via GIPHY

Ah, the GIF. In a world where the typed word has long reigned, the GIF has made a steady ascension, inviting us to take virtual self-expression to the next level with digital animation. Thirty years ago this month, Steve Wilhite invented the GIF (pronounced “jif,” despite linguistic arguments), or Graphics Interchange Format. And internet culture hasn’t been the same since.

As Amy O’Leary wrote in The New York Times, the GIF has indeed “attained celebrity status in a sea of lesser-known BMPs, RIPs, FIGs and MIFFs.” From digital art to moments in film, politics and pop culture, there’s not much these days that hasn’t been packaged into this file format and shared with the masses.

Here’s a short and clever video on the history of GIFs:

In case you hadn’t noticed, we are living in the Age of the GIF with 63% of Americans as GIF users – and 20% can’t get enough of them.As technology continues to evolve and our goldfish-like attention spans become even narrower, the GIF enables us to quickly share emotion or information in one packaged visual.

Feeling leery over the current state of affairs? The facial expressions of Arrested Development character Lucile Bluth can exhibit your cynicism far more accurately than anything you could possibly type.

Stoked to hit happy hour after work? Who better to represent your immense enthusiasm than The Office characters Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute raising the roof?

With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram now supporting GIFs, brands are given a new way to communicate with their consumer audiences on social media. GIFs tell stories, showcase information, and can even exhibit emotion – their most human trait. The best ways for brands to use GIFs are as a visual explanation or to or evoke emotion from consumers.

Trying to decide whether GIFs are right for your brand? Start with this checklist, courtesy of Search Engine Journal:

  1. Align GIF creation with your brand guidelines and style guide – fonts, color palettes, the whole shebang!
  2. Find ways to educate your audience by creating GIFs that act as a how-to guide.
  3. Think about what platform you’ll be using these GIFs on first, then decide if there are any key influencers you can partner with to extend your reach.
  4. Don’t forget about the subtle elements of cinemagraphs that make one element of an image move. This is super effective for fashion brands.
  5. Repurpose your best content from commercials in a GIFy-kind-of-way.

1Gfycat GIF Anniversary Study, 2017