Communication Amid the Pandemic | GIFs, Memojis, and More

Communication amid the pandemic means businesses are relying on technology to communicate as they never have before. From conversations with colleagues over Slack to connecting with customers via social media, technology has taken the place of in-person interactions. So, how can businesses communicate effectively and clearly in this new environment? Here we take a look at the evolution of GIFs, emojis, and now memojis. Brands must now find ways to become even more expressive during online conversations and use these methods during COVID-19 and beyond.

The Rise of Animations

GIFs have become essential to Internet culture. The visual language’s origin story goes back to the 1970s. Sperry Corp. created a data compression algorithm CompuServe used to form a new image file type, the Graphical Image Format (GIF). Initially, GIFs were shared only on that proprietary platform. However, by the early 1990s, they had become ubiquitous on the World Wide Web. GIFs’ ability to be supported on any browser, use low bandwidth, and spice up otherwise boring text web pages made them crowd-pleasers.

Over the decades, the GIF has ridden opinion waves from the heights of technological accomplishment to the lows of tackiness. However, GIFs are having a moment in 2020 thanks to their ability to stand in for three different types of communication. As Richard Yao points out, “First, it allows people to quickly express their emotional response when words just won’t do. Second, it conveys a sense of identity on the user’s behalf through the pop culture references it carries. Third, it capitalizes on the meme culture that constantly churns out new references that in turn form our larger digital culture.”

Whether we’re using a GIF of rapper Drake clapping or Michael Jordan shrugging to express nonchalance, GIFs help speakers show emotion. The GIFs harness the ability of someone’s physical reaction. That reaction fills in the gaps in tone and body language that text-only communication creates.

GIFs pop up in Facebook post responses, over text, and on Instagram stories. Google says it’s seeing millions of users search for GIFs every day. Tenor, owned by Google since 2018, has more than 12 billion users searching its massive GIF database every month. Companies need to know how to play the GIF game. GIFs have become part of our online vernacular. Finding the perfect one can help establish your brand as smart, savvy, and playful.

Emojis Fill in the Gaps

Text speak gave early adopters ways to cut corners in days of text-by-number and 160-character messages. In 2020, however, smartphones’ full keyboards have sent much of this form of communication the way of the dodo. These days, people are taking shortcuts in other ways: with emojis.

communication with memojis
Tammy’s laughing Memoji

Developed in Japan in the late 1990s, emojis gained a global audience when Apple released them in 2011. By 2017, people were exchanging 6 billion emojis a day. Emojis are another way to give text-only communication emotion and tone. People who don’t use emojis can come across as serious and passive-aggressive. Apple took this communication method a step further in 2017 with the introduction of Animojis (animated 3D emojis that mimic facial expressions) and in 2018 with Memojis (3D avatars that look like you as well as respond with your facial expressions).

Businesses need to know how to speak emoji because text marketing is officially here. Text marketing has already proven itself as an effective communication channel, particularly for e-commerce businesses. And with the pandemic ongoing, most businesses fall into that category. It’s important that employees not only understand the use of emojis when communicating with customers, but also that brands be able to deploy them in a way that’s consistent with their image and character.

Texting Effects on the Rise

As technological communication platforms continue to grow, developers are pressing to create more ways for humans to express themselves. For example, Apple is now enabling users to add effects to their messages. Instead of simply popping up, text messages can now fade in, slam down, or gently float into place—all to add more meaning to the message. Many of these methods of communication are also available via our smartwatches.

Communication Amid the Pandemic Era

As we’ve seen with social selling tactics, communication with employees and customers has changed during the pandemic. For example, restaurants may be forced to connect with customers via third-party apps like DoorDash or Uber Eats, rather than face-to-face service. Or weekly in-person staff meetings may head the way of Slack channels and task-tracking apps.  

In these times, brands that respond with fast service and create escapist content will set themselves apart. It’s a good time to analyze your communication channels and response times. Particularly during the pandemic, users are looking for timely responses—especially via social media where the professional standard of 24 hours is far too slow to catch their limited attention.  

Techniques to keep in mind:

  1. Be humorous, but don’t overdo it. Opt for the perfect GIF and a well-timed response, rather than flooding your comments with them. Additionally, not every customer response needs a thumbs-up or smiley face emoji. Overusing them will come across as disingenuous. Use these sparingly.
  2. Be conscientious of the ones you chose (esp with GIFs). These forms of communication carry cultural references beyond your conversation that could lead to miscommunication or controversy. Emojis too have adopted their own connotations and subtext that may not translate outside of the immediate conversation—particularly if your content is shared beyond its original, target audience.
  3. Get creative. Effective marketers are not only deploying GIFs and emojis well in communications, they are also creating their own. Dunkin, for example, built a “Need Coffee” GIF and Taco Bell created a taco emoji.

If you’re ready to create a full digital marketing plan that meets the needs of a pandemic-era audience, connect with us, today!