If characters are currency and pictures are worth a thousand words, what’s the value of an emoji?
Well, for more than half of U.S. Millennials and its 300 million global monthly users, Instagram just increased an emoji’s value by supporting their use in searchable hashtags — this after discovering that “nearly half of text contained emoji.”
This is interesting for two reasons. First, we’re pulling the ultimate #TBT by choosing to write with a sort of digital hieroglyphics in 2015. And second, this move might foreshadow an even bigger phenomenon — that emojis are not only changing the way our digital language looks, but also how that language can be structured. Instagram’s data team produced one example showing that a decline in Internet slang corresponded to a rise in emoji usage from 2012 to 2015.
So what does this mean for advertising on social? Channels like Instagram have the advantage of allowing brands to speak directly to digital consumers and, thus, see the shifting language firsthand. For rapport’s sake, brands have generally matched consumer language to speak at eye-level: They use hashtags now for anything from campaigning new products to connecting with trending conversations in the public sphere. If other platforms follow Instagram’s lead, companies will need to evaluate whether or not visual characters can accomplish those same goals. Consider, for example, how Twitter recently added three Star Wars emojis to further brand channel conversation around the upcoming movie. Applying this logic, should Taco Bell then slap two taco emojis together with a volcano to market its new spicy box deal?
The piecemeal format of emoji sentences might translate well into branded hashtags. Now users could have a sort of puzzle they have to figure out versus the much-less-engaging one-way conversations typically served up by brands. There’s also potential brand equity to be had from owning particularly patterned emoji hashtags, such as the aforementioned volcano taco or maybe a rocket ship with a safety belt for Volvo’s newest coupe. Not only are you removing the language barrier from a global campaign hashtag, you are also adding a valuable touch point for visual learning consumers.
Another implication lies in data mining consumers’ social profiles for product sentiment tracking. If emoji is supported in hashtags across your audience’s main social channels, future automation tools could evolve more accurate and holistic looks into public opinion. Sarcasm is difficult to flag, but duplicated thumbs up emojis would be hard to take for anything other than a positive response.
Those shots are all a bit early to call, but General Electric (GE) is currently having fun with emoji science, its kid-friendly multimedia approach of using emojis as visual cues to explain science topics. Bill Nye even explained the concept of holograms with them in a video last week, and fusion.net reported that GE is working with the National Science Foundation to develop emoji-based lesson plans for the classroom.
Big players with more mature ad offerings, like Twitter and Facebook, will need to weigh in before speculation can turn into action, but this hashtag treatment is just another step on the long road to how we’re evolving our fascination with short-form content. Quick flashes of emotion are unveiled with anything from monkey faces to an eggplant, and for Instagram, symbolize the rise of a new language.