How to Use Emojis to Increase Engagement and Sales on Social Media

For brands on social media, one of the key principles for connecting with customers is to speak their language. And if there's one trend that's making a bigger impact than an in the way that social media users are communicating, it's Emoji. Some of the biggest brands in the world are already using emoji to delight, engage with, and convert customers, and I'll show you how you can, too. First, though, let's start with the basics:

What are emojis?

Emoji means “picture letter” in Japanese. Emojis are images that you can incorporate into text, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Emojis are different to traditional text emoticons like :), ;), and :P, in that they are governed by the Unicode Consortium – a non-profit group formed in the 1980s to promote standardised coding. Hundreds of emojis exist currently - everything from a smiley face to Santa Claus, to a pile of steaming poop - and more are being developed all the time.

Why are emojis so popular?

Instagram's emoji use over time.

Instagram's emoji use over time.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words – and emojis are the evolution of communicating thoughts or emotions with simple pictures. Emoji's represent a more fun and creative way than simply text alone:

“No human being would ever just utter that sentence like a robot,” John McWhorter, linguistics professor and seminar faculty at Columbia University’s Center for American Studies, told Digiday. “Emojis get across that human aspect of communication,” he added.

The growth of emoji has been staggering. Take this example from Instagram's own research: In the month following the introduction of the iOS emoji keyboard in October 2011, 10% of text on Instagram contained emoji. As of March 2015, nearly half of text on Instagram contained  emoji. What's more, in the latest version of the Instagram app, hashtags can be used with single emoji, multiple emoji or can be combined with text in posts, comments, captions and when using the Explore tab.

There's also a technology and time element. We're all spending longer on mobile devices, where typing long sentences to communicate a thought or emotion isn't ideal. Emojis present a way for people to be quick and direct.

Emojis also break down the language barrier. Everyone can identify with the message behind a smiley face emoji, for example, and the emoji's growing ubiquity makes them instantly recognisable the world over.

Successful Emoji Marketing Campaigns on Social Media

Let's take a look at how some real world brands are using emojis to connect with their customers in marketing campaigns. Notice how companies begin to "own" and identify with certain emojis, consistently using them in their content.

1. Bud Light

Bud Light's emoji-inspired celebration of Independence Day generated over 150,000 retweets.

The brand showed that it understands the way its customers communicate using emojis - and reflected it.

Sometimes you don't need words at all. In this example, Bud Light let emojis do all the talking when it wanted to celebrate the return of Monday Night Football.

2. WWF (World Wildlife Fund)

The WWF used emojis as a central theme in their attempt to raise awareness of the plight of endangered species, encouraging fans to retweet, sign up, and donate. The use of colourful, eye-catching animal emojis combined with sad and anxious faces communicates their message in a way that text alone could not.

3. Star Wars

In anticipation of the new Star Wars films, the brand highlighted the release of 3 Star Wars-themed emojis (and how to generate them) as a way for people to share their passion and excitement for the series.

A side note on custom emoji keyboards

Some big brands like Burger King, Victoria’s Secret, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Nestlé, are investing in the creation of custom emoji keyboards. You may have spotted a custom Bud Light emoji above. As Yashi reports:

"Snaps [the custom emoji keyboard developer] is taking mobile advertising to a whole new level. In a way, it is turning the game on its head. Instead of targeting consumers to get a message in front of the right audience, consumers are identifying themselves. They choose to download and share; they are the ones creating the message. With Snaps, audiences are in the driver’s seat, driving awareness and acting as brand ambassadors. It is much more of an elective process as opposed to a forced experience."

If you don't have the budget for this kind of project, there are still plenty of free emojis for your brand to cosy up with.

Key Takeaways and Strategies for Emoji Use in Business

  • Start experimenting with emojis in your own social media marketing to add a sense of fun, a dash of colour, and to communicate a depth of emotion that text alone cannot.
  • Keep it simple. Too many emojis can get messy and confuse the simple message you are trying to communicate.
  • Can you find an emoji or two that symbolises your brand? Use it consistently and begin to "own" it; your fans will hopefully recognise it, latch on, and start using it in their own communications with you and their peers.
  • Being funny and witty fits well with the colourful and playful nature of emojis, so think about this when planning the content you will pair them with.
  • Test the true power of emojis by publishing a status update (paired with an image or video, perhaps) that contains nothing but emojis as its "text" element.
  • Implement emojis in a campaign where the aim is to drive an emotional impact.
  • A/B test different variations, track the success of various alternatives and iterate with each new campaign.

Over to you

Have you used emojis as part of your marketing on social media? If not, will you be giving it a try? Let me know in the comments below!