June 8, 2015

Overuse Will Be the Death of Reaction GIFs

The reaction GIF is dying, and you’ve probably helped killing it.

Okay, fine, reaction GIFs are as popular as ever. More popular, really. Just look at the google trends you can see that just the term reaction GIF has reached its peak in the last few months. That gives a good indication that, well, boy howdy are reaction GIFs popular. And if Google’s forecast is correct, it still may trend upwards a bit more. Twitter started supporting GIFs one year ago. Facebook launched GIF support two weeks ago. Animated images are popular enough that they are forcing major platforms to update.

Just take a look around. Go on Reddit and take a look around both at the top-level posts and the comments. Read 95% (rough estimate) of Buzzfeed articles. Look at Tumblr. Imgur. Blogs. The Wall Street Journal. GIFs are omnipresent in today’s Internet.

The ubiquity of the reaction GIF is exactly why we, as an online-connected society, need to slow our roll when it comes to using them for nearly every situation ever. Overuse kills interest in things. This is a simple truth.

Look at that’s-what-she-said humor. That type of joke has been around since a Greek architect first mentioned off-hand that “that column is a little big.” It’s had its ups-and-downs with resurgences from use in Wayne’s World and The Office. But it’s usually a joke that’s dead in the water. Knock-knock jokes. “What’s a Pirates favorite letter?” These jokes have become worse than unoriginal; they’ve become expected.

Take a look around at various forums and comment sections. GIFs everywhere. Often, you can know exactly what GIF it is by context involved. It’s often overly predictable. There’s no conversation, only gamesmanship where everyone is trying to one-up the previous person’s reaction GIF, all without really saying anything.

Sometimes, though, a new GIF comes up; a liberator, a champion, a hero. A GIF, that has not been run into the ground, is fresh and fun.

Within a week, that new GIF that seemed precious is dead from overuse. At its funeral, people discuss how it seemed like it had such a bright future, how many smiles it brought to people, how it could have been something. Or maybe it was something briefly, a supernova that flashed so bright so quickly it collapsed upon itself.

Here’s where GIFs still have inherent value. I’m not trying to shoe-horn anything in here, either. The fact they are so popular is proof-positive of that. They can humanize a comment or post and, on occasion, can help show what you mean better than words can.

In order to get value from GIFs, though, it’s important to do at least one of two things: Come up with something new and original or use reaction GIFs sparingly. It’s important to choose your moments. If, say, you’re constantly googling “angry GIF” and using the first thing that comes up for the sake of using a reaction GIF, you’re doing it wrong.

If you create a GIF, there’s a novelty factor to it. You’re not just playing out what people have probably already seen too many times before. Or at the very least, find a new use for an old GIF and take it into a new realm of context.

Just don’t use GIFs for everything. Use your words. GIFs can be funny. They can be clever. They can be delightful. At times they can even be insightful. But they can also be overused. Take a deep breath before using a reaction GIF, and ask yourself if it adds anything to the conversation. Often, it won’t. Find opportunity when reaction GIFs do work, but don’t overuse them. It can be a delicate line, but it will make your post stronger.

Tags: Best Practices, Community Management

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