The use of emojis has risen exponentially in the last decade. Originally appearing in the 1980’s, they have become an integral accessory to communication via social media, text and email. According to a study, 2.3 trillion messages were sent with emoji in 2016...that’s over 6 billion every day sent across USA.

Love them or hate them, they’re everywhere!

But, how do emojis psychologically affect us? And are they bringing emotion back into our often misinterpreted digital communication?

"Emoticons are a new form of language that we're producing, and to decode that language we've produced a new pattern of brain activity."

- Dr Owen Churches, from the school of psychology.

Often, our online or text messages can be misinterpreted as blunt, rude or unfriendly, simply due to the fact that we’re unable to convey tone or the emotions carried with the statement. Therefore, our minds jump to different conclusions than a message intended. And this, some claim, is where the power of adding an emoji to text is considerable.

With our brains being fully capable of recognising and reacting to both emojis and emoticons, it’s now possible for the brain to react to a smiley face online, in the same way that it reacts to an actual human expression; due to humans learning over the last 34 years that the symbol represents a certain emotion. With a remarkable amount of communication actually being expressed through tone of voice, body language and facial expressions and only a very small proportion being verbal (7% to be exact), it’s not a surprise that the use of emojis has become so integral to a large majority of people’s day to day interactions.

Emojis have become a powerful new language; a way to break the ice, convey singular emotions and instigate humour. Installing emotion on a platform that was so lacking before, is more important than most people care to consider, yet it has an everyday effect on them.

With our brains reading emojis as nonverbal information, they are processed as emotional communication. With this taken into consideration, there are many ways in which emojis have helped digital communication, leading to more emotional conversation via text, as well as evidence to suggest that emojis as a whole are actually shifting our vocabulary by replacing slang words and acronyms, such as LOL and ROFL.

Social media is the largest platform to host emojis as a form of expression/emotion, with 50% of all captions on Instagram involving emojis to convey a message alongside a photo. Recently, Instagram enabled users to hashtag emojis, a helpful tool to determine what the most popular emojis are and which tone of voice sits naturally alongside them.

The top three emojis used on Instagram are the laughing, crying smiley, followed by the heart eyes smiley, followed by the heart. Conveying messages of humour, laughter, love, admiration, inspiration and encouragement. What’s interesting about the use of emojis via Instagram is the ways in which each symbol can be interpreted, yet still hold the same emotional undertone. I’ve conducted a small test to demonstrate:

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The heart emoji clearly conveys a message of love, but varying types of love; from animals, personal possessions, people, seasons and art; this hashtag is clear in its message, it takes away the need for any words, immediately. The reader now fully understands that you are conveying a message of love and warmth towards what’s in the photo; nothing more needs to be said. It’s incredible how one simple symbol can get across such a strong message.

When looking at what was originally a high-five symbol, it’s clear that the majority of the world's population have interpreted it in different ways. Religion, yoga, meditation and saying thank you is the general response to this emoji. Again, users have made use of this emoji to supplement visual content and provide further meaning.

What’s interesting is the difference between the two women holding hands emoji, alongside the two men holding hands emoji; what I would of naturally expected, would be that both are positive symbols for LGBT couples, yet they are used very differently. The female emoji is used to convey platonic female relationships, whereas the male emoji is used to convey homosexual male relationships.

With such a surge in the use of emojis and the emotional connotations attached, it’s no wonder that brands are starting to incorporate emojis into both their marketing campaigns, as well as their general social media presence. Six out of ten of the top 500 most followed brands online, regularly use emojis, according to Social Bakers. What were once considered a tacky form of communication by many brands, now serve as a purpose to add viable emotion to any status update, especially Twitter. Nowadays, a tweet almost looks naked without an emoji, suggesting the brand is a little boring to many consumers. But, increasingly we’re seeing them creeping into more ‘traditional’ forms of digital communication like email subject lines.

As well as adding emotion to text, emojis have the ability to relay awkward messages in a less awkward manner. Sometimes, words don’t appropriately fit with the message you're trying to convey, especially as a brand - emojis make things a lot easier.

Take Durex, for example. The brand is tasked with conveying difficult messages of safe sex to the younger generations, whilst staying digitally relevant to the youth and maintaining an essence of ‘cool’ (no one wants to be told about sex in a cringy, non-relatable manner).

Durex conducted their own social research and found that 80% of 16-25-year-olds find it easier to express themselves through emojis, whilst finding that an even higher percentage of the youth would prefer to use emojis when talking about intimacy (lots of fruits and vegetables seem to come into play here). These are staggeringly high figures for such an important matter. So, Durex decided to do a emoji based campaign on World AIDS day, aiming for a condom emoji to be included in the emoji board in time to celebrate the important day. An official proposal was made to Unicode, who unfortunately denied the request, which led to Durex running a poll asking the public which existing emoji would be synonymous with safe sex; we give you the Open Umbrella with Raindrops. This was then rolled out as a campaign to raise awareness around safe sex and is still the unofficial emoji to promote safe sex. It’s a great example of a brand using just a simple symbol to convey such an important message to an audience that is difficult to relate to on an emotional level.

Another great brand who have used popular culture and the invasion of emojis to their advantage is PETA.

By using just a handful of emojis, they have managed to create a strong, emotional message which anyone can relate to, whilst staying digitally relevant to both younger and older audiences. At the end of this message, PETA asked to respond with the heart emoji, in order to show support and make a donation... just a simple heart. In response to this, you could opt to receive PETA mobile alerts, receiving a prompt to share the campaign video on your personal Twitter, which upon clicking on the URL, instantly posted to your profile. A great use of cross-channel marketing made incredibly easy for users to get their messages across in an easy, relevant and efficient manner.

Moving into a less awkward, but more general, use of emojis from brands, Domino’s used the pizza symbol to their advantage like no other food company has before. The pizza company had a vision - to become an e-commerce leader, aiming to reach 50% digital orders, whilst running like a technology company. Through this vision, they built out a digital campaign that revolved around one simple emoji, the pizza slice. Enter ‘Emoji ordering’... all the user had to do was simply create an account, save an easy order, link this profile to either your twitter or mobile, then you can simply tweet/text the pizza emoji as much as you like, at any time to Domino's and your order will arrive at your door 30 minutes later. This takes the Amazon one-click model to a whole other level. By creating this unique ‘ordering platform’, Domino’s reported that consumers used this service 4 times more than texting the original message ‘Easy Order’, again, suggesting that emojis are the preferred communication option for many consumers and reinforcing the fact that the less input required the more likely the conversion.

With consumers emotionally responding to emojis in such a positive way, more brands should be embracing mobile as a tool to create conversations; driving interaction with consumers on a personal level, creating authentic relationships, whilst staying technologically relevant.

Be sure to know how your audience speaks, often. Emojis are used in different ways dependent on age, gender, location and even social class. Take into consideration how your audience speaks to you - are they witty and quick, do they use slang, are they from a certain area that has a large amount of colloquial terms that could be interpreted in different ways through emojis?

Finally, be sure that emojis fit your brand’s tone of voice, to ensure authentic communication with consistent brand identity. Once this is defined, you can experiment with adding in emojis and playfulness to your day to day social presence. Many e-commerce sites have used it as an opportunity to make conversation with customers more engaging and genuine, whilst offering an element of fun to the brand.

So, are emojis right for your brand? Why don’t you explore how they can make digital communications that bit more human.