The Marketer's Guide of Emoji Use in Social Media, SEO, Email Marketing, and Digital Ads
If you’re responsible for your company’s digital communication–whether it’s on your website, in an email, or on social media, you may be wondering how you can best use emojis in your marketing…or even if you should use them at all.
In this article we’ll look at the pros and cons of emoji use, what scientific research tells us about the impact emojis have on us, and hear from experts on how to best leverage emojis in different marketing and advertising channels. 🤩
A Very Brief (Seriously, I Promise) History of Emojis
Yeah, yeah, I get it. But a little history, a little context, may help you better understand how to use emojis in your digital communications!
See, that wasn’t too painful, right?
Why you should use emojis in your marketing
- 10 billion (with a B) emojis are sent every day (Brandwatch)
- 92% of people online use emojis (adweek)
- My mom, who is in her late 70’s, uses emojis (and likely yours does, too)
It’s important to communicate using the words–and even the picture words–of your ideal customers. Using emojis appropriately can humanize your brand, building trust and loyalty with your ideal customers.
Part of our job as marketers is to make an emotional connection with our audience. Including emojis can do more than just add humor and whimsy to a message. An emoji can add context and nuance to what would otherwise be a dry sentence that might be interpreted in different ways.
Emojis capture and convey non-verbal communication. No, despite what a lot of people claim, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but an emoji is likely worth 1 – 5 words, tops, such as “woman health worker,” “grinning cat with smiling eyes,” or “pile of poo.” But a winking face or or an eye roll can do wonders to further the intent of your message.
Emojis aren't worth 1,000 words. However, what they do offer is much more valuable.
Emojis can help you make an emotional connection and may help your audience remember your message longer. Recent research with fMRI machines which scan activity in the brain show that using emojis with words stimulate parts of the brain “which are associated with several functional brain networks such as word-processing, emotion recognition and memory retrieval.”
Emojis can make your marketing messages more believable. According to other research, messages with an appropriate emoji were rated “easier to understand and more believable” than messages with no emoji or an inappropriate emoji.
Emojis help your messages stand out. Although they may not confer the novelty they did a few years ago–the price of worldwide acceptance–they can still “pop”, adding color, humor, and even directing where our eyes should go next.
Emojis increase engagement across the board. There’s plenty of research showing emojis increase engagement compared to the same message with no emojis in your digital communication, whether that’s via social media, email marketing, or SMS.
As marketers, we should use all the tools at our disposal to grab attention, build rapport, and drive engagement, traffic, leads, and sales.
Good emoji usage can help us accomplish all those objectives and more.
Why you shouldn't use emojis in your marketing
However, using emojis is business communication may not be for everyone or every brand, at least not right now.
Emojis may undermine your professionalism. As good marketers and copywriters know, you have to stay true to your “brand voice.” In more conservative industries, using emojis may have an immediate, negative impact on your ability to connect and build trust. They could be seen as wearing flip flops to a wingtip event, or sweats to a little black dress cocktail party.
Emoji meaning can be “lost in translation.” Emojis are not universal, despite what some people may believe. Different emojis have different meanings from country to country or age group to age group. For example:
- The slightly smiling face emoji 🙂 in China implies distrust or that someone is humoring you,
- Sign of the horns emoji🤘might mean “rock on!” in the US, but in some countries like Brazil, Italy, and Argentina, it can mean that the person was cheated on by their partner, and
- Not everyone thinks 👌 is OK…this is like flipping the 🐦 in Brazil and Turkey.
You can find more emoji cultural differences at the Local Concept blog.
Emojis can be generational. As an elder statesman of Gen X, I love face with tears of joy 😂, but my Gen Z daughter tells me that it’s over and “no one” is using it any more. If you’re marketing to my generation, it’s safe to use. If you’re marketing to my daughter, you’ll come off as out-of-touch or trying too hard.
Another problem with emojis is how they are displayed differently depending on whether you’re on a Mac, Windows, Chrome, Facebook, and so on. While sometimes the difference is just a matter of art style, in other cases the emoji can confer a completely different vibe.
Imagine the sentence, “The service in this place is great!” followed by an eye roll icon.
