The Emoji – a Modern Accessory to Written Language

· Blog

You can think of the emoji as a modern-day version of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph – a pictogram. But made for digital communications.

They are popular. Every day, more than 10 billion emojis are used across the planet[1]. It’s estimated that 92% of the world'sonline population uses emojis in their written communications[2].

And you can say a lot with them: As of September 2022, there were no fewer than 3,664 emojis in Unicode, a universal directory of characters and codes used in electronic writing.

In honour of World Emoji Day on July 17, we look at this fastest-growing language of any medium to date.

Some emoji history

In messaging, social media and email, emojis are used both to simplify communications and for their evocative and instantaneous power. As a rule, it is immediately clear what an emoji means.

A precursor to the modern emoji in the early 1980s was the emoticon, created by computer scientist Scott Fahlman to express emotion through the combining of punctuation characters then available on keyboards, such as the combination of :-) to evoke a sideways view of a person smiling, or :-( for someone who is sad. These were able to be used during the early days of text message communication when only regular keyboard characters were available, and became popular.

The term emoji comes from Japanese: "e" meaning "image" and "moji", meaning "letter" or "character." It was in 1999 in Japan that the first modern emoji was born, a creation of coder Shigetaka Kurita, an employee of a mobile phone company. They became much more widely popularized with the appearance of an emoji keyboard on the iPhone in
2011.

So, why do we celebrate the emoji on July 17? It's simple: in case youhaven’t noticed or don’t remember, the calendar emoji on iOS and macOS platforms indicates the date July 17. And why does it do that? It commemorates the launch of the iCal calendar application by Apple on July 17, 2002. Now you know.

The context of using emojis

Beyond the facial expressions prevalent in popular culture starting with emoticons, there is now a whole range of emojis to convey many different thoughts and meanings, from animals to gestures, food, trades, flags, weather symbols, means of transport and many more.

As a method of visual communication, the emoji has several uses: expressan emotion, illustrate or emphasize a concept or idea, facilitate the comprehension of written text, reinforce the meaning of a phrase or message, reduce the use of words, personalize a conversation and convey a message faster.

These symbols add a more physical component to digital conversations, much like an in-person discussion that is enhanced by non-verbal language, such as facial expressions and hand gestures, in addition to speech.

Emojis in scientists' sights

Studies have shown that humans pay more attention to faces than anything else[3], and that the positive impact of emojis creates an "emotional contagion" effect[4].

Indeed, the brain associates emojis that express feelings with real human faces that speak directly to us. This is one of the reasons for the better engagement rate of communications containing these small symbols versus those that only display text.

In addition, a recent study by the University of Ottawa concludes that the use of emojis clarifies digital communications, reduces misunderstandings and ambiguity, while improving online social interactions[5].

Inclusion and diversity

Initially presented as yellow faces, emojis have diversified over time. More and more inclusive pictograms are incorporated every year. There are now characters from all walks of life, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, disabilities, family units, etc.

Apple kicked things off in 2015 by adding five different skin tones on emojis of faces, gestures and people.

These emojis offer better visibility to minorities as well as categories of people who are often less represented online. They allow all internet users to feel valued and personified by images that better describe their reality.

Inclusive emojis are one step closer to expressing personal identities and affirming the differences that enhance society.

The use of emojis by brands

If a few years ago the use of emojis in the workplace was poorly perceived, now both brands and public figures use them on social networks.

Whether in content shared on social media, newsletters, online marketing campaigns or push notifications, companies are increasingly inclined to include emojis in their written communications. Properly used, this method increases the engagement of internet users.

Whether in content shared on social media, newsletters, online marketing campaigns or push notifications, companies are increasingly inclined to include emojis in their written communications. Properly used, this method increases the engagement of internet users.

According to statistics compiled by Hubspot[6], 25.4% of tweets with emojis get better engagement, 57% of Facebook posts with emojis get more likes, and more than 50% of brands have seen an increase in the number of emails opened when emojis are added in the subject line, as long as the emoji chosen is appropriate and easily understandable.

Emojis create a feeling of accessibility and humanity in online conversations between brands and online users. A more familiar or humourous tone and a sense of authenticity that they create when used well attract more attention from the audience.

Express yourself with emojis as a brand

Emojis are very useful when you have to express a message in a few words, especially when on a platform that has a limited number of characters per message or in the space-limited subject of an email.

What’s the best way to use emojis in a professional setting? It’s important to strike the right balance between words and emojis and to identify the ones that are most popular with or will have the most impact on your audience. One vital point – make sure you know the true meaning of the emojis you add to your writing to avoid misinterpretation.

Another important consideration is that the emoji you choose could be displayed differently depending on the platform or operating system of the user. It could be perceived in a completely different way and potentially harm your cause.

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Emojis will never replace human language, but they accessorize digital communications and deliver a message more effectively (and in a more playful way!).

Each year, new emojis are added to the approximately 3,500 that have been identified to date. So, do you use these fun pictograms in your personal or professional communications?

[1] https://emojiguide.com/blog/emoji-facts/

[2] https://home.unicode.org/emoji/about-emoji/

[3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17470919.2013.873737?journalCode=psns20&#.VLadY2TF871

[4] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ijcs.12879

[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2451958822000859

[6] https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/emojis