62 Million Emotions: Chris Mann, COVID Culture and GIPHY

Derek E. Baird
3 min readSep 10, 2020

How the Recording Artist Used GIPHY To Tell The “We Story” Of COVID-19

Like most successful recording artists, the COVID-19 outbreak in March brought everything — live concerts, recording, and fan events — to a screaming halt. After the initial shock of lockdown, Chris Mann got busy creating coronavirus parody videos that unintentionally went internationally mega-viral.

In addition to using Facebook and YouTube to distribute the videos, I also looked at ways to make the video content evergreen, grow his fanbase, allow fans to participate, show his lesser-known comedic personality, and tap into the cultural conversation around the COVID-19 outbreak.

While we had previously used GIPHY, the animated Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) hadn’t been, up to that point, a priority social platform for our digital content, culture, or community strategy.

Fast forward a pandemic and five months later, and we’ve seen the GIPHY channel grow from a couple of thousand GIF views to 62 Million GIF views (as June 2021) in just a few months.

Chris Mann GIF Dashboard (June 2021)

Here are a couple of best practices I’ve learned growing the GIPHY channel from nearly zero to 62 million GIF views.


The creative goal behind every GIF was to, like a silent movie, tell a story. Chris is a very experienced theater actor and live performer who already knew how to create and convey emotion through music, words, visuals, and other expressive forms of art, so he was well suited and able to create visual representations of lockdown in a way that resonated with so many people.

I quickly learned that there’s a fine line between having a GIF that’s too long and just the right length to carry the narrative of the story or emotion we were trying to convey.

The key GIF content strategy was to use tags that reflect how the person searching for a GIF was feeling or what emotion they were trying to convey through visual social media. I tapped into this strategy by tagging our GIFs as emotions, reactions, or feelings.


When a new collection of GIFs was ready to share with fans, I put out a participatory call to action on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube Community tab, and Facebook. I invited fans to “check out” the new GIFs and respond with their favorite original GIF from that collection.

From being bored as hell to suddenly spending their life on Zoom to quarantine parenting woes and thanking frontline workers— the content resonated, and GIFs provided fans with a low barrier to participate in the conversation and validate their emotions around the lockdown.

We also leveraged the integration of the GIPHY search on Instagram, asking fans to search on Instagram Stories and share their favorite GIFs and tagging Chris on Instagram.


As the videos began to go viral, I started identifying clips from the videos that I felt would emotionally resonate with fans who had seen the music parody videos and people who were discovering them through the GIPHY search.

The sharing of GIFs is also a performance of shared cultural knowledge, and it’s been a fantastic experience to watch fans embrace GIFs across social platforms. After a new video release, fans were quick to ask when the new collection of GIFs will be available for them to use on Twitter and Instagram Stories.

The GIF is often misunderstood as a component of modern communication. But when leveraged to convey emotion, tell a story, or help people navigate their anxieties through a global pandemic, visual-centric social media texts, like GIFs, can become part of a crucial part of digital strategy to community engagement, cultural resonance, and compelling content.



Derek E. Baird

Chief Youth Officer | Kids & Teen Culture, Content & Community | Kids Privacy | Author “Gen Z Frequency” | Kid/Teen Mental Health + Digital Wellbeing |