Facebook's roll out of its new 'Reactions' is the next big leap in the inexorable rise of the emoji. For digital marketers this is much more significant than it might appear.
A couple of years ago, while working on a project with the innovation charity Nesta (a great organisation if you don't know them already), I collaborated with a remarkable guy called Pat Kane,
Apart from being one half of the '80s band Hue & Cry, Pat is a celebrated futurist and as @ThePlayEthic he is a huge advocate of the power and potential of play.
This stimulated me to look at William Stephenson’s play theory of mass communication from 1967, how we use media for our satisfaction and also how media brings changes in our lives according to its contents. Put simply, we are more productive, creative, positive and generally happier when we are playing than when we are working. The early admen used this principle, very effectively, in some of the great campaigns of the '70s.
So what's that got to do with emojis?
The growth of messaging has been remarkable. All the messaging apps are growing much faster than any of the social networks themselves. Brands, and the services themselves, are in a panic on how to get marketing leverage from them. The use of emojis in messaging, indeed in all social media is huge and what is being found is that the use of an emoji in a message or comment can change the tone immediately - it makes it more friendly, more playful. There is an interesting piece of research here.
It's not just in marketing that emojis can have a positive effect, this report showed that people who text-chatted with customer service agents gave higher scores to the agents who used emoticons in their responses than those who didn't, The customers also reported that agents who used emoticons were more personable than agents who used a profile picture with their responses.
So how can digital marketers utilise this new 'marketing weapon'? For example, email marketing. A recent review by Experian showed 56% of brands they analysed experienced an increase in open-rates when icons were included in email subject lines. This was also backed up by E-Consultancy.
E-Commerce is another field beginning to harness their power. In this A/B testing on click- through rates, the use of emojis was seen to make a significant difference:
In social media marketing, the use of emojis has been seen to be highly influential in the success of brand building and social influence.
So, being playful can bring hard-nosed business benefits.