Like it or not, emojis have infiltrated our communication. While some might shrug these mobile icons off as a passing fad, I'd argue the emoji is here to stay. Need convincing? In 2014, the most popular word wasn't a word at all, it was the heart emoji. This is according to Global Language Monitor (GLM), a language analysis firm that scours blogs, Twitter, Facebook and 250,000 global news outlets to determine the year's most popular words.
"The English Language is now undergoing a remarkable transformation unlike any in its 1,400 year history," said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of the GLM, in a statement. "Its system of writing, the Alphabet, is gaining characters at an amazing rate."
A scan of Instagram reinforces GLM's findings. The photo-sharing app recently reported that nearly half of the comments and captions on the site contain emojis. This prompted Instagram to make a big update to its app in April: users can now use emoji characters in hashtags.
The story is similar on Twitter where emojis were incorporated for the first time last year. Now, it's estimated that 12,500 emojis are tweeted every minute.
Birth of a trend
The rise of emojis can be linked to the introduction of emoji keyboards on iOS and Android in 2011 and 2013, respectively. As Instagram outlines in its recent report, in the month following the introduction of the iOS emoji keyboard, 10 percent of text on Instagram contained emoji. The trend accelerated after Android received native support for emoji in July 2013.
It's no surprise that emoji are most often used in social media. Here, they make up for the lack of gestures, facial expressions and emotions. Many people use them in messages with friends to convey "inside" jokes, and others just like the challenge of writing messages in emoji.
Finding meaning in emojis
On Instagram, where users can search for emojis like they do hashtagged terms, brands can easily follow and tap into visual conversations. And there's no shortage of hashtagged emoji convos. Visual marketing platform Curalate found that in a one-month period individual emojis on Instagram were hashtagged more than 6.4 million times.
The No. 1 hashtagged emoji during this one-month period? A single red heart. It was hashtagged more than half a million times, 79 percent more than the next most popular emoji. The red heart sets the tone of emoji sharing on Instagram. Users seem to use the platform to express joy and delight. Nineteen of the top 25 emojis include smiley faces, hearts, kisses, affirmative hand gestures or the perfect "100."
While this quantitative research is helpful, brands should keep context in mind when deciphering the emoji-sharing habits of their users. For example, the praying hands emoji could convey asking for the return of a limited-edition menu item. On the flip side, it could convey asking for a TV commercial to stop playing over and over.
In a recent conversation with Swyft Media, a branded digital sticker and emoji startup, I learned that the average smartphone user looks at her phone 180 times a day. That's a lot of texting, messaging and social media commenting. As mobile usage continues to rise and social media and mobile messaging app adoption grows, emojis will play an ever more important role in our communication.
Marketers will want to find smart, authentic ways to enter the conversation. Swyft is helping brands do just that with products like branded emoji keyboards that can be downloaded directly from the Apple App Store and Google Play, as well as branded sticker packs that can be downloaded from stores in messaging, dating and gaming apps.
On social, more and more brands will strive to "own" individual emojis. The Domino's tweet-a-pizza program is a great example of this. Now, users can order pizza by simply tweeting a pizza slice emoji.
What if a relevant emoji doesn't exist? Brands can petition the Unicode Consortium (a nonprofit organization that governs the representation of text in software products) to include a new emoji. Taco Bell recently proposed the addition of a taco emoji, and, just last week, the Unicode Consortium announced that the taco will be one of 37 new emojis released this month. Taco fans, rejoice.