How many times have you watched Star Trek Capt. Jean-Luc Picard "face palm" online? Repeatedly?
There's a name for this type of Internet communication. According to an item on jStor ("where news meets its scholarly match") that was picked up by Longreads, the so-called reaction gif is "one of the more interesting aspects of Internet culture...the transformative ways people engage in creative language play, particularly when it comes to expressing emotions and reactions through words alone."
Facebook enthusiasts are very familiar with reaction gifs, which frequently dot responses from millennials. Reaction gifs are much better than old-fashioned emoticons at conveying emotion, irony and sometimes sarcasm. They convey gestures - especially of embarrassment or disbelief.
From there, they reenter the daily lexicon as gesture-based compounds like "facepalm." It's a short hop, skip and a jump before these lovely summary words appear in headlines, e.g. "He facepalmed on the country's behalf" (Esquire).
PR practitioners once feared soundbites gone awry from clients who strayed off-point and off-message in TV interviews with clever reporters.
Now, those soundbites can be reduced to vines that can be shortened to reaction gifs that stream ad nauseum online. Worse, an ill-advised soundbite or flaky pronouncement on a Twitter feed is guaranteed to provoke witty reaction gifs and gesture-based compounds very difficult to refute.
Corporate employees are advised to think of how their emails would sound, if read out loud in a court of law. LieberJohnson strongly urges its clients to think of the many ways their statements and actions could be interpreted by reaction gifs and trendy linguistics on the Internet.
For better or worse, this is the new world of thought-leadership. Stakeholder emoticons and gifs are shrugs and gestures by living and breathing stakeholders not necessarily interested in meangingful debate.
It's not in the nature of many brands or corporations to dabble in the world of symbolic speech, nor should it be. However, in today's intense online environment, it pays to out-trend this linguistic morphology by appearing savvy and sophisticated in other venues like Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, blogs and websites.
The fight for public opinion begins and ends on the Internet. Offset the impactful gif with meaningful dialog.