In the 90s, we sent picture messages in black and white. They were huge files sent as ‘multimedia’ messages. Within texts, punctuation marks were used to express emotion in a visual way. :) <3 :( </3 Now…
People generally use emojis to express positive emotions like happiness, joy and love. As of October 2019, some of the most popular emojis in current use were : 😂 Face With Tears of Joy, ❤️ Red Heart, 😍 Smiling Face With Heart-Eyes and Rolling on the Floor Laughing. This reinforces the idea that people generally want to project a positive image to others digitally: “The positivity you can project using a nice emoji adds to the general internet facade of everyone doing really well and living their best life. My favourite emoji is the smiley face with hearts all around it. It’s cute.” Eleanor, 27.
VISUAL LITERACY & A SECRET LANGUAGE
The adoption and evolution of visual language by young people in popular culture is significant. The rise of Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok shows how visually-led younger generations are. Still, the internet is young and misunderstandings are common in online conversations. Youth are using emojis as a tool to strengthen their communication and online comprehension:
“People are saying it’s like we’ve gone back to hieroglyphs. But I think it says more about how much we write (via text) now instead of communicating verbally. Because you can’t control tone, it’s harder to be emotive. So, I think they’ve come about to enable us to continue with this method of instant communication but allows us to share more about intent behind the written words. If you were talking to someone on the phone, you won’t need to use a laughing emoji because they would hear you laughing, now we’ve got a quicker way to communicate that. I hope it means that young people are becoming more visually literate. I hope it becomes like back in the day when your average Joe could look at a painting and understand a whole story with morals and lessons and everything based on hidden symbols within it.” Eleanor, 27.
One of the most interesting things about emojis is that, between individuals, communities and generations, they can come to signify more than their literal symbol. Similar to how back in the early days of the internet acronyms were huge, now emojis are used by young people to keep things secret from parents or even from peers in the same group chat. Or, they can simply be used to signify something of real significance between two people.
“I use different coloured heart emojis depending on the message I’m sending. If someone is sad I might use a blue heart and if I’m talking about climate activism I’ll use a green heart. There’s an unspoken understanding of the significance of these choices. With close friends, I might also have an emoji that I only use with them, and they know that nobody else would understand exactly what we mean when we use it.” Laura, 26
“I find the use of emojis negates possibility being misunderstood. It brings more clarity in a message. Personally, when I’m angry, I don’t use an emoji. When I include an emoji alongside a sentence that might seem serious, I’m letting people know that I’m only messing.” Dan, 24.
“Using emojis are amazing way to convey context in what would previously been a difficult medium to show expression. The way we use them is evolving too - I now use emojis to find the perfect GIF for a certain situation. Which is a bit like social Inception. ” Darragh, 29.
Some of the most popular secret-meaning emojis are fruit that could used to be sexually suggestive:
We all know about the 🍑 and 🍆, but what are some of the other hidden meanings behind popular emojis?
- 🐐- Goat - This emoji is used as a visual representation of G.O.A.T. or The Greatest Of All Time. Usually used to reference individuals who excel in a particular field e.g. Serena Williams or Messi.
- 🐍 - Snake - This emoji is less complementary and is used to symbolise someone who is underhanded.
- 🐝 - Bumble bee - You can find swarms of these emojis under Beyoncé (Queen Bey) posts on instagram as a reference to the cult following of the Beyhives, her most loyal followers.
- 💯 - 100 - commonly used as a shorthand for 100%, with the usage meaning “keep it real.”
- 💅 - Nail polish - Almost like a mic drop, the nail polish emoji denotes a definite sense of “treat yo’ self.”
EMOJIS X CENSORSHIP
A big news story this week was Facebook’s decision to censor emojis used in sexually suggestive ways on the platform. Emjois like the aubergine, peach and splash symbol are going to be no longer permitted alongside sexual statements, in an effort to prevent anything that "facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters...” This news is not something that everyone is thrilled about, especially some who see it as an unjust targeted move. Emoji-related censors in the past, such as banning the gun emoji and changing it for a water gun have been welcomed more strongly, with some noting how dystopian the move felt: “they got rid of the gun emoji before they banned guns in real life. LOL.” Grace, 26.
THE LATEST EMOJI CHANGES
Elsewhere this week, Apple released an updated version of iOS that included 398 new emoji designs for users. What’s new?
- Increased diversity and representation - A large chunk of the new emojis were old designs remodified and expanded to have gender neutral representation. Visually, they’ve changed the facial structure and hair cut to do this. This includes gender neutral professions and even a gender neutral MerPerson. Other new emojis show different genders holding hands, and options to mix different skin tones. There are also 67 new accessibility focused emojis, such as one showing a hearing aid user and another in a wheelchair.
- Food emojis - there’s now officially a falafel emoji, garlic and onion emojis, among others.
- Animal emojis - an otter, a skunk, a sloth… but most importantly an orangutan that looks like the ‘Uh Oh Stinky’ meme. One of our favourite reactions to the sloth emoji was from Manrepeller’s Amalie MacGowan - “ this sloth emoji is one judgmental little sh*t. I fully believe that this is the animal equivalent of the slightly smiling emoji. Just TRY to tell me you don’t see the disdain in his Mona Lisa smile. You bet I’m going to use this emoji exactly where it needs to be used… The sloth emoji means: I’m listening, but I don’t appreciate hearing this right now. Use Case: Roommate: Hey! Do you mind taking out the trash and running the dishwasher? Me: [Sloth emoji], Me: Sure.”
- Other things emoji-users needed - like period blood, a tuktuk and a razor. The full list of new emojis is available here.
Emojis are all about better communication of feelings that aren’t always possible with words. They are literally part of the language of youth today. In addition, emojis give great colour and tone to communications, when used in the right way. While there are no hard and fast rules about how you should use them and when, it is fair to say you should embrace emojis in a way which fits your brand personality, tone and message. Could your brand or organisation inspire a ‘secret’ or alternative use for an emoji? You can also create branded emojis, so think about creating something bespoke for a campaign.
Emojis are an effective way of understanding how young people feel about things, being a more natural way of communicating feelings than words or even speaking for many. Analysing the use of emojis in response to your business communications and how these are being used by your audience is a valuable exercise. How could you approach your communications more strongly from a ‘feelings’ perspective?