Anyone on an Apple or Google device would realize that the service, in fact, was not so good. Samsung users, however, would walk unsuspectingly into that restaurant, only to be let down.
Emojis can also be a challenge for people using assistive technology. Listening to your reader say “excited face with money symbols for eyes and stuck-out tongue” three (or twelve) times in a row isn’t going to build trust or rapport.
After weighing the pros and cons, if you’ve decided that emojis can compliment or enhance your marketing, advertising, and communication, then check out the sections below on specific tactics for every channel.
Using Emojis in Social Media Marketing
Emojis are everywhere on social media. People and businesses use them in posts, in tweets, in ads, in videos, and as stickers to layer on top of photos. Because of the casual nature of social media, they are as prevalent as hashtags.
However, each site has its own personality, so here are some specific tips on using emojis on all your favorite social media platforms.
Using Emojis on Twitter
According to research published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, emojis do indeed increase the engagement of tweets, with more emojis leading to more likes and retweets.
The research points out a few important takeaways:
- Emojis can enable brands to convey playfulness and the benefits that come from that playfulness
- Emojis should be placed before the “focal text” for maximum benefit
- Emojis should be “highly related” to the text it proceeds
As you can see in the example here, the emojis are placed immediately before, and highly related to the “focal text.”
While putting this post together, I noticed a friend and fellow marketer was “all in” on emoji use on Twitter, so I asked her for her opinion.
Emojis can be a great way to enhance your social media marketing and ad copy on Twitter. They can help the copy stand out, serve to help break up copy to make it easier to skim while also being memorable.
Emojis infuse personality into what we're writing and help drive more engagement. In fact, Tweets featuring emojis increase engagement by 25.4%! (source) The key on any social platform is the "social" part so the more we can add emotion, tone, and overall personality within our strategy, the better off we are.
Emojis can also tie into the brand when used correctly. i.e. Something that I love to do is to use specific emojis consistently so that people can start to associate me with those emojis and grow that familiarity with my mission and how I emphasize it. I love to use these emojis 💗🙌🙏 to represent my mission to Love More 💗 Give More 🙌 And Be More 🙏
Facebook Marketing and Emojis
Facebook rolled out “reactions” in early 2016, allowing users to do more than just “like” a post. While these are not official emojis, they certainly represent some popular emojis. This certainly signifies an acceptance of “picture words” on the platform, and people and brands use them extensively here.
Because most businesses get little engagement on organic Facebook posts, there’s no harm in trying to “juice” your numbers with emojis. You can even use emojis to specifically encourage engagement, asking people if they 👍 or 👎 with something you said.
Where you can really test out your emoji game in Facebook is by running A/B splits on your ads. Create one ad with emojis, another without. If you want to get really creative, create a few more variables that try other emojis or the position of emojis compared to the focal text of the ad.
Using emojis on Facebook adds flavor and personality to your posts. If you want to add a bit of ✨ emphasis ✨ to your posts, play around with peppering in a few emojis.
That meal was 🤌 divine.
😎 How spicy do you like your caesars? 🌶 Mild, 🌶🌶 Medium, or 🌶 🌶 🌶 🌶 🌶 Hot?
I'm laughing so hard I'm 💀
There is a fine balance between supportive emoji use in posts and swamping your post with too many emojis making it look like spam. For Facebook and Instagram ads, using emojis inappropriately can lead to your ads being rejected.
Have fun with emojis to bring more life to your posts but avoid stuffing your text with an overabundance of emojis that aren't adding context to the conversation.
The one exception to this is using a string of emojis to tell a whole story. For example, the story of adopting my dog: 😍 🥰 🐕 🏠 🐾 🦴 🐕 😳 🥺 🤦♀️ 🚨 🚘 🏥 👩⚕️ 😭 ❤️🩹💉💉💉💉🩹 🐕 ❤️ 🏠 😌 🐕 🤗
For the record, Small Dog recovered from his medical condition and is living his best life. 😉
Can You Use Emojis on LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is the most business-centric of the popular social media channels, but business doesn’t always mean buttoned-down. Again, it comes back to your brand voice and the expectations of your audience.
The very fact that fewer people and brands use emojis on LinkedIn may be the best reason for you to implement an emoji strategy on the platform.
