One of the biggest challenges to social networking sites and services is monetization. Sponsored posts, brand-favoring algorithms, prominently placed ads, or even just paid premium models — there’s no shortage of means that services like Facebook and Snapchat have tried in order to make money off of all of us talking to each other. And despite the variety of attempts, it seems like there’s really still no play book; no one has found a sure fire method of monetizing without alienating the user base. But Kik may be treading some fresh ground here with their new branded GIFs.
Branded GIFs — The Answer to an Old Problem?
GIF (noun)- an animated picture you can post and send in messages
Finding a way to make money off of a messenger or any kind of hanging out app is really tricky. Ultimately, you’re trying to avoid a hard pay wall, because that will greatly reduce your likely customer base. So you need to walk a delicate tight rope requiring careful balance: if your marketing strategy is too hands off, it might not make any money for you at all, and your service can disappear overnight — even if it has millions of users.
This is the fate that Twitter has been nervously fighting off for years, and each new attempt to make Twitter into something more marketable — such as increasing the character limit or reordering posts based on a popularity algorithm — trades away its uniqueness and alienates users. Thus, despite the 974 million Twitter accounts that are out there, Twitter could still disappear. Sort of like those families in Jane Austen novels who are virtually penniless, despite having a title that goes back to William the Conqueror (I’m looking at you, Sir Walter Eliot!)
But the other end of this balance is going too aggressive with your marketing. Paid add-on after paid add-on (think of the numerous stickers and emoji some apps make you pay to unlock) makes you look cheap. And putting in too many ads pushes out all the user content that your users are there to see (messages and updates and the like). It ceases to be a space for the user to communicate, and becomes entirely a space for them to be advertised to.
Which is why I think that Kik’s branded gifs are a very interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the entire problem.
- Here’s how they work: Certain brands make a deal with Kik Messenger. Currently, the most prominent brands on board are WWF (the World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation — for those of my readers who still think it’s 2002) and Zoolander No. 2. These entities provide a number of branded GIFs, which are then added to the library of GIFs, emoji, stickers, and whatnot that Kik makes available to its users.
- And here’s why it’s brilliant: More and more, we’re communicating in GIFs. Reaction GIFs flood the forums and comment sections of your favorite sites. The relatively small-sized animation allows us to communicate complex ideas and feelings with a simple copy/paste in a way that isn’t onerous for a reader.
So, we’re already using GIFs to communicate. From there, it’s a cinch to provide a few GIFs that can help us do that. You disgusted by something? Share a GIF of a leopard sticking its tongue out. (It could be yawning, but to me it looks like it’s about to gag.)
Are you feeling invincible? Share a GIF of Zoolander and THE OTHER GUY strutting their respectively funky stuff toward the camera.
You get to communicate your feelings in a fun way while simultaneously spreading the brand of whichever branded GIF you’re using. Yes, you’re essentially helping a company advertise to all of your friends “for free.” Though it’s not exactly for free: Granted, you’re not getting paid for it, but Kik is, and that payment will allow Kik to keep from trying worse ways to stay afloat. All in all, I think it’s not a bad compromise, and I’ll be interested to see if other services adopt it in the future.
But what do you think? Have you played around with the branded GIFs in the GIF keyboard? Do you think this is going to catch on? Let us know what you think down in the comments!