There's been a craze in the last couple of days as the Version 7.0 of the Unicode Standard is now available. Among the new 2,834 new characters, approximately 250 emoji (pictographic symbols) have been added. This means users will have a chance to add more meaningful signs to our keyboard-based communications.
Unicode standard is key, as when users write on a smartphone, PCs or something else, it makes sure that the reader is going to get the right rendering.
A cultural battlefield
As any dictionary, the way words, signs and names are added is the result of a cultural tension. Emoji skyrocketed first in Japan, but also in other Asian communities through the massive adoption of new forms of expressions.
It is no surprise that one of the reasons WeChat is booming is through the symbols, drawings and characters which can be used for a conversation. In October 2010, Unicode had to implement emoji in its text-rendering rulebook because of this pressure; it is now perceived as a frustration when a user cannot express through an emoji an emotion. The thumb-up is a key component of reactions on Instagram - when conversations start to go wild or deeper, users tend to dive into Emoji. Additionally, most of the so-called Millennials speak emoji as Katy Perry's music-video demonstrates.
It's no surprise that more users ask emoji and OS providers to display more representative characters. In March, Apple revealed that the company was planning to add a more diverse selection of characters instead of focusing on white-only people.
At the very beginning of social media, most of the studies and experts focused on text-based conversations. It was the big era of blogging.
The thing is that structuring an idea or using a proper syntax is actually very demanding. Not everybody wants to do this extra effort to express a point of view. Also, most of the conversations are not about expressing an opinion: it can be sharing an emotion, laughing, sympathizing etc - human attributes which can be difficult to express with traditional text.
But with emojis, there's a new field for human emotions to express their emotions. Conversations and digital footprints can therefore become more complex and open the gate to new game rules.
It does not mean that text is dead - it means that we're going to experience new ways to spread ideas.
As Mimi Ito (a cultural anthropologist researching technology use at the University of California, Irvine), explained in the Huffington Post, while email and desktop correspondence tends to be focused on completing a set task, a great deal of mobile communication -- given how frequently we have our hands on our phones -- is about sharing an "ambient state of being." People tend to text a great deal with just two to three people they know well, but they simultaneously seek to maintain a "virtual co-presence" with nearly a dozen acquaintances.
Communications in the social media era are no longer only purpose-oriented0. To document this flaw of emotions, tools need to enrich functions and raw materials for us.
The new social listening
It's been a very interesting year for social listening companies. The rise of visual sharing networks is both an opportunity and a technological bone of contention as most of the solutions today focus on keywords' equations to capture conversations - some of them try to match up online activities with social CRM segments.
With the rise of emojis it's a brand new opportunity to carefully listen to what people are actually expressing online; on a photo, leaving a comment with an emoji is a way to bring ground to text-based social listening tools. In order to better understand how a state of mind refers to the expression of certain visuals, we need an entry point. Emojis might well be this artefact to dive into general public minds.