Emojis adding value in a digital world 

Alison Brown | Group Account Director Technology


A New Zealand news outlet claimed recently that writing a story with pen, paper and actual words was becoming a dying art because emojis were taking over the world.

Surely, this was hyperbole.

The evidence that supposedly supported this claim was a YouTube survey suggesting that emoji usage was taking its toll on the way we write. More than 90 per cent of British adults believed it was bringing down the English language. 

The news item went on to claim that the worst offenders are the younger generation.

“It’s easier to get your point across – instead of writing stuff, you can just use pictures,” one emoji user told media.

It’s true that emojis are very popular with people under 30. Older people too aren’t afraid to occasionally pepper their online messages and social media posts with a Smiling Face or Red Love Heart.

But to suggest that emojis are to blame for any loss of interest in putting pen to paper is overstating their influence in our society.

The value of emojis comes when we want to communicate how we’re feeling in the digital world. A picture is worth a thousand words – and an emoji can certainly save you many characters. The idea is to provide a reaction when emailing, texting or messaging someone who can’t see your body language.

People use emojis to send their friends a virtual hug or express their frustration or happiness at a glance. Anyone doubting the popularity of emojis on Twitter just needs to check emojitracker.com, a page divided into a grid of 845 emojis, which light up every time they appear in a tweet in real time. It’s no surprise to see the Love Heart and Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes in the top 10, while the most popular emoji – Face with Tears of Joy, flashes constantly.

A cross check with Emojipedia confirms that Face with Tears of Joy was used 6.6 billion times on Twitter in 2015 and has remained the most used emoji on just about every platform ever since.

Apple listed Tears of Joy as the most used emoji on iOS in 2017 by a long margin. It was also the most used of the emoji set on Facebook and Messenger. But there are signs it’s time has come.

According to internal Emojipedia data, 2016 might have been the year of peak Tears of Joy. There was a steady increase in use of this emoji until late 2017, when a sharp decline hit. In fact, data suggests use of all the various laughing emojis is now slowly declining.

Regardless, wherever there is a trend, there are marketers and brands getting in on the action. Companies like McDonalds use emojis to inject humour into advertising and charities, including the World Wide Fund for Nature, use them to raise money. As part of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, she launched Hillarymoji, which included over 30 emoticons, stickers, and GIFs. These could be used to show support for Hillary and share on social media. This was a great way of tapping into the interests of her younger voters, increasing her exposure and engagement.

At times, brands have been criticised for jumping on the emoji bandwagon. But experts in language and communication say attempts to cash in on emojis should not detract from the positive impact the symbols have on society.

In March, Apple proposed new “accessibility emojis” in a bid to better represent individuals with disabilities, which is surely a good thing for inclusivity. The expanded suite includes emojis featuring a guide dog, hearing aid and prosthetic limbs, as well as people using canes and different types of wheelchairs.

Some people see emojis as heralding the End Times. But that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of communication.

They are, in fact, making us more effective communicators in the digital age.