Everyone has a favorite, the heart, the praise hands, maybe the puppy or the whale. Those tiny cartoons we call emoji have become an integral part of how we text, tweet, message, and post, spurring not only an expansion in the number of native device emoji, but independent apps and keyboard extensions dedicated to enhancing and sometimes overriding text conversations. A recent study by Instagram evaluated the penetration of emoji into posts on the platform and revealed that 38% of US posts contained an emoji. That figure jumped to 63% in posts originating in Finland. The release of Kim Kardashian’s Kimoji app saw demand rise to a level strong enough to crash the App Store server, with downloads hitting 9,000 per second. Apps such as BitMoji took the emoji craze a step further to allow consumers to create their own emoji avatar keyboard that can then be used as a native keyboard on devices and across social platforms. Given the well-documented demand for custom user experiences and content, BitMoji’s creation of a product that grants users the creative freedom to become the emoji in conversations is quite appropriate. Device specific uses are not the only area of growth for emoji. Facebook has already rolled out an emoji based reaction system in parts of Europe and Twitter is planning their own custom solution, giving users an even greater range of expression on social.

So why does this matter to brands and agencies? For starters, emoji have become a mainstream form of communication for consumers and thus a language that brands and agencies must be able to understand. Whether that means including them in their own content or deciphering the chatter around their brands and campaigns is dependent on the brand’s goals and established personality. 2015 saw several instances of brands utilizing custom Twitter emoji for consumer engagement. Brands such as Coke, Star Wars, and the NHL all rolled out custom hashtag emoji for campaigns and events. These custom emoji effectively created a value add to the customer experience while conveying the brand message and encouraging engagement. Like any tool, appropriate use and timing is essential when including emoji in content. Just as any Tweet or post can become a PR nightmare (for examples see They Did What?! (Link)), using an emoji in a well intended but incorrect form can have negative implications for a brand. Understanding what the little icons really mean before posting prevents any regrettable PR moments. In addition to gaining an understanding for use, it is important to be able to understand emoji for interpreting feedback. As the use of emoji in consumer content increases, marketers are granted a new source of data and insight into the consumer viewpoint. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then Tweets with emoji may just become more valuable than your average 140 character tweet. Analyzing emoji use in conjunction with brand mentions and discussions delivers a new aspect of context and sentiment analysis. Understanding what each emoji means when used with a brand or in the form of a consumer reaction is key in gaining understanding from social listening. Tools such as NetBase have rolled out emoji analysis, delivering not only the individual emoji used in posts, but icon groupings and sentiment attached to those. As social media continues to embrace the emoji, this analysis will become an important asset.

The age of social media has opened the doors to a new level of consumer expression, giving brands an unmatched look into the every day lives and opinions of the markets they compete in. As the tools consumers use to express their opinions, wants, and desires evolve brands must be able to keep up in their own content and in their ability to respond effectively to consumer trends. Emoji are just one of the many tools out there, but an important one none the less.

What is your go to emoji?