This feels like a joke even as I'm writing this, but...
Twitter has today announced that advertisers will now be able to target audiences based on emoji use.
So, for example, if you run a pizza restaurant, you would be able to target this Twitter user:
With your ads. Pretty great, huh?
Okay, it may seem like nothing, but there's more to it than that.
Twitter's been pretty infatuated with emoji for some time. More than 110 billion emoji have been tweeted since 2014, underlining the popularity of those tiny, cartoonish images amongst Twitter users - which makes sense, given the character constraints of Twitter and the capacity for emoji to help express more within fewer words.
The importance Twitter's placing on emoji was highlighted by the platform's controversial decision to switch from 'stars' to 'hearts' for favorites late last year.
At the time, the move seemed a little confusing, but subsequent data showed that the heart emoji was one of the most used on Twitter - as highlighted by this chart from Twitter's top trends for 2015.
This was also supported by another study conducted by FiveThirtyEight, which actually found that the heart was the most used emoji on Twitter overall, and by a big margin.
As such, the switch to hearts was likely an effort from Twitter to better align with user preferences and usage patterns - if Twitter wants to stimulate platform growth, they need to work with how audiences are using the platform, and the switch to hearts seems in-synch with this effort.
But the fact that the platform would make such a significant change underlines the significance they're putting on the emoji trend. Really, as noted, that trend is perfectly suited to Twitter, so the emphasis makes sense, but in order to offer ad targeting around that option, there must be significant data to show that large enough relevant customer segments can be reached via emoji use. Right?
Emotion and Emoji
This is the real question with this new emoji targeting option - do people who tweet certain emoji do so because they're interested in certain products, or are emoji used in such varied contexts that targeting based on them would be ineffective?
Now, you'd assume that Twitter would have conducted the research on this and found there is a correlation, but just for a quick bit of basic research, lets look at how some emoji are being used on the platform and whether there's a likely correlation between emoji use and likely purchase intent.
For this, I'll be using emoji tracker, which tracks real-time emoji use on Twitter (and admittedly, this is a tiny sample, so these examples are not definitive).
Example 1: Hamburger
It's hard to say, from this, that targeting users based on their use of the hamburger emoji would be effective - all of these examples already relate to specified brands. Maybe, if you could target based on the emoji and an additional keyword you could track their correlations to brand use, but that likely wouldn't show you much beyond what a basic keyword search would anyway. Ideally, targeting the burger emoji within a geographic radius would highlight people who were looking for a place to go buy something to eat.
Or maybe something like this:
Would make this a relevant targeting option because this person obviously likes burgers. Maybe.
Example 2: Pizza
Probably not much to take from this small sample. But then again, these people clearly do like pizza, they're not using the emoji in an ironic or off-topic sense, so it may be a relevant targeting option.
Example 3: Ring
I wonder if this could be a relevant targeting option for jewelers? It'd be interesting to monitor the tweets on this and see whether it's more often used in retrospect (we got engaged) or as a pre-emptive indicator. And even if it is in retrospect for engagement, they'll need a ring for their wedding, right?
Example 4: Coffee
Maybe, within a geographic radius, this could be used as a relevant indicator of purchase intent or interest. The people who use this emoji are likely coffee (or 'Hot Beverage') enthusiasts, they may well respond to an ad suggesting they come in and check out your new cafe.
On closer examination, emoji targeting may not be as ridiculous as you might think. Again, these are non-definitive, random examples, but if you were to look at all the possible emoji options and consider how they're commonly used, there may be a case to suggest that emoji use does reflect at least some level of purchase intent.
It feels odd, it seems like the frivolous nature of emoji would discount them as a potential targeting option, but there may just be significant opportunity in their use, when studied in more detail. And definitely, emoji use is on the rise - a study last year by Emogi found that 92% of online consumers use emoji in some capacity.
Maybe emoji targeting is not as crazy as it seems.