What is Emoji? – Using Emoji in Digital Marketing Agencies

Are you be using emoji in your digital marketing agencies? Like ‘em or hate ‘em, emoji, also known as pictographs, are here to stay. But what is emoji, where did they come from? And more importantly, why should we be using emoji in our strategies for social media and business communications? Yes, you heard it right – our BUSINESS communication, media and marketing! Using emojis is not only just a way to add a bit of fun to your day but in our digital age, is fast becoming a responsibility and necessity to take your business to the next level.

But let’s start from the beginning…The word emoji is a combination of the Japanese words ‘e’, meaning picture and ‘moji’, meaning emotion. The pictographs themselves a combination of Japanese Kanji and manga art. Lexico’s US dictionary describes an emoji succinctly as ‘a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion’.

I prefer the Merriam-Webster version which expands the definition by adding intention. They say that emoji ‘communicate a message playfully without using words’ – something that fits my fun-loving personality perfectly. And let’s face it – who couldn’t use a little more entertainment?

Consequently, I am a number one fan of emoji. They allow me to express myself more fully in an otherwise flat text environment or digital space. It’s almost as if we can act out or simulate our body language through their use. That being said, emojis have developed into a language in their own right and one that is globally recognizable.

“Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club – the community of speakers of that language.”

Frank Smith, Psycholinguist

Where Did Emoji Come From? 

First appearing in Japan on mobiles in the ’90s, emojis are increasingly rife in global personal communications. They have been around now for 30 years!

These expressive little characters are finally sneaking into business communications in a big way and not without great results. This is not surprising as those at work began to increase the use of emojis in their interactions with each other. Then subsequently began to use emojis in their digital marketing with customers.

😂 (Face with Tears of Joy Emoji) became the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2015.  Like I said, we all seek out a laugh for entertainment, so no surprise that 😂 became so popular. These awards are given when the chosen ‘word’ most reflects or captures the spirit, character, and obsessions of the many. 

Arielle Pardes from WIRED says, ‘In the future, as the world becomes increasingly digital and increasingly globalized, emoji will become important tools for translation and communication—a lingua franca for the digital age.’ I say that emoji marketing used as strategies for social media is already a thing and that the future is now!

Why Emojis Work?

It just so happens that images are much more memorable than text. This means that images are identified and remembered more easily than whatever text accompanies them. This phenomenon is known as the picture superiority effect. The method was used as a memory training tool as far back as in Ancient Roman speeches, where props were used to enhance a listener’s experience. 

Fast forward to our own experience today. All eyes get glued to billboards and ads with pictures, rather than lengthy written articles or craftily written adverts in the press. Now doesn’t it just make sense that we are naturally drawn to this new kind of text where we can add emoji (also images) to enhance or explain our meaning or feelings? Use emoji for social media optimization.

Hubspot claim that, “In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.” Even studies around eye-tracking show that those reading on the internet are more attentive to text containing images.  Emojis are, therefore, universal visual assets – ripe to be explored and exploited.

As 92% of the world’s online population are using emojis – 92% of those people understand the emoji ‘language’ and this is quite a phenomenon in itself.

Use Emojis to Stand Out in your B2C communication

So in social media B2C marketing, we have less than 8 seconds to capture a reader’s attention and interest. With the constant flow of excellent and varied content now being produced, how can we stand out from the rest?

As I said above, we process images faster than words – so what if I told you that you could boost your engagement rates by up to 25% just by using emojis in with your text!

Hubspot say that, “Emojis in a tweet can increase engagement by 25.4%, and emojis in a Facebook post can increase the number of likes by 57% and the number of comments and shares by 33%.”

Social analytics platform Quintly says, “the majority of brand profiles are currently not using emojis in the Insta post captions. But they probably should be – according to the data, ‘the higher the number of emojis used, the higher the amount of interactions.’”

By using emojis we can actually communicate better and faster than ever before. Since we all use this emoji ‘language’ effortlessly in our personal lives, it is understandable that when presented emojis in a business format, that we also warm to the communication. When communicating with most customers, we can all be assured that they will understand our meaning and more importantly, warm to us.

