The thing I love most about working in social media is that it’s totally acceptable to openly be a real geek about your career, because most people have an understanding of it to some level.

You can go home at the end of the day and wax lyrical about the latest news in the industry to a somewhat receptive audience. I do try not to talk algorithms and ad formats over the dinner table, but I do love it when I hear/read something that I know others will find just as interesting.

Most recently, this was the case when I listened to a talk from Adam Leibsohn, COO of Giphy, at Social Media Week New York. His presentation on “The Future is staring you in the Face” was one of those light bulb moments for me – it makes complete sense and made me think “why hadn’t that occurred to me before”.

So, I’m going to share just some of the highlights with you…hopefully a somewhat receptive audience!

Words are an old-school form of communications

The question he posed was this – if language was created post-computers/internet would words be the chosen method of communication? Probably not.

Think about it. Visual communication is 30,000+ years old, whereas written communication is only 3,000 years old. Writing words is not a natural habit, we invented it. If you recall a memory you visualise it, you don’t think of a paragraph of words because images are imprinted in our long-term memory.

Look back as far back as hieroglyphics and cave drawings and soon it makes sense that we’re veering towards emoji’s and GIF’s as forms of communication.

Our lives are too fast paced to process long texts or lengthy video – we’re constantly seeking ways to communicate quickly. Hence the rise in ephemeral media – we say what we mean in a photo or GIF and post is for just 24-hours because then the moment has passed.

Condensing language doesn’t mean a loss of impact

Adam rightly pointed out that words are great when used literally. Someone says ‘table’ and you know exactly what they’re referring to. But when it comes to more abstract words like ‘love’ there’s no way to interpret how that was transmitted, or how it will be received and interpreted.

Since mobiles have been in use words have been condensed and condensed, for example ‘love’ became ‘luv’, which became ‘<3’ and now the heart emoji.

What a GIF’s does, is allow you to give meaning to a word – in this case, are you referring to being madly in love, thinking something is sweet or just showing appreciation.

This form of communication is short and easy to digest but says so much more than a word or static image.

Content is our culture

Arguably even more so since the dawn of the internet, we are all storytellers. The way we process information is driven by the need to be entertained. Why? Because when information is disguised in a story is becomes relatable and memorable.

I recently heard the phrase “facts fade, stories stick” and this is applied to social media content daily so that in a fast-paced environment information will somehow be retained.

The web consists of tiny fragments of information that aren’t disruptive. You spend a second looking at the piece of content, take from it what you need to and move on. Old media models were linear – left to right, beginning, middle, and end. Those formats just aren’t digestible today.

Welcome micro-entertainment

Our attention span is a matter of seconds and that is continuing to decrease year-on-year. You may remember a 2015 study which found that a human attention span is shorter than a goldfish…that’s what brands are up against when it comes to converting customers online.

By no means are traditional media forms such as books and films dying. It’s just that you can’t expect to deliver the same long-form content digitally and for it to have the same impact.

If content is our culture then each piece of content must be adapted and re-thought to suit its platform and purpose.

This isn’t necessarily anything new. Yes, our attention spans are decreasing but Adam argued that we’re inherently processing 5 second blocks of content. An average scene in a film is 5 seconds, pre-roll video is 5 seconds…just as a GIF is around 5 seconds.

For this reason Adam commits that GIF’s are not a fad, and in fact they are harnessing a ‘micro-entertainment’ communications model which we have been programmed to understand for hundreds of thousands of years.