A recent report in the technology press explained how the use of emoji was growing so fast that it was now the fastest growing language in the UK. I dismissed this at first as one of those fluff pieces that can find statistics in any data, no matter how pointless.
But then it hit me, maybe it is important? Maybe this is something we should be taking notice of, as, in the world of PR, we have to talk to people and using current language is essential. Should we start using emojis now?
First off, we ought to explain what they are for those of you who are wondering.
You may be familiar with the word “emoticons”. In the days when phones were simple and a text could only display letters and punctuation, we would indicate humour or sadness with something like this:
That’s fairly simple, and you can tell right away that it’s a happy or sad face. These were said to have been invented when computer scientist Scott Fahlman suggested their use on message boards to distinguish jokes and serious statements. This is useful, for example when saying to someone “You really smell bad! ;-)”, you’re also giving them a ‘wink’, i.e., you probably don’t mean it. Probably.
But then along came social media and phones with, gasp, graphics. A Japanese communications firm called NTT DoCoMo created emoji in the late 90s. The name is derived from “e”, meaning “picture” and “moji”, meaning “character”.
You can now use these emoji (for those asking, the plural and singular are the same) for pretty much anything, and they’re not just restricted to happy or sad faces.
Listening to some classical music?
The list goes on. In fact, the list is so long that people can now hold conversations in pure emoji, and they do, hence the claim by Professor Vyv Evans of Bangor University that it’s the fastest growing language in the UK.
In a survey by TalkTalk Mobile, 72% of 18 to 25-year-olds said they found it easier to put their feelings across in emoji icons than in text.
What does this mean for business?
You could be forgiven for thinking the answer to that is ‘nothing’. Businesses have a history of being quite stuffy when it comes to adopting new ways of doing things.
Some language adoptions simply will not make their way onto the pages or websites of respectable organisations. For example, you might turn a blind eye to people misusing “their, there and they’re” in a Facebook post, but don’t you just balk when you see it on a website?
This article is weeks after the event because I thought it meant nothing to business. But then I realised that in day-to-day communication, emoji and emoticons are there, right in front of me.
If you’re a Gmail user (as I am), you may have received emails with a curious “J” at the end. This is an emoticon; it should be a little smile but Gmail isn’t converting it correctly. I receive these all the time from business owners, so it shows that people are starting to use them in business communications.
This is a long way off from being used on business websites, but don’t dismiss them. You see, they have one big benefit over words: They’re universal.
A smile, or a sad face means the same in any language. If someone texts you and you reply with a picture of a plane, it gives the impression you may be flying somewhere, whatever language you’re using.
And it’s not as if using images as a way of communicating is new. Hieroglyphics anyone?
Speaking in their language
I’m not saying that business communication will become image based any time soon, that’s clearly not going to happen, however, we’re in the communications business. Any languages, especially popular ones such as emoji need to be examined and used when necessary to communicate with those this resonate with.
If you’re releasing a product, website or service to an audience which can relate to such a language, then you can gain an advantage over others by speaking to your potential customers in a way they’ll understand.
Watch out for this new language, it would be a shame for it to sneak up on you by surprise…