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Social Media marketing, strategy and professional development blog for Jon-Stephen Stansel, a social media strategist living in Austin, Texas.

The GIF That Keeps on Giving

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How the University of Central Arkansas Created a Branded GIF Library

by Jon-Stephen Stansel

GIFs are the lingua franca of Twitter. They can express complex ideas and emotions that can’t fit into a Tweet, create humor and levity, or add a personal touch to a reply. In higher education, we use them constantly to congratulate students when they’ve just been accepted, share the excitement of the school year starting, or wish students luck on final exams.

However, GIFs are not without their problems.

When sent as a reply, pop culture GIFs can be tricky. You can risk alienating your audience as you never can be sure if the recipient will get the reference. Are they a Star Wars fan? What if they are one of the poor souls who have never seen “The Office?” Sure, you know every line from “The Big Lebowski” by heart, but does a Gen Z student?

On the same note, what if you accidentally use an inappropriate GIF? Do you know the source material that every GIF comes from? Wendy’s found themselves in hot water after using a Pepe the Frog meme without knowing that it had been co-opted by white supremists.

Why not avoid these risks altogether? Instead of using a GIF that was created by someone else and doesn’t relate to your school in any way, why not create something that is specific to your university and on brand? Also, wouldn’t it be better if you could use something more personalized?

At the University of Central Arkansas, we decided to create a library of university branded GIFs that we could use for almost any situation and put them on a university GIPHY channel for the public to use as well. Both Texas A&M and the University of Florida have amazing GIPHY channels that provided a strong example and inspiration. But as we are a smaller school with fewer resources and staff, we needed to find a way to create our GIFs with minimal budget and staff time.

To start this project, we called our university mascot in for a video shoot. We made a list of emotions and asked him to portray them on video. We then took those clips and converted them into GIFs using the GIF maker built into the GIPHY platform. With about fifteen minutes with the mascot in the studio and an afternoon of editing, we were able to create large library of reaction GIFs. These GIFs quickly gained a lot of use on both university and student social media accounts.

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We also created several GIF stickers for use on Instagram Stories and Snapchat. (You can find a tutorial on how to create these here.) These took a considerably larger amount of time to create, but the stickers are our by far the most widely used GIFs on our channel.

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Quickly we began to average around one million GIF views a week according to the analytics provided by GIPHY. Greatly impressed by these results, we asked students what they wanted to kind of GIFs they wanted to see more of. Their answer surprised us. They wanted to see GIFs of our university president.

We are lucky to have a president who both gets social media and is very charismatic. He also doesn’t mind appearing a little silly from time to time. So we floated the idea of recreating several commonly used pop culture GIFs with him as the star. The results were priceless. Here are a few side-by-side with their inspiration GIF.

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 These GIFs were a huge hit. Students loved seeing our president recreating these GIFs and it also gave our president some tools to use for when interacting with students from his personal Twitter account.

While using pop culture GIFs is fine when the right occasion arises, with just a little time and effort, you can create a branded GIF library for your school that will help you engage your community and better promote your university.

You can view the University of Central Arkansas GIPHY channel here.