LinkedIn added its own collection of “reactions” that people could use to respond to a post in April of 2019, and they have help on how to include emojis on your name, headline, and posts, so there’s definitely acceptance there.
One place people are using emojis is in their “name.” While this certainly does help you stand out, “flair” may not be a reason why someone would want to hire you. “Leading” with this approach can backfire if it’s not on brand. (Personally, I feel it makes you look like you’re trying too hard, but that’s only one man’s opinion.)
Because the About section on LinkedIn allows little formatting, including no bullets, bold, or italicized text, emojis allow you to not just insert formatting, but personality as well.
You should also experiment with emoji use on your posts and your ads on LinkedIn.
It all comes down to knowing your audience on LinkedIn.
There are some clients who 100% will never ever ever put an emoji on their LinkedIn.
🚫 Not in their Headline
🚫 Not in their About or Experience section
🚫 Not in the content they share.
Others will use “conservative” emojis sparingly: 2️⃣ ⬇️⬅✉️
Other’s will create an emoji circus where you think that the whole purpose of their profiles and activity on LinkedIn was to get as many emoji’s 👍🏼 😉 😰 🌹 🤪 ⭐️as possible or suffer a death worse than a Squid Game fail. Which might be appropriate for some audiences.
As a sales training company focused on B2B Sales leaders and sales professionals, we err more on the conservative side when using emojis in our Sales templates.
As an individual sharing content, I usually get a bit more jiggy with my emojis. But have yet to use 🦄💩 in one 🙂
Emoji Marketing on Instagram
Emojis are everywhere on Instagram. You’ll find them in user names, bios, captions for posts, in Stories, and on Reels.
Further, Instagram encourages leaving emoji-only comments by making them a one-click option, similar to reactions on other platforms.
I always say Emojis are the universal language, and on Instagram there are many benefits to using them.
Not only do emojis give a pop of color, interest, and energy but they also can help others quickly understand who you are, what you do, or see what is important to you and your brand.
For example, I am known as Sue B. and often sign my comments Sue B. 🐝
The bee has become iconic for me, and so many people send me messages, cards and gifts that have bees on them because they say whenever they see a bee they think of me.
And that’s exactly the point … emojis can help you stand out in creative ways.
Pinterest and Emojis
The problem with researching “Pinterest emoji marketing” is that all the results are Pinterest boards about emojis in marketing, not specific to Pinterest itself. So I turned to one of my favorite marketers on Pinterest, Jeff Sieh, for his take.
OK. If I'm being honest, I rarely ever use emojis on Pinterest.
Not that you can't use them, but for me, and for most users that I know on Pinterest, they're just not that relevant. Pinterest even has its own brand of emojis called "reactions". Reactions come in "love", "haha", "thanks", "good idea", and "wow" flavors. However, these can only be used on video and idea pins. You CAN leave comments on pins and that is where you can leave the normal emojis that we know and love.
But if comments bother you, you can always turn them off on your pins. So the short answer is...don't stress about emojis on Pinterest.
Email Marketing and Emojis
While an emoji in a subject line can visually pop, how much impact they actually have on open rates, read rates, and complaint rates, is up for debate, as documented in this well-thought out post at Snov.io Labs.
The two places you might use emojis in your email marketing would be the subject line and the body copy.
Intuitively, you would think that including an emoji in the subject line would help your missive stand out in a crowded inbox. However, there are a few things working against you:
- Novelty (or lack thereof): As emojis have become more popular, more brands are using emojis in their subject line to “stand out.” When everyone is standing out using the same tactic, no one stands out.
- Filters: Emojis in subject lines are often the territory of marketers and promotional emails, so they may be more likely to trigger junk filters, keeping you out of the inbox entirely.
- Universality (or lack thereof): Not all email programs render emojis the same way, or at all. If your message is dependent on an emoji that doesn’t show up (or shows up as an empty square) then your message isn’t getting across.
Although I may sound like a broken record at this point, the best thing that you can do is run some A/B split tests on your subject lines. Many email platforms allow you to do an A/B split test for say, 25% of your audience, then the remaining 75% see the winner of that experiment.
