifs.
Let’s say there’s an event that you’re covering. A big event, something like the Minnesota State Fair, widely held by this informal poll to be the best damn state fair in the country. Let’s say that you’re sharing content about the state fair and you notice that, when you search on Giphy for “state fair” or “fair food,” you get a bunch of gifs from the Oklahoma and Wisconsin State Fairs. (Minnesota media! This is a huge opportunity to just put gifs on giphy and tag them State Fair and put a little watermark in the corner. I’m seriously disappointed by MN’s gif game and very impressed by Oklahoma’s.)
(Also I may or may not have been inspired by the search for finding fair gifs when I wrote this post.)
Optimizing for “State Fair” would be an easy win once a year. But I’d also recommend optimizing for conversational terms that fair gifs could evoke like “I’d eat that” or “get ready” or “long day.”
Can we recreate this classic romantic comedy scene with MN State Fair food?
I’d recommend that you create a gifset whenever you have great video content, or whenever you’re in a situation where reactions are outsized and it’s easy to capture fun. Seriously, it takes about five minutes to create and optimize a decent gif. (Make sure you have the gif subject’s permission of course.) You can make and upload a gif from your phone.
Gif optimization isn’t about driving traffic back to your website. But it is about sharing your goodness and empathy with the world. A few good gifs — whether they’re branded or just out there — can bring a whole bunch of joy.
Other gif optimization notes
I prefer reaction gifs without subtitled text, but that is a personal preference! Text + video clarifies for certain.
Instructive gifs are honestly the best thing you can possibly to do to optimize a how-to article. They’re a great way to hone in on a specific craft or technique that you can watch over and over and over again.
Gifs are massive files and the fact that we are able to use them regularly is amazing from a processing perspective. If you’re creating gifs or using them on your site: Compress, compress, compress. (If you do not know how to compress files, talk to your video editor or graphic designer.)
Short gifs convey a message quickly! Long gifs are a long shot!
If you want to use gifs on your own website — a branding or personal choice — you may want to peep these guidelines for maintaining SEO performance while using gifs.
As with all content, please be aware of the social context and history of the images you are creating and sharing!
Why we need more gifs
Paris Hilton, the original gif star, is still giffing about the internet with a surprising frequency. But The Simple Life was 15+ years ago and well. Culture keeps changing! And Giphy seems to reward recency and interaction!
Next week (or soon!) I’m writing about the abundance mindset. Abundance applies to gifs! We can certainly never get enough.
Tracking the conversation: MediaCloud
As an online teen the late 90s, I wished for a search engine where I could find everything. I wanted all of the websites about the Smashing Pumpkins in one place! Then I found Google and the next twenty years happened.
But it’s damaging to only use Google to find pretty much all of my information, ever. I’ve been working in SEO for six years, so I know how the search engine works, what it prioritizes, how it classifies things. As people we have shifted the way we communicate to better accommodate Google (what’s up, Near Me!).
For more academic research — trying to learn more about a topic as a whole and the conversations around the topic — relying solely on Google is problematic. It’s like only going to the same library, over and over again, for years.
That said, alternative databases are often sparsely updated. Academic databases that were great in the early 2000s lost funding, or people lost interest or ability to keep them up. When they still exist, prohibitively expensive and you have to get yourself to an on-campus library to use them.
As an answer to that, MIT and Harvard researchers and a bunch of journo folk put together MediaCloud. And I can tell you right now: this research nerd LURVES it.
At a glance: MediaCloud
MediaCloud is a research tool to help journalists, marketers and content developers understand how media covers a topic over time. It’s a bit like Google Trends or Facebook’s CrowdTangle, but only for media sources. Their database comprises local, national and digital-only news sources.
MediaCloud is actually three separate tools:
Explorer enables you to see how a topic is covered over time. Here is a chart identifying media coverage of Lizzo from the past year.
You can download the raw data and images of the chart over time, as well as customize date ranges. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to customize the chart title! So there are some kinks to work out.
You can also see which other entities (people/places) are covered in conjunction with your search topic, geographic concentrations, etc. It’s nifty and quick.
Topic Mapper is designed for in-depth research. The Topic Mapper crawls a seed set of news stories, follows links to other news stories and returns a massive list of relevant results. You create your old fashioned boolean query (it’s still often the best way to do things!), narrow down your sources to ensure your query will return the results you want, and within a couple of hours, you get a full set of sources to read to your heart’s desire. To understand the influence of each story, you can see which stories were the most shared and distributed. Fellow scorched-earth-style researchers: this tool’s for you.
Source Manager lets you examine the sources from which MediaCloud draws, organized by geography, language and political bent (because even the most “objective” news source leans one way or the other). You can suggest new sources and collections as well.
As a mass communications grad student, I’d spend hours sifting through Google and academic databases, trying to pull relevant digital media sources for whatever topic I wrote about. When I wrote my master’s thesis on widely read feminist blogs, the only choice I had to follow a topic on a blog was downloading individual posts via the blog’s metadata, then determining the tone of the conversation. It took hours.
I would have killed for MediaCloud.
I would recommend MediaCloud for anyone who likes to dive deep into a topic, publicists who want to track mentions, content creators discerning what new perspective they can add to a conversation, trends researchers, anyone who likes playing with news data… because it’s freaking free (and hopefully free of problematic funding, but Harvard and MIT aren’t doing so hot on that front right now, I acknowledge). I hope its relevance lasts longer than a few years.
This week in content tech news
Newish ideas: synthetic media, aka clothes that you buy and “wear” but don’t physically exist, via The Margins. (The Margins is an A+ 100% great media/tech newsletter and I urge you to subscribe.)
New ways of dealing with old ideas: How journalists outsmart the misinformation trolls, via Axios.
Algorithm alert! updates from tech companies to improve their relations with publishers, via Axios.
Snap is seeking help from publishers to distribute news, via The Information.
Instead of investing in developing content for Alexa answers, Amazon is crowdsourcing answers. Via FastCompany.
Facebook/Instagram has new video tools for creators. I’m still tired of writing about Facebook but these features will probably help you. From TechCrunch.
More proof that algorithms only reflect human biases when it comes to racism, especially in content moderation. Via Recode.
Why bother with a headless CMS? From Postlight.
Content tech / strategy consulting
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