Using Reaction Gifs In Blog Posts Makes You Look Ridiculous

Dear everyone who wasn’t using the social web in the 90s / early 00s: guess what we did back then? Used gifs as part of responses to threads on forums and boards.

If you were there and still writing for the web now, you most certainly (even then) never use gifs in content you work hard on. You probably already know what I am going to say next and can skip this one. For everyone else, read on.

Everything old is new again, and gifs are back. And while I do think things like reaction gifs are perfectly well-suited for platforms like boards and forums (or the modern incantation: G+, Reddit, Tumblr, etc) they are awful for blogs, news sites or anything we should take remotely seriously.

Simply awful. Cheesy at best, cringe-worthy, obnoxious and distracting at worst. I am going to take a stand on the issue and just say it: you should never use a gif in a blog post (with some notable exceptions at the very end of this).

Here are the reasons why:

1. It’s distracting from the content. There’s no escaping this. There is a reason banner advertisements are animated, it is to divert your attention away from the content towards them. At the edges of pages this is fine, but it makes your site obnoxious and difficult to read by placing moving images users don’t control dead center. They take away more than they add.

2. Using (reaction) gifs basically says: “I suck at writing, so here’s me trying to overcompensate.” Why else would you require this to get your point across? Effective writing is plenty emotive on it’s own. Requiring a reaction gif to get the point across is overcompensating for a lack of writing ability. Using gifs instead of words takes away from your unique voice. It hurts you long term because people will pay less attention to your words and more attention to you hiding them with (other people’s) reactions. Can you actually think of the name of a writer who uses reaction gifs in a post? I can’t. Yet I can name writers at hundreds of blogs and news sites who don’t.

3. It shows you don’t think much of your readers. Similar to the above point, a reaction gif assumes your readers aren’t intelligent enough to grasp the emotional response you wish to provoke from your words. Or that they need moving images to get through your words. Either way, it doesn’t send a good message to those at the top of the participation inequality pyramid.

4. Pictures and videos are so much better. If you can’t find the appropriate image either in creative commons or paid via a service like Shutterstock, you aren’t trying hard enough: there is so much amazing stuff out there. The right picture is worth 1,000 words and complements your work but does not distract from your content. Even videos with supporting facts or details are great because they can be consumed at the discretion of the user. As a side note I am all for memes or image macros — these are just fine as they do not take away from your words and can be done creatively / made your own. I just think due to auto-playing gifs are user hostile and unnecessary when you have these better options.

5. You are not BuzzFeed. I’ve already written my thoughts on BuzzFeed before in case you aren’t sure how I feel. The thing is, love them or hate them, you are not them. So don’t try to be them by copying their played out style of reaction gif posts (which, by the way aren’t even original to BuzzFeed, they merely are guilty of abusing this format the most). Not to mention even in these stories (on and off BF) a majority of the gifs are contrived and overused.

6. Using gifs =  clearly pandering for pageviews. Because screw your readers and time spent crafting a story, instead have an intern scramble together 15 barely animated gifs of celebrities over-acting in response to an obvious cliché. Do you want a community who reads at a 6th grade level? Because that’s how you build a community of people who read at a 6th grade level.

I could go on but we’ll leave it at this. Leave the gifs for Reddit and forum threads, your blog (if you at all care about being trusted and having a quality reputation) should not include them.

Let’s get to the exceptions: go check out NYT stories like this and NPR stories like this. These sites are using unique and amazing visuals that help tell their stories and clearly show gifs done right add quite a bit. I hope you do see the differences between those examples and (yet another) reaction gif post with the same pictures of Honey Boo Boo. That is unless you are purely trying to appeal to 16 year olds (or adults with an equivalent maturity).