Emojis - those happy and sad face icons used in text messages, Instagram posts, and tweets - have become a language of their own, particularly popular among teens and young adults.
There's even a World Emoji Day and in 2015, Oxford Dictionaries named the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji as the "word" of the year. To be clear, Oxford did not label "emoji" as the word of the year but the pictograph of the happy crying face, stating that it captured the "ethos, mood, and preoccupations" of 2015.
I know, weird, right?
The ubiquity of the tiny cartoon faces further testifies to the use of emojis as language - but is it a language businesses can use? And if so, how and in what ways?
A blog post on the topic of emojis for business at dlvr.it, the social sharing platform, said brands that sell a particular product with a correlated emoji - such as Chipotle and burritos - can easily target consumers using the icons.
"This could do wonders for sentiment analysis, real-time marketing, and helping brands find new audiences that are interested in their offerings"
In fact, Domino's Pizza ran what turned out to be a very popular campaign on Twitter, where they asked customers to place an order by tweeting the relevant emoji.
Chevrolet even promoted the launch of its 2016 Cruze model with a press release that consisted exclusively of emojis the automaker released a translation the next day).
Other brands - World Wildlife Fund, General Electric, Coca-Cola, Disney, and McDonald's to name a few - have alsoexperimented with emojis in their marketing (Linkdex, an SEO platform, has a blog post containing a list of 16 brands that have used emojis, dating back to 2014).
Given their popularity, there's clearly some rationale for using emojis in business settings, but what are the best practices? And what mistakes do companies need to avoid?
Here are some dos and don'ts drawn from dlvr.it and other sources, to guide your thinking:
Would your customers be receptive of emojis or even understand them? If they're made up of teens and Millennials, the answer is yes. Not so much if it's boomers and seniors.
"The amazing thing about emojis is how nuanced they are," said a writer for Bustle.com. "The grinning cat means a different thing than smiling cat, for example, just like grinning and smiling mean different things in real life."
He advised that because emojis are intended to enhance a word or sentence, people should use them at the end of a sentence rather than in the middle or separately, unto themselves.
"Use emojis to infuse your emails or Slack messages with personality," says Fast Company. "When you're not dealing with face-to-face interactions on a daily basis, any word can be misconstrued. Use emojis in these scenarios to let some personality shine through."
Will Schwalbe and David Shipley, authors of the book Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, noted that, "the biggest problem about all electronic communication is that it's toneless. In the absence of tone, people read negative tone into it.”
Emojis and emoticons are designed to convey emotion and can help make that tone clearer.
If you feel that you'd be unable to communicate your meaning clearly with emojis, use good, old-fashioned words instead.
Don't use emojis too often. Too much of a good thing can lead to fatigue and even alienation among your target audience. "Moderation in all things" is a useful motto that should extend to emoji marketing as well.
There are thousands of emojis and emoticons available today, and it's possible to use one in a way other than what you had planned - simply because you misunderstand its meaning.
Also, emojis may display differently depending on the viewing platform (e.g., iPhone vs. Android), and, there's always the possibility your customers may interpret an emoji in a manner differently than you intended. That could, at best, reduce the effectiveness of your marketing campaign and, worse, offend a customer or prospect.
Despite the fact there are a plethora of sad-faced emojis online, it's best not to take their use too seriously. Have some fun and use them in a light-hearted way, assuming it fits your corporate culture and your customers’ tastes.
Just because big consumer brands are using emojis doesn’t mean you need to, especially if it’s not a good fit for your organization.
Emoji marketing is popular now, but will likely fade over time. No one will fault you if you opt for using tried-and-true tactics, such as email, PPC advertising, business blogging, and social media. They may be boring, but they work.
On the other hand, it can’t hurt to inject a smiley face into a business communication every now and again, can it? Just don’t let the communiqué consist only of them.