Wait, Twitter's Testing Emoji Reactions Too?
Earlier this month, Twitter switched its 'star' icon for favorites to a 'heart', while also renaming the action 'like'. The news sparked a torrent of disdain, with many seasoned Twitter users arguing that a 'heart' implies a significantly different emotional response than a 'star'; that the meaning of 'favorite' is very different to the meaning of 'like'.
But then, of course, the change wasn't designed with regular tweeters in mind - Twitter made the change in order to boost the platform's appeal to new users, based, at least in part, on the fact that the heart emoji is the most used across Twitter and is a more universally recognized symbol. Twitter supported this further last week, saying that the heart is already being used more than the star was, justifying their logic (though it's very early days and much of that response is likely driven by novelty value).
But if you're still feeling stung by the change from stars to hearts, there may be an offering on the horizon that could ease your troubles when deciding whether to click on that icon or not. Much like Facebook is doing with their new emoji response functionality 'Reactions' (currently being tested in Spain and Ireland), Twitter is reportedly experimenting with a new emoji response mechanism that would enable users to choose their own reaction to a post. No longer would you have to use the 'heart' to signal your appreciation, you may soon be able to use one of 36 different icons to convey your emotional response to a tweet.
The new option, currently in 'pre-user testing' mode, was spotted by a Twitter user named @_Ninji. Using a jailbroken iOS device, @_Ninji came across the new functionality - and worth noting, in his various exchanges, @_Ninji has also stated that he was able to get access to Twitter's new Polls feature well ahead of its official release using this same method, which indicates that this may be a way to access in-development features that are being rolled out for limited testing.
Sharing various screenshots, @_Ninji showed how, when hovering over the 'heart' icon on a tweet, a new range of emoji options appeared.
As you can see here, there appear to be 12 options per page, and three pages, giving the user 36 potential emoji to use to respond to a tweet. @_Ninji noted that once selected, the emoji response replaces the 'heart' symbol on the tweet.
@_Ninji noted that the system appears to be in very early testing, as after the emoji selection was assigned, the system reverted back to the 'heart' icon again as soon as the timeline refreshed.
@_Ninji also shared a second image which showed the possible emoji reaction functionality.
Verge editor Casey Newton asked Twitter about the possible new addition, to which Twitter offered this cryptic response.
This, to some, will offer inarguable confirmation that this is 100% true, while to others it'll mean nothing, and could signal the exact opposite. But whether it's true or not, whether it's being seriously considered or not, it certainly does offer some interesting food for thought, and insight into the options Twitter could be investigating to help stimulate their stalled user growth.
Mo' Emoji, Mo'Data
One of the more interesting wrinkles of this (possible) plan would be the amount of data Twitter could glean from the application of such responses. Twitter's been pushing to increase the value of their data of late, but they're somewhat challenged in this regard due to the fact that virtually all of their information and insight is posted publicly, and therefore freely available to anyone who wants to track it. This makes it harder for Twitter to generate significant profit from their data options - while Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, have walled in their networks, and thus restricted access to their valuable audience insights, Twitter has, by design, gone the opposite direction. This means that Twitter has effectively reduced the potential value of their data - though, the counter to that is that Twitter wouldn't exist if they'd taken any other approach.
Regardless, in an effort to increase the value of its data, and claw back some of the profits being generated on the back of their audience insights by social media monitoring and analytics providers, Twitter's been taking steps to boost their potential value on this front. They've introduced a range of new analytics tools and options into their ad platform, while also removing share counts from tweet buttons, which will make some publishers turn to their data arm, Gnip, for similar insights.
From this perspective, the addition of emoji responses makes sense, as it would improve Twitter's data banks, whilst also introducing an element that may be harder to track for third-party sources. Of course, this information would still be public, but Twitter could make the back-end code harder to use from the outset, thereby giving them a new stream of insights with which to lure advertisers. And while it may seem like a stretch to be able to use emoji as an accurate form of sentiment analysis or signal of purchase intent (or any other form of audience analytic), research is undoubtedly being conducted into just that, and we'll soon have more indicative and in-depth investigations of what emoji mean and how they relate to people's state-of-mind and feelings towards brand messaging. Facebook's already added in the ability to track Reactions responses into their Insights dashboard, indicating that they expect this data to be of significant value to marketers.
Have no doubt, emoji responses correlate with important audience signals, it's a just a matter of getting enough data and measuring those responses at scale in order to unlock those insights.
In addition, having more emoji options gives Twitter more commercial opportunities - they're already experimenting with paid emoji campaigns for Coke and special events. You could imagine how Twitter would be able to add paid emoji into this mix to give brands another way to promote their products.
The other consideration is how, exactly, these emoji responses might appear on tweets - if there's 36 responses, there's really no way they could be displayed on each message the way Facebook is showing Reactions at the bottom of each post.
This means Twitter would likely need a secondary tool to enable users to see the full range of responses to each tweet - on one hand, this could make the Twitter experience more complex, adding any extra steps to a technical process is generally not considered a positive move, which is particularly relevant amidst the increasing focus on mobile user-experience. But on the other hand, putting in an additional step could make it more difficult for their parties to track the data, which, again, moves towards increasing the value of Twitter data stocks.
Maybe it's something, maybe it's nothing, but it's interesting to consider how Twitter might be able to use functionality like this in their mission to evolve the Twitter user experience and add more familiarity for new users. The emoji trend is undeniable, there's no doubt more users - more younger users in particular - are attuned to using animated characters within their everyday interactions. Even the Oxford Dictionary has recognized this, recently naming an emoji as the 2015 word of the year.
Given the trend and the evidence found here (including the suggestive statement from Twitter), it wouldn't be surprising at all to see this functionality rolled out for testing sometime in the near future. Seasoned Twitter users will probably hate it - but as with the heart, it's not all about them.
How do you feel about the possible addition of emoji responses on Twitter - good move or fast-track towards alienating their core user base?
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter