If you’ve clicked on the link that brought you to this post, I commend you. It’s easy to see a headline from a self-publishing company about using GIFs and think “why?” But just bear with me a minute.
Think about this: You’re trying to stand out in a sea of online content. And you only have a few seconds to convince any single scroller to consider your book. You need any edge you can get. Online, an edge or advantage is almost always synonymous with virility. And achieving virility means using the most popular and trendy forms of media.
Today, that means GIFs
Visual marketing is key for anyone hoping to grab attention in 2018. One study, from Social Media Examiner, reports that a whopping 74% of marketers surveyed use visual assets for their social marketing. The potency of images and video is well documented at this point.
So how does that relate to books and your own marketing plans?
There are three essential forms of visual assets you can utilize in your marketing:
What is a GIF?
GIF is an acronym that stands for Graphics Interchange Format. GIF is a file format for animated and static images that allows for multiple frames to be stitched into a single file. The coding creates a simple organization of multiple images that web browsers and other applications can easily playback automatically.
Pretty technical, I know.
The simple answer is that GIFs are easy to create, looping animations. And their wild popularity has led to every major social media, messaging, and web browsing application to make it simple to facilitate using them.
Your smartphone’s messaging app has built-in tools to add GIFs to messages. The popular site GIPHY.com offers iPhone and Android apps that allow fast and easy sharing. WordPress lets me drop the URL directly into their editor and the GIF is embedded.
Why GIFs for an Author?
Because you’re still selling a product and a brand. Because your number one goal when marketing is to build your author brand. And because readers need something to make you stand out from the crowd.
In the world of online marketing, the way you sell your product is dictated by your audience and how/why they respond. While a quality product (like your amazing book) is critical, getting someone to give your book a chance means grabbing their attention quickly and in the right way. If you write noir fiction, you’re not likely to convince readers who trend toward science fiction and fantasy to buy your books. So why would you market to those readers?
The same idea can be applied to your marketing tactics. What kinds of advertising define your market? Learning these details means performing some market research, but luckily for you, that can be as easy as finding and following popular authors writing in your genre and tracking how they advertise.
Taking a step back from the basic principles here (knowing your genre, defining your market, and going where your readers are) there’s one additional hurdle that can, at times, seem insurmountable. You have to get noticed.
With social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram taking over online marketing, having a simple tool that catches attention is a critical piece of your marketing strategy.
You have a defined genre. You know where your readers congregate. And you understand the price range, book cover style, and general keywords that apply to your audience. Now you need to get these readers to notice you among literally millions of others.
Let’s put this all together:
- Visual content the best performing digital content and it’s still growing.
- You need content that stands out from the crowd.
- The content needs to be easy and affordable to create.
GIFs: Simple and Viral
GIFs are a simple form of video marketing that can supplement and even boost your existing content while helping you capture that attention you need to kickstart your marketing. Most important to remember is that there are not a lot of published authors utilizing GIFs as a mainstay of the ad campaigns or general marketing posts. The format is popular but largely untapped at the moment, meaning you have even more room to capture attention with GIFs.
You’re probably not going to enjoy the wild popularity of a celebrity saying a popular catchphrase, but you can absolutely stand out from your peers with something as simple as a GIF. That’s your goal here. Not to turn yourself into some GIF-making master or to shift your entire marketing strategy to creating GIFs. All you’re trying to do is make your posts and content stand out a little so you get a few more clicks over to your author website and so your author platform stands above the competition.
Easy enough, right?
GIFs for Authors Made Easy
I could write over and over something like “Authors should think like any other Internet marketer and use the popular forms the masses want.” What will come down to the deciding factor for many is how easily they can utilize a promotional tool.
Video is a proven way to grow engagement. But if you’re an author with little or no skill in filming and editing video, that option becomes a chore. GIFs are, possibly, even more promising. Both because they are easy to share, easy to make fun, and easy to make.
So how do you (the author) make use of GIFs?
Well, Lulu author Robert Sharpe created a GIF using the images from his calendar. That’s a terrific way to highlight a product rich in images. That GIF can easily be shared across social media networks or used in a blog. Robert also brought a great (free) photo editor to our attention that is a big help when making GIFs. I’ll look more at this tool below.
Another cool idea is to capture multiple images of your book, maybe in your hands, being read. Flip through the pages and the GIF will quickly show the progress–giving the impression of reading the book. It’s easy to do on your own with just a book and a smartphone, and the GIF is, as I’ve said, a great piece of marketing that you can share online.
Or you can use GIFs to amplify other content you’ve created. Let’s say you have book trailer video. You’ve put a lot of energy, time, and probably some money into creating this video as a way to highlight your book. Now you need to get people to watch it.
Consider making a GIF from some of the video frames as a mini-teaser.
Here’s an example
We have this great video that introduces our Developer API:
The video is about a minute long. Let’s say I want to get some attention for this video on Instagram. I could Trim off a short piece of the video and convert the MP4 file into individual images (there are a number of free sites that can perform this for you). Then I can render those images as a GIF.
Now let’s consider that software Robert let us know about. It’s called PhotoScape X.
PhotoScape X is a free editor with an easy to use interface and some great tools. This is no PhotoShop replacement by a long margin, but if you’re just doing some simple graphics, PhotoScape X can get the job done. And when it comes to creating GIFs, PhotoScape has a nice option custom-built for you.
With my file converted to individuals frames, PhotoScape will stitch the images together and set the time each image is displayed in the loop. Here’s my finished product:
Yes, this GIF is the opposite of exciting and it’s not what I would use for a real advertising campaign. But it also took me less than five minutes to create.
Imagine doing the same thing with your book trailer
You can post the GIF with an embedded link to the full video.
And, if you haven’t noticed, my GIF above is looping. Nonstop. Unlike videos, which are limited by social media platforms auto-play restrictions, GIFs can loop and loop and loop right there in your follower’s feed. GIFs have the advantage of not actually being video and will run automatically.
That’s a huge advantage because video is eye-catching. And we’ve become attracted to fast, flashy, and funny GIFs, creating an opportunity to capitalize on an Internet trend that looks to be solidifying into a common practice. A well made GIF will grab the attention of someone scrolling through their social media feed. Sharp, eye-catching graphics can be just the thing to inspire someone to stop and take notice.
Keeping it Legal
In your bookselling, GIF making, author branding efforts, you might be tempted to make a GIF using some well-known content. Re-purposing a GIF that’s widely recognizable might seem like a brilliant idea. And it is a brilliant idea…
But, you need to be very careful to source the material properly.
Take this GIF for example:
A very popular and well-known pose from The Simpsons character Mr. Burns saying his catchphrase. It might pair well with a Facebook post to announce you just received your first bulk order of a new book. Like this:
You shouldn’t do this.
Using a GIF to react to your friend’s post isn’t likely to cause any problems, but you have to remember that the GIF is using copyright material. And if you use that material to make money, well you’re potentially crossing a line.
Here’s a great article from Forbes (its a couple years old but still relevant). This article dives into the ins and outs of using GIFs while respecting copyright.
My suggestion is to avoid all of this and pull a Robert Sharpe by making your own GIFs for all your book marketing. With tools like PhotoScape X (one among many options) to make your own GIFs, I think the best thing to do is to make your own. It might take a little learning, but once you get the hang of it, you can use a video clip or series of images to create simple GIF to promote your book and your brand.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.