Emojis on Websites & Blogs
I’ve seen emojis on websites, and especially blog posts (which tend to be a little more informal) for at least a decade. In fact, some platforms like WordPress automatically turn a “:)” into a 🙂 whether you want it to or not.
Your website is the hub of your online marketing, and the home of your intellectual property. It’s also where you serve up your ideal self. To that end, it’s imperative that you should use emojis if they fit in with your brand, but stay away from them if they don’t.
One interesting aspect of using emojis in your page titles is that they appear in your title tag and can appear in your search engine results.
Which leads us into new territory in emoji marketing…
Emojis and SEO: Do They Matter?
The answer depends on when you ask the question. In 2015 Google disabled support for emojis in results, only to reverse themselves a year later. According to Google, they’ll show emojis in results when they are “relevant, useful, and fun.”
Not showing them all the time is probably a good idea, IMO. Knowing how SEOs are likely to jump on every trend they think will give them the upperhand, it would probably be no time at all before the first page of Google’s results look like Times Square.
First off, this would have been much better if it also returned local pizza restaurants, not just emoji-focused results.
Secondly, I love that in the “People also ask” section is the question, “Is there a hut emoji?” I see where you’re going with that!
Doing a search on an emoji also goes to my earlier point that emoji meanings are not universal, or at least they’re not always understood in their context. I submit the following piece of evidence:
But back to the bigger, marketing question: will emojis help with your SEO?
I feel the jury’s still out on that. My guess is that people aren’t doing searches with emojis in the query vs. just words, unless they’re specifically looking for emoji-based results. Or for curiosity’s sake, like this search:
It appears that in many cases, Google is simply replacing the emoji for the equivalent word. This seems to be more true when you use a text word in conjunction with the emoji itself.
You may be wondering about emojis in paid search, as was I. At the time of writing this post, Google had put emoji use in beta tests, so they weren’t available to all users. However, this image shared by Larry Kim shows that at least in this case they increase clicks while driving down costs.
More Information on Emojis in Marketing
Now you should have the tools you need to start (or improve) your emoji use in your digital marketing and advertising. You can either skip to the Final Thoughts on the subject or continue reading for more research, context, and helpful tips.
How to Access Emojis on Different Platforms
Although recent devices make it easier and easier for people to access and use emojis, it’s not universal. Here’s how to access the full gamut of emojis on some of today’s most popular platforms.
Accessing Emojis on an iPhone
The emoji keyboard has been standard on iPhones for at least five years, but if you happen to have an older model, or if somehow you deleted the emoji keyboard, here’s how to get it back according to 9to5Mac:
- Tap on Settings and then tap General
- Swipe down and tap on Keyboard
- Tap on Keyboards and then select Add New Keyboard…
- Swipe down to find and tap on Emoji
- Look for the smiley face (or globe) icon on the bottom left side of your keyboard in almost any app and test it out 🤓👍🏼
Accessing Emojis on an Android
Likewise, most other smartphones are equipped with emojis out of the box. However, if you don’t seem to have it, you can add it through a few steps according to DigitalTrends:
- To activate, open your Settings menu and tap on System > Language & Input.
- Under Keyboard, select On-screen Keyboard > Gboard (or your default keyboard).
- Tap on Preferences.
- Turn on the Show Emoji-switch Key option.
How to Access Emojis on a Mac
If you’re on a Mac, just hold down Control and Command and tap the space bar. That will bring up a window filled with emojis. You’ll see a search bar for text-based searches, a section of your most frequently used emojis, or go to different categories using the icons at the bottom. You can also scroll to your heart’s content.
Once you’ve found the emoji you want, click it and it will appear where you would normally type.
Pro tip: if you plan on using the same emoji multiple times, like the arrow or checkbox to simulate a bulleted list, you may want to copy said emoji so you can paste it more quickly.
How to Access Emojis on a Windows Machine
Getting to emojis on Windows is similar. Simply hit the Windows key + period (.) or Windows key + semi-colon (;) to bring up a similar looking emoji picker.
Also, if you’re using a touch-screen Windows machine you can access the emoji keyboard by clicking on the smiley-face emoji next to the Ctrl button on the bottom row.
