Study: When to Use Emojis (and When to Avoid Them)

In case you weren’t sure how to feel about the news, one major print publisher recently made some editorial changes to inform you. Last month, USA Today experimented with putting emojis in headlines. Yes, emojis have now officially graced the pages of print newspapers, and people seem to be 🙁 about the development, which isn’t surprising, given the image below.

Adweek described the icon placement as “rather awkward,” saying that “the icons do feel like they’re trying to reflect how you should feel about the news, which blurs the line of journalistic neutrality a bit.” Fusion, meanwhile, categorized the entire concept as “Please Don’t.”

Emojis in unconventional places, like on the front page of USA Today, are by no means new. Earlier this year, the Domino’s emoji ordering system, which lets customers complete a pizza order just by texting or tweeting a pizza emoji, won a Titanium Grand Prix at Cannes for Crispin Porter + Bogusky; Chevrolet wrote a media release for the 2016 Cruze entirely in emojis; and IHOP redesigned its logo to evoke a smiling face.

A new study by Emogi, a platform that tracks online sentiment in real-time and builds strategies to increase customer engagement through the use of emojis, reveals that almost everyone is fluent when it comes to expressing themselves with smiley faces. But that doesn’t mean every brand knows how to capitalize on that in a way that’s effective and self-aware.

For anyone looking not to repeat USA Today‘s mistake, Emogi’s findings have a lot to teach us. (Note that Emogi’s business model means you should probably take these numbers with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to glean here.)

Emojis are mainstream

More than 60 percent of respondents communicate with emojis on a weekly basis, if not more frequently, and that includes people who are old enough to rent a car. Even non-millennials still use emojis regularly—only about 8 percent of people never use them at all.

In short, don’t be afraid to use emojis to communicate with older demographics. Your audience shouldn’t have a problem understanding the context of a sad face, regardless of how savvy they are with technology.

Women use emojis more than men

This gender gap in emoji usage is something to keep in mind when attempting to get a message across. According to the study, women are more likely to believe that emojis can accurately capture their feelings compared to words, whereas men aren’t quite as convinced. By extension, women are also more likely to use emojis, while men use them less frequently. Depending on the target audience, it might make more sense to keep the messaging more straightforward or traditional.

Why brands are jumping on the bandwagon

Brands continue to take to emojis for a simple reason: They’re effective. The report found that click rates and attention time skyrocketed when emojis were involved.

To make sure that the experimentation stays true to the brand, some companies are trying to take advantage of the trend by putting their own spin on the format. From custom Twitter emojis for the Premier League season to The Dogs Trust’s dedicated app for dog emojis, emojis give brands the chance to customize a part of the digital language. For example, Dove’s curly haired emoji keyboard is immediately understandable, but still unique to Dove’s brand and image. It’s a smart combination of universality and specificity.

Emojis have clear limitations

The popularity of emojis should only increase when Facebook releases its new Reactions update, which will add six emoji response buttons that expand on the basic “Like” button. But even if emojis are ubiquitous, they aren’t right for every situation.

While happiness and indifference were easily translatable, the report suggests that respondents had a tough time using emojis to signify surprise. And as USA Today found out, it’s hard to convey serious and sadness with an emoji. Unfortunately for publishers, the news is often serious and sad.

Facebook may want to pay attention to these limitations as it looks to roll out Reactions. When people need to express surprised or negative opinions on social media, emojis might lead to communication problems.

Functionality is also an important factor when deciding whether it’s appropriate to communicate with emojis. While Domino’s emoji ordering is convenient for customers, the purpose of USA Today‘s experiment is harder to decipher. In print, the emojis exist to… tell readers how to feel? To simplify a news story down to a single emotional note? Besides playing with form, the purpose is still unclear.

Adweek asked Callaway whether there was concern about the implications of using lighthearted emojis next to serious news, such as an update on Russian involvement in Syria. Callaway’s response? “Yes, of course there was discussion about being too flippant.”

Is there an emoji for that?

Image by ismagination

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