I have a confession: the last time GIFs were popular, I wasn’t born yet. Lucky for me, they have made a comeback on Tumblr. For those of you who are in my age bracket or are not familiar, “GIF” stands for Graphic Interchange Format, better explained visually here.

Christine Erickson of Mashable recently wrote an article about the rebirth of GIFs, saying how Tumblr has made GIFs popular once again since it serves as the perfect visual platform for sharing creative content.

The real phenomenon is how two 24-year-old law school girls, who created a blog incorporating GIFs in order to stay in touch after college, accidentally created a viral sensation in the form of a Tumblr blog called #whatshouldwecallme. Forbes reported that the Tumblr blog has over 50,000 followers, since then it has increased to more than 100,000 followers and an estimated two million page views every day.

The clear reason for its popularity is that it’s funny and relatable. However, others have adopted this idea and created Tumblrs solely with GIFs that have been equally as trendy. The Tumblrs are everywhere and now there is one for just about anything: The Time I Studied Abroad, What Should We Call Me Social Media, Running a Startup, #HowShouldWeAccountForMe, #WhatShouldWeCallCats, 99 Problems But a Pitch Ain’t One and many more.

Not so coincidentally, as I was writing this post, my best friend sent me a link to a Tumblr blog called When I Went Gluten Free. And when U.S. President Barack Obama recently announced his stance on gay marriage, a GIF Tumblr, When Obama Endorsed Marriage Equality, went viral with common reactions to his statement.

So what made these Tumblrs get so universally popular so fast?

  1. They integrate pop culture references. Let’s face it, some of these GIF Tumblrs wouldn’t be as funny without the celebrity attached to them. Brands leverage celebrities to persuade consumers to use their brand because celebrities offer familiarity. For example, this GIF uses a scene from an episode of Friends to explain a reaction to when one of your friends grabs your computer to Google something.
  2. They spark an emotional connection. The girls who started #whatshouldwecallme created it as a means to keep in touch and to post inside jokes. What they didn’t realize is that the rest of the world would relate to many of their “inside jokes.” In the end, we’re all a lot more alike than we care to admit, and marketers should keep this in mind when they post to their own blogs and social channels. If you’re feeling the need for a coffee break at 3 p.m., chances are, so are your followers. So why not post about it? It’s a great way to create a human bond with your consumers/users.
  3. They are timely. A lot of the latest GIFs came out at appropriate times. When the Mega Millions lottery was causing a craze in the U.S., the #whatshouldwecallme Tumblr posted this GIF.
  4. They are easily shareable. Tumblr promotes reblogging, allowing its users to easily reblog a post to their own blog and providing a simple sharing aspect, which is the key to growing popularity. This helped the #whatshouldwecallme Tumblr grow from 500 followers to 15,000 followers in a matter of a week.


The creators of this blog didn’t intentionally create content that was marketable or would go viral. But the content that doesn’t strive to get attention often does. Emotional connections and commonality tend to ignite a lot of attention. Google already uses emotion and commonality to attract users, such as in this recent Google Chrome commercial which shows a guy trying to win back the one that got away. Create content your users can relate to and the followers will come pouring in.