Can an icon speak a thousand words?
I’ve been getting a bit emotional about emojis recently. In fact, over the last month they seem to have been popping up with increasing frequency.
Given that ‘Emoji’ is apparently now the fastest-growing language in the UK, this is probably no surprise.
This weird and wonderful system of communicating through icons and pictures is prolific at the minute, to the point where you can now order a pizza using emojis or donate money to WWF through endangered animal emojis. Twitter even created a customised Taylor Swift emoji to mark the launch of her Bad Blood music video.
A recent study from Instagram found that nearly 50% of all captions on the platform include an emoji, and this figure only looks set to increase.
Unicode, the company that created emojis, has announced it will release 38 more icons next year, including bacon, a drooling face and a prince – who knew there was that much demand for conversations around meat and dribbling?!
My personal bugbear, especially as someone who works in the communications industry and is a trained journalist, is I have also found myself using these icons to express ideas and thoughts when messaging friends.
When I read that more than eight in 10 Brits are now using emojis to communicate regularly, with 72% claiming they use these symbols more than they did a year ago, it set me thinking.
A core part of my job as a PR consultant is to help organisations express and communicate thoughts and ideas to an audience and understand the best way to deliver those messages.
If this is the case, can emoticons make it easier to communicate and can brands increase the effectiveness of their communication by embracing Emoji to engage with an audience?
A recent survey by Talk Talk mobile claimed that 72% of 18- to 25-year-olds find it easier to express their feelings in emoji pictures than through the written word.
Maybe emojis could be the answer to the elusive challenge brands face in effectively engaging with millennials?
If that is so, then there is certainly an opportunity for brands to develop a range of expressive emojis to help them communicate with their customers when it comes to delivering social customer services.
Brands often struggle to convey anything like sincerity, authenticity or emotion online, especially when it comes to dealing with dissatisfied customers.
Communicating in 140 characters with visual icons could be a much more effective way to engage with millennials, who also choose to express themselves that way – it will certainly save you characters!
But can emojis replace the written word? There’s a real risk that a brand loses the art of communicating concisely and accurately. There are limits on what you can say with pictures.
The problem with these pictorial icons is they are open to interpretation, so there is a real risk that an emoji response could be mistaken as sarcasm or even insincerity. The written word is infinitely more adaptable and less likely to be misinterpreted.
There’s also a time and a place. It may well seem disingenuous to respond to someone’s complaint with a cartoon character. As a borderline millennial I would not feel my concerns had been taken seriously if a company responded with a picture of a monkey with its hand over its mouth, a crying face or a smiling poo.
While customer service may not be the right home for brands to embrace emojis, I think there is certainly a place for them to become part of a communications platform, as WWF has done by incorporating them into a wider PR campaign.
Emoticons shouldn’t ever replace traditional language; however embracing emojis could help make companies and brands more appealing to a younger generation if used appropriately.
Using them as a tool to spark further and deeper engagement with an audience could prove to be a pretty effective way for a company to build a relationship and influence an audience.