23.11.2015 Emojis are being taken seriously by brands, but where do we draw the line?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But when Twitter offers no more than 140 characters, it is no wonder that so many users and brands are showing more heart emoji to emojis than ever before.

Even the Oxford Dictionary has acknowledged that, in terms of written communication, the fastest growing area of language is emoji culture. They even awarded ‘laughing face’ (also known as the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji) the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2015.

It is well known that symbols have been part of language longer than letters (think hieroglyphics), but until the 20th Century their use alongside western languages was fairly limited. Now that usage of emojis is increasing exponentially (see graph below) is it time brands became more comfortable using this visual means of communication?

emoji use chart

The Pros

Emojis look attractive, bright and fun. It is well established that visual posts encourage more engagement from users on social media, with one report claiming tweets with images receive on average 150% more retweets. Visual social media posts are better at grabbing a user’s attention and deliver a clearer and more impactful message than text alone.

 Coupled with this, users tend to find informal posts more relatable, encouraging a sense of personal investment in a brand. Dominos Dominoshave been just one of many brands receiving impressive levels of brand engagement through inventive emoji use – even suggesting particular emojis people should be using.



Brands should know emojis are not only useful for explicitly commercial messages, but also valuable in adding a nice touch to posts, which convey a genuine and important sentiment that will resonate with particular followers.

 Sonam Kapoor

The Cons

However, it is possible for emoji usage to go drastically wrong. Recently USA Today chose to use Facebook’s new ‘reactions’ symbols, similar to emojis, to illustrate its front page stories. Unfortunately the lead story that day (pictured below) was about the tragic murder of an American soldier in France, which it chose to accompany with a crying face symbol. The response to this move was overwhelmingly negative, with the majority of readers, including emoji lovers, seeing it as extremely inappropriate.

USA TODAY US hero of french train attack

There are limitations to how powerful emojis can be in summing up feelings and important events. They can come across as flippant and ill considered when used to convey the most extreme elements of human emotion. A ‘sad face’ emoji would be unable to adequately express the emotion of a tragic death. Equally, a ‘grinning face’ emoji would be inadequate to describe the happiness surrounding the end of a war.

 As emojis become increasingly ubiquitous in our society, it will be fascinating to see how they are used by brands in their social communication. It remains to be seen whether organisations that deal with serious or emotive issues will consider it appropriate to fully engage with this kind of visual language, but it’s clear that we are seeing a major shift change in the way we use language on social media. thinking face