Emojis vs. Emoticons: Is there a difference?
While emojis and emoticons strive to do the same thing–add context, humor, or whimsy to text–they obviously look different.
Emojis are pictures where emoticons are a series of punctuation marks, letters, and numbers arranged in a way that our brain makes them look like a picture, often a human face.
Also, although emojis are available on most platforms these days, emoticons are available on all platforms that use text. However, they are not exactly universal. Western emoticons tend to be read sideways (left to right) where Eastern emoticons don't need to be rotated and can use non-Latin characters, according to the Make Use Of blog.
- Troubled: (>_<)
- Wink: (^_-)
- Joyful: ^_^
Despite their seemingly limited “range”, emoticons have been proven to “serve as emotional indicators similarly to other nonverbal means,” according to research into brain activity when reading sentences and emoticons.
That makes sense to me, as we often see faces in every day objects.
While you should definitely experiment with both emojis and emoticons in your communications, keep in mind that emojis tend to pop more, have more options, and can express more than emotions. Anyone know how to make an American and Japanese flag in emoticons?
The most popular emojis for marketing and advertising
Finding the most popular or effective emojis for marketing and advertising may be a fool's errand. This is for a few reasons:
- It's hard to separate marketing and advertising messages from general messages when looking at usage
- Not every platform can be accurately measured; not everyone is seeing your Facebook Ad or your chat bot
- Different emojis will be more or less effective based on your business, industry, and audience
- Emoji use can change dramatically based on the season (❤️, 🦃, 🎄), sporting events or awards shows (⚾️, 🍿, 🥇), or the news. As I wrote this, the most popular emoji was the Ukrainian flag 🇺🇦 due to the current Russian invasion.
According to Emojipedia, the most popular emojis on Twitter in 2021 were:
- 😭 Loudly Crying Face
- 😂 Face with Tears of Joy
- 🥺 Pleading Face
- 🤣 Rolling on the Floor Laughing
- ❤️ Red Heart
- ✨ Sparkles
- 🙏 Folded Hands
- 😍 Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes
- 🥰 Smiling Face with Hearts
- 😊 Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes
Hubspot shared that across their own platforms (unclear if this included all their user data) the most popular emojis included:
What's maybe more interesting (and insightful) is their list of emojis most likely to increase engagement (likes, comments, and shares):
Some definite surprises here, but maybe using less popular (more novel) emojis generates more engagement.
So which emojis should you use as a marketer? Use relevant emojis that haven't been overexposed to start, but whenever possible, run A/B split testing to see which fires up your audience more.
Emoji Statistics That Might Sway Your Boss
If including emojis is still taboo in your business, you may want to share these statistics with your boss to let them know what they're missing out on:
- Over one in five tweets now include an emoji
- Five billion emojis are used daily on Facebook and Facebook Messenger
- Half of all comments on Instagram include an emoji
- Based on 10 years of data, emoji use has never been higher
If these don't convince your boss you can find more stats at Emojipedia.
Emojis have become part of the way we communicate with others. Often they add context and nuance to what would otherwise be a dry, ambiguous statement.
The most important question to ask yourself–regardless of the channel you’re considering–is do emojis fit with my brand voice? Will they connect with my audience, or will I come off as out-of-touch, trying too hard, or completely unprofessional?
Although emojis may help you stand out today, as they become even more widely accepted, their novelty will continue to wear off. You may need to dig deeper into your bag of emojis to stand out, or maybe it’s your abstaining from emojis that will help you stand out.
Whenever possible, perform some A/B split tests. After all, life is about experimentation, and what works today may not work tomorrow, or vice versa.
It will be easiest to do accurate testing in email and advertising, but you can also look at engagement rates of organic posts on your favorite social media channels as well.
Rich Brooks is founder and president of flyte new media, a digital agency in Portland, Maine, that’s been in business for 25 years. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and social media.
He founded The Agents of Change, an annual conference and weekly podcast that focuses on search, social & mobile marketing. He recently co-founded Fast Forward Maine, a podcast and workshop series for growing Maine businesses.
Rich is the author of The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a popular and well-received book that helps entrepreneurs and marketers reach more of their ideal customers online.