A Simple Way to Boost Engagement Rates 

There are some simple ideas to follow when selecting the best way to communicate with your customers.

First thing being is that you should know your target market and test to see their receptivity to the use of emojis in your communication.

Secondly, if you can’t visualize it, then neither can they. Use the chart of emoji symbols or the online Emojipedia to help you find the relevant pictograph.

Make sure that the image that you choose depicts the word or meaning that you want to convey and not something else. Some of the images carry dual meanings and like in any language, a misunderstood meaning can have quite different results from those you might expect – ask those who have naively used an 🍆!

Simplicity is Key

Simplicity is key – you don’t want your customers to be wondering what it is you want to say or overwhelming them with a plethora of random emojis.

Analogies or metaphors also work well but don’t forget simplicity.

And lastly, the idea that less is more holds true. You can simply direct your customer to your links with a pointed finger or pick out keywords that can be emphasized with the addition of an image. That said, I wouldn’t go overboard with sentiment and keep to more professional looking and helpful emoji characters.

Why not try some A/B testing? I have found a difference in engagement and impression rates across all social platforms just by adding a few relevant emojis. Daria Marmer has written a great piece for Hubspot on how emojis can help to increase your click-through rate. She suggests, “its productive to use less popular emojis in your marketing strategy, for the novelty factor, which is what I suspect is driving engagement.’ Curiosity often works great wonders.

Remember though you want to convey your message succinctly, not confuse.

EMOJIS and B2B Communication

Business to business…Should we be using emojis in our B2B digital marketing? More discretion is needed as this is where you need to think about the client and the brand you represent. Some industries were just not made to emoji! Think about it!

So if appropriate, lookout for the best emoji that a brand can identify with and pick a few to use consistently. When you do this, people will start to associate those emojis with your brand. They may even think about your company when not running a marketing campaign – simply by the association.

In a Demand Gen report, according to Nate Skinner, VP of Product Marketing at Pardot, “emoji capability is just one example of how B2B marketers are learning from their B2C peers and adopting new, innovative ways to deliver content and engage potential customers.”

ZoomInfo got clever with their B2B posts seen below. Both tweets successfully drew clients attention with the simple add of a happy emoji, waving hand and applause emoji. On the left, the idea of self-introduction is emphasised by their addition and on the right, appreciation is shown. Try this out with your teammates by using the celebration emoji in recognition of a job well done.

Zoom Info b2b post with emojis

If you think about a professional platform like LinkedIn, where are the benefits of using the emoji in our communication here? Well, everything that I’ve talked about above becomes relevant – showing easily understood appreciation with a thumbs up, making communication clearer by adding a phone or email symbol as a way to help the receiver remember more easily.

Using emoji in our B2B communication actually is a way of helping each other out – across time zones and varied languages. Images stick in the mind and aid our memories.

Negate the Negativity Effect by Using Emojis

Using emojis can also help negate the negativity effect in business communication. Julie Mason posted this helpful article on LinkedIn containing the following example of this  that was used in a study:

I can’t make the meeting you scheduled because it conflicts with my staff meeting. Email me and let me know what I missed.


I can’t make the meeting you scheduled because it conflicts with my staff meeting. Email me and let me know what I missed. 🙂

152 professionals concluded that the second email conveyed the emotional intent of the writer and that it seemed less negative (because of the added smiley).

A Few Things to Watch Out For – When Good Emoji Marketing Goes Bad

However, the other side of this according to data by YouGov shows that 58% of the public think that marketers are going overboard with emoji in their social media advertising and digital marketing – remember that less is more, to test and proceed with caution.

Colm Hebblethwaite from Marketing Tech talks of research that says out of 2,045 UK adults “29% think that their use actually devalues a brand.”

Surprisingly, a large number of Gen Z, who have perhaps less purchasing power than the Millennials, said that the use of emojis might deter them from purchasing. In contrast, 48% Millennials said, ‘that the use of emojis would not be likely to significantly influence their purchasing decisions.’

