Twitter's Sponsored Emoji - New Advertising Trend or Fast-Track to Overuse?
Earlier this year, Twitter released an exclusive set of custom emoji to celebrate the upcoming launch of the new Star Wars film 'The Force Awakens'
Using these emoji is simple - you tweet the hashtag that corresponds with the image and Twitter will automatically generate the emoji image at the end of the hashtag once tweeted. It's a pretty basic, but interesting addition to the tweet process - and, of course, it got many advertisers asking when they'd get a chance to make their own custom hashtag-linked images.
Since then, Twitter has introduced various new versions of the custom emoji for major events, including sets for the X Factor in Britain, sporting events like the Rugby World Cup and a 'Moon Man' emoji for the recent MTV VMAs.
And just today, Twitter announced a new set of custom emoji for the Pope's upcoming visit to the US.
So how long will it be before we see custom, branded emoji linked to every hashtag posted on Twitter? If the current rate of introduction is anything to go by, not long, though that may largely depend on the response of the initial branded custom emoji on the platform - which we now have, with Coca Cola partnering with Twitter for a new emoji promotion.
The New Style
Last week, Drew Olanoff from TechCrunch interviewed Ross Hoffman, the senior director of global brand strategy at Twitter to discuss their new partnership with Coke on a custom emoji linked to the hashtag' #shareacoke'.
Hoofman discussed the development of the Coke emoji, saying they'd been working with Coke for years, making them a perfect partner brand to test the new feature ahead of a potential wider rollout of custom emoji as a new ad offering.
"We have established trust over the years and we are excited about the learnings we will get from this initiative. The data we get back will help determine the future on what we do with this as a product."
The engagement with, and response to, Coke's emoji will inform the extended rollout of similar branded campaigns on the platform, and already, we're seeing more and more of these images appear, including this one for Grey's Anatomy.
Of course, Twitter no doubt already has a lot of engagement data based on the use of previous hashtag emoji, so they've got a good idea of how they'll be accepted and adopted by the wider Twitter community. But it's always more complex when it becomes an actual advertising device, as opposed to a cool fan support option.
Given they've opened the door to the possibility of more branded emoji campaigns of this type, the response to their initial images must've been pretty good. But could opening it up to more advertisers lead to it becoming too much?
Emoji in Numbers
There is an inherent risk that custom emoji images could turn people off and become an annoyance for regular Twitter users. But given the wider popularity of emoji, it's pretty unlikely that this new option will be seen that way. In fact, quite the opposite - ever since the introduction of the 'emoji keyboard' into iOS in 2011, emoji use has been on a sharp incline, and we haven't even reached peak emoji yet, with an emoji movie reportedly in development.
The tiny images have been so popular that every platform has been working to better incorporate them into their capabilities - even Facebook's recently announced 'dislike' option looks set to be a variation of emoji responses to post content. Given this, whether you like them or not, emoji look like they're here to stay - and given their popularity, it makes sense for marketers to keep up with this trend and use it, where they can, to maximize impact and generate wider reach and response.
In this sense, a wider roll out of custom emoji options on Twitter is something of a no-brainer and you can expect to see more and more emoji creeping into your Twitter feed over time. There may come a time when they're too much, when people have had enough of little smiley faces and promotional images that illustrate a sentiment with a branded picture. But not yet.
Though it is interesting to look at the response to the #shareacoke hashtag since it's launch.
A big initial spike in usage, then a large drop-off that's still tailing downwards. Maybe this will be the norm for custom emoji use on the platform, maybe they're a short-term, promotional addition, best used in conjunction with events (as they have been thus far) and not much else. That's still a pretty good use for them, and no doubt plenty of brands would see reach and engagement benefits from such use. But it'll be interesting to see how, exactly, the custom emoji are used and what creative strategies can be put in place to maximize their effectiveness - which, of course, will also be influenced by the amount Twitter charges to run them in the first place.
It's definitely an interesting addition, and one which bigger brands are no doubt already considering and factoring into their strategies. But the key thing will be the metrics - the engagement numbers on the back of the initial efforts will be the component to be considered if this new offering is to become something more significant. We await those numbers with great anticipation.
Note: If you're looking for a full list of active, hashtag emoji on Twitter (sometimes called 'hashflags'), this site keeps track of such info.
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter