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Navigating a New Language: Emojis

Written by: Olga Kraineva
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Ninety-two percent of the online population uses emojis. That’s approximately three billion people. The adoption and use of emojis, a visual language that communicates different emotions or scenarios using digital icons, is exciting but also has tremendous implications.

Emojis’ high rate of adoption can be credited to their universality and ability to be understood by all, regardless of native language. Images are also processed faster in the brain than text is, so there are functional benefits to choosing a visual icon over multiple words to describe the same sentiment.

Instagram embraced the emoji trend and documented the following in a company blog post: “It is a rare privilege to observe the rise of a new language…Emoji are becoming a valid and near-universal method of expression in all languages.”

Brands have come to recognize this consumer behavior and have jumped at the opportunity to use emojis to appear hip, approachable, and current. Last spring, Burger King launched a custom Chicken Fries emoji keyboard that was available in the iTunes App Store and Google Play store (other brands and personalities have since followed suit, like Kim Kardashian and Betches). Taco Bell also made their own spin on emojis with the #TacoEmojiEngine instant-reply campaign on Twitter that used over 600 photos and animated GIFs to show how the taco emoji can play nice with the others.

Moreover, brands are integrating emojis casually into their daily posts, just as consumers would. GE used emojis at RSNA, a professional radiology medical device conference, at the end of last year in their social media communication.

Social media publishing platforms also welcome the trend and continue to create more emoji integrations for consumers, brands, and influencers alike. Below are some of the latest developments:

  • Twitter:
    • Twitter recently (January 2016) revealed three new integrations specifically for high-profile celebrities, including a special camera feature that lends some inspiration from Snapchat. One hundred handpicked celebrities can overlay emoji-style icons onto their photos, giving celebrities a more premium experience through customization.
    • Auto-response campaigns using certain hashtags to unlock content are also an option – something that our client Lifetime did recently. In promotion for the Toni Braxton movie, fans that tweeted one of three emojis and #ToniBraxtonMovie were delighted with a preview of one of three sneak peeks for the movie. The movie garnered 267K tweets and 3.6MM viewers during the premiere. Nielsen reported it as the most tweeted-about program on television Saturday (January 27, 2016), with an 18 percent share of all Twitter TV activity, and the most tweeted movie for the television season to date.
  • Facebook: Facebook is finally moving past the “Like” button in favor of a full range of emotion choices in response to posts. Called “Reactions,” this new feature debuted on Wednesday, February 24, and allows users to respond to posts with six emotion choices: angry, sad, wow, haha, yay, and love.

Keep in mind, there are also implications for brands that use emojis:

  1. According to a Mintel Research Report, Communicating Through Imagery (2015), “Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that images are inherently ambiguous, which can result in consumers misunderstanding key messages.” This can lead to unintentional offense or other negative consequences.
  2. Millennials – the most frequent users of emojis, claiming to use emojis 75.9 percent of the time – don’t want brands to communicate with them using emojis. Only three percent of respondents of an Odysessy research study said brands should use them. That being said, although they say they don’t want brands to use emojis, they may feel differently moving from theory to practice.
  3. Finally, most standard social listening reporting tools do not support emoji-tracking capabilities as of yet. It’s still difficult to get an accurate account of the impact of an emoji-only campaign, unless you also assign a unique hashtag to the campaign in addition to using emojis.
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CNBC, photo by Dimitri Otis | Getty Images

The bottom line is it’s undeniable that emojis are here to stay, and consumer use is likely to continue to increase. Brands should use caution before executing on the emoji trend just for the sake of doing the next buzzy activity, and first evaluate if it makes sense as part of their existing strategy with their consumer at the center.