These new reports seem to have emerged after an influx of emojified ads got negative press. The most notable was the press release from Chevrolet about a new vehicle. The add was written entirely in emoji that left its audience more than frustrated. Clever but not exactly a clear nor succinct message. 

Chevrolet Emoji digital marketing

So while it seems that a final conclusion is still being tested, I can only go by my own results and interactions. It would seem to me that at least my efforts with restrained and reserved emojis drive engagement on the social platforms that I work on. As Komal Heylrt, Marketing Director at Pure360 said, “the use of emojis by a brand comes down to knowing the audience and understanding what they will react well to and react badly to, as a demographic.”

Remember to use tracking programs and analytics to track your emojified communications and posts. Social media monitoring and its results can help you test your social campaigns and track ROI. Some of the best ones and their specific target areas are listed here.

Cybersecurity and Emojis

In spite of the potential downside to using emojis – either too much, to the wrong audience, or giving the wrong message, Scout Digital Training say, “There’s a 56% increase in open rate when you add emojis to your email subject line, but only 2% of brands are using emojis in their email subject lines. Also, customers are 4x more likely to reply to business messages if they contain emojis.” proving that emojis are an invaluable and very powerful marketing tool.

However, in terms of cybersecurity, there are some dangers that you should know about. Irish Tech News has reported that you should be aware as scammers are even using these fun-loving characters to pry into your business. They advise that with all communications ‘never open links, press on ads or download apps or add-ons if you are not sure where those came from’.

In the same report, Daniel Markuson, Digital Privacy Expert at NordVPN commented about this problem. He says, “One of the growing trends is scams through downloadable emoji keyboards. Be especially cautious of free emoji keyboards, as nothing of value is free”. He adds, “everything you type on your device, be it a computer or a smartphone, will be continuously tracked and later sold for big money to advertising or other third-party companies.”

Stick to the Official Deck

Heavy news for those just wanting to find the right emoji-fit for their company or brand. I suggest sticking to the official emoji deck which is added to through the proper channels every year. 2020 saw the ‘birth’ of 239 new emoji broadening our choices and making the emoji world more inclusive.

The catch is that methods used by marketers in their posts and communications to gain increased engagement or click rates with the use of emoji can also be employed by hackers or scammers. As ever, proceed with caution when sending to your customer or client base. Please be aware of these malware scam campaigns.

To Emoji or not to Emoji? That Is The Question

In conclusion, use emoji discreetly, don’t go emoji crazy. They add meaning, show appreciation, emphasize, add direction and repetition. Also if you are anything like me, they add a sense of play. Holidays, events, announcements and workplace milestones are the perfect times to try out your audience.

Remember to really get to know your target audience whether it be B2B or B2C communication. Tailor your emoji use to their styles and preferences. If not appropriate for your customers or clients, leave the emojis out of your digital marketing. You might find that a cleverly crafted infographic will produce the results you are looking for instead and may be a better fit for your client.

If you do choose the emoji route, then smart and safe computer use is always advised. The Social Media space is trial and error. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – beating the algorithms is our endgame and it’s only by A/B testing that you will find out what works for you.

Now you are familiar with the where and why of emoji. Use emoji in your digital marketing agencies to help your platform reach new heights. You may also brighten your customers’ day! So indulge the fun-loving side of your soul by adding a little life to your text.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

Get creative 🤸🖼️🎨 but be 🐝 smart 🧠!

What’s Next in the World of Emoji?

July 17 is World Emoji Day! Don’t miss this chance to introduce the use of emoji into your digital marketing agencies.

There is always more reading to be done 📚. If you fancy becoming fluent in emoji, try out these 3 books that are written entirely in this universal language:


Or even design and submit your own emoji for official review here:


And finally…

Here’s one to play in your office (but only if you are emoji friendly)

Remember if emoji aren’t your thing, there are always hashtags ###!

What is Emoji? – Using Emoji in Digital Marketing Agencies
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