While text messaging has revolutionized interpersonal communication over the past two decades, it also reduces capacity to gauge nuance and subtlety, in the same way face-to-face interaction, telephonic or even long-form correspondence allows.
Facial expressions, tone and pitch assist our understanding and appreciation of meaning when conversing. Texting – while convenient – can remove that added layer of depth.
Enter the emoji: a picture text used to clarify intended meaning and substitute for expression and tone lost in technological contact.
To date, the universally utilized emoji has almost exclusively been the domain of private communications and social media platforms. Given this, use of them in alternative contexts, such as workplace emails, can be frowned upon or even actively disallowed.
But while we as a society may form opinions about those who use emojis, and the frequency and manner in which they use them (even though we do it too), they may bring benefit to business interests that go way beyond our personal engagement with such communication.
Businesses and marketing agencies know that, to effectively convince someone of the value of a particular product or service, the message conveyed must be comprehensible and conceptual.
Emoji is, whether we want it or not, a universally recognized language that all of us can understand and appreciate. And its potential for success in professional and even governmental contexts is all but untapped.
Market researchers across the board are now utilizing such methodology; Antedote, for one, recognizes the value of popular culture and colloquial vernacular to extrapolate genuine, authentic anthropological responses, which then provide more in-depth and accurate insights from surveyed subjects.
New York-based not for profit Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recently launched billboards which, to the untrained eye, appear to be gobbledygook but, to teens targeted by the ads, would convey crucial messages about drug use, smoking, drinking, body image, sex, bullying, among other issues.
Pain charts employ emoticons to deduce the degree to which patients suffer, allowing medical practitioners in hospitals and clinics to more effectively offer treatment.
Emojis can even serve as a base springboard for further insight: exposing subjects to a selection of emojis, and having them choose a handful, can help extract the innermost thoughts and feelings of individuals, allowing for greater direction with research.
The breadth of such images are expanding extensively to now account for a myriad sexual orientations, family units and gender identities, as well as – arguably crude – ethnic characteristics. Increased resonance through greater identification with emojis can only aid research processes.
Such expansion is also seeing images digress into the interactive sphere. Stickers and filters, being made popular by Snapchat and the newest iPhone, are further provoking engagement that speaks to our base emotions and instincts.
Emojis are already starting to be adopted in communication between colleagues and clients in the business world and, with the rise and increased use of platforms such as Slack, Asana and Trillo, one must ask: where else could this trend possibly go? Could technological jargon penetrate professional contexts and streamline communications as such?
Could, for example, emojis be used as a support mechanism for children with written and verbal speech difficulties, to help them better communicate?
Could governments utilize emojis to advocate economic policy developments, as a way to avoid institutional jargon that goes over the head of the average voter?
While some may browbeat about declining societal intellect via such campaigns, innovative businesses can, and already are, recognizing the usefulness of emojis in transcending communication barriers and engaging with an intended audience in ways previous efforts may have failed. If emojis can contribute to efforts addressing and raising awareness of sociocultural and political problems, domestically or abroad, would that be a bad thing?
Innovative practices are catching up – especially when dealing with millennials – and big business and government should ensure they are not too far behind.
Emoji is an inter-lingual digital language, and while its usefulness in tackling issues is still in infancy, its potential for innovative marketing and business success should not be ignored.
By Anne Lacey