Looking back on 2017, I remember a year filled with gut-wrenching political turmoil and anguish, devastating natural disasters, protest marches and the rise of an aggressive right wing. It’s been a year filled with anxiety and dread. We have learned how important democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law are as they are threatened and undermined on a daily basis.
Completely oblivious to the year’s upheaval, emoji are happily flourishing
Consider for a minute the outrage sparked across social when Google made a cheeseburger emoji with the cheese misplaced. Even the CEO got involved to make sure the cheese would be moved to its proper spot, above the patty where everyone knows it belongs.
Content that evokes an emotional response is more likely to be shared
With clickbait thankfully going extinct, there seems to be an emerging trend in the top content on social media: Content that provokes an emotional response is more likely to get shared.
Examining the top Facebook posts in September, the stats show that the posts with the most shares also had a higher percentage of reactions. And more publishers are using emoji in captions, perhaps to elicit that emotional response. It all goes back to the premise that good marketing tells a story. It reaches people on an emotional level. Clearly, emoji are helping to make that emotional connection.
Charting the growth of emoji
The use of emoji in the top 100 headlines jumped from a mere six in fall 2015 to 28 in fall 2016. At 52 emoji-sprinkled headlines in 2017, it’s clear that this trend isn’t slowing down. The big jump in emoji usage is happening among news publishers. In fall 2015, there wasn’t a single emoji in the top 100 news posts. One year later, in 2016, this number jumped to 10; by the fall of 2017, the number had more than doubled to 24. This stat helps explain their popularity: Four out of every ten millennials would rather engage with pictures than read.
News publishers are catching up to the trends that have been working for viral publishers
What types of stories use emoji from news publishers? Breaking news, hard news and tragedies are less likely to have emojis associated with them. So how do publishers strategically use emoji? Not really surprising—emoji are lighthearted and whimsical; they’re meant to delight and for the most part, they deliver. Emoji developers keep adding to the inventory, and they’re great fun! I like to think of emoji as the print version of adding a sticker to a letter or other document. A bit frivolous and totally unnecessary. Just as there are words and phrases that elicit the best response in your headlines—You need to, The greatest ever, That will rock your, etc.–are inappropriate for serious topics, so emoji are often a bad fit for hard news and serious topics.
Who uses emoji the most?
- Soft news and human interest stories are most likely to have emoji in their headlines.
- Brits may like emoji more than Americans. Daily Mail, The Independent, and BBC News all used emoji in headlines that appeared in the top 100 Facebook posts this November.
As to be expected, happier emoji were generally the most used.
- If we take a look at the Facebook graph of most-used emoji on Facebook, Fall 2017, clearly LOL has pulled into the lead, followed by the ubiquitous heart, clapping hands, etc. Hearts in some form made it on the list a total of five times. Yet clearly, if you’re writing an article that’s intended for a professional audience, there’s no place for a heart, a rainbow or any of the other emojis in Facebook’s top performers.
Emoji from brands
Brands have stepped up and are adopting emoji into their social posts.
- Starbucks and Macy’s are using holiday-themed emoji in their messaging.
- On the Fourth of the July, Bud Light tweeted an emoji American flag composed of fireworks in place of Old Glory’s stars and American flags and beers for the red and white stripes
- Baskin-Robbins is using an emoji ice cream cone in their messaging.
- On World Emoji Day, July 17, NASCAR Tweeted a photographic mosaic of some of the sport’s most famous drivers.
- The Smithsonian, in a tweet about Louis Armstrong, used an emoji trumpet.
Using emoji comes down to a few considerations and knowing your audience. Ask yourself some questions:
- What channels are you creating content for and do emoji make sense in that context?
- What is your brand’s voice?
- What’s your topic? If you’re writing something fun and light, this is the perfect landscape for emoji. If, on the other hand, you’re explaining a complex concept to a bunch of accountants, save the emoji for an audience who will appreciate them. This probably isn’t it.
- What are you looking to achieve with emoji — is it to provide a more succinct message, encourage an emotional response in your audience, or cleverly punctuate your caption?