They’ve been criticized for being juvenile, brandished by texters wildly, and have been a subject of attention for linguists, marketers, and the general public for more than a decade. Now, emojis are slowly taking over the social media world, and platforms are starting to develop in ways that specifically respond to this communicative phenomenon.
One of the most prominent recent examples of emoji influencing social media is Facebook’s adoption of emoji reactions. Previously, the social app only allowed users to interact with content via a “like” or a comment. Now, there are multiple “like” options, each one represented by an emoji. There are now emoji reaction options for “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” or “angry.” This gives users a wider range of immediate reactions, though the comment field is still available for those with thoughts or feelings that extend beyond a simple animated face. The transition has been notable for marketers, specifically, who can now gauge audience reactions to their content with a more subjective view.
Snapchat, a relatively new leader in the social media world, has embraced emojis wholeheartedly. Recently, it acquired Bitstrip, a startup dedicated to customized emojis and cartoons. It’s yet to be revealed how Snapchat plans to incorporate this into its current model, but it’s a sign that emoji may be the center of a budding power struggle between social apps.
Twitter, too, has jumped on the emoji bandwagon, and in an innovative way. Soon, the social media platform will allow advertisers to target users with ads based specifically on the type of emoji they use. For example, you could segment your strategy into different user categories based on emoji use, and distribute your ads accordingly.
So why is it important to recognize, or even encourage further emoji use?
Better User Data (and Targeting)
Emojis have the potential to return more sophisticated user data to marketers and advertisers. Think of them as an extra dimension of user demographics and behavioral patterns. Though still in their infancy, eventually, a person’s typical emoji reactions could tell you much about their attitudes, thought patterns, or even their buying behaviors. Even now, emojis are helping marketers better understand user reactions to the content they distribute.
But are emojis really so straightforward?
A Blurry Communicative Experience
As you might imagine, emojis have a fair share of critics in addition to supporters. They offer a number of unique communicative advantages, but they also come with drawbacks.
-Concise. Using emojis allows you to transmit complex emotional reactions or thoughts in short, tiny packages. The flip side is, emojis may make this communication too concise, limiting the specificity of expression.
-Visual. Emojis can transcend typical language barriers due to their visual format. Seeing a face crying with laughter doesn’t require you to understand a linguistic phrase like “that’s funny.” However, over reliance on visual communication could reduce the power of words over time.
-Subjective. Emojis also carry a degree of subjectivity, which is both positive and negative. For example, you may choose an emoji that sufficiently captures your emotional state without really being able to pinpoint why. It accurately represents a subjective emotional state that can’t be put into words. The trouble is, the person on the receiving end may misinterpret your intentions.
There may be some real dangers to emojis taking over our social world, but at the same time, most of these are subjective:
-Replacing language. There are fears that emojis will replace our typical languages. But our modern languages are simply replacements for the languages that came before them. Is this just the next step forward in language evolution?
-Categorizing interactions. Emojis are sometimes accused of reducing the complex experience of human existence into pre-established categories, artificially limiting the expressive power of human communication. But with an ever-expanding library and increasingly creative uses of emojis, this may not be a problem for long.
-Ambiguities. Finally, there’s the simple ambiguity of the typical emoji–what the heck is this person trying to communicate with you? This is a real problem, in some circles more than others, but remember–the ambiguity of this communication is fundamentally human. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of precision, there’s a certain primal intrigue in communicating this way.
Emojis don’t just have the potential to shape social media–they already are shaping it. Our most popular platforms are starting to evolve in ways that support and respond to emoji use, and as emojis become even more popular, this evolution will likely accelerate. Inevitably, some platforms will support emojis more than others, and we still have much to figure out in how we use emojis in our daily social interactions–but the phenomenon is alive and developing, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.