An Emoji Speaks a Thousand Words (Part One)

By Simon Ensor
Social Media 12.10.2015

The humble emoticon has evolved, mutated and multiplied to include everything from a shocked ghost face to a pot of honey. No longer are we confined to using variations of open or closed brackets and colons or semi colons. With hundreds of options on our phones for both Millennials and Generation Z emojis have quickly superceded punctuation as a method of conveying a message. In the wake of Facebook recently unveiling 6 emojis (known as Reactions) to accompany their like button, we wanted to have a look at how emojis have become an integral part of our digital communication. How will this effect our own content engagement on Facebook and will the evolution of emoticons dictate our brand communication?

First of all Facebook. For years users have been requesting a dislike button to be added to the platform but Zuckerberg has never been a fan of the concept. A dislike button has too many negative connotations which could result in reduced usage of the network, one of which was bullying. Instead, Facebook’s Reactions are said to have been created so that users can express a wider range of emotions without having to type them out in a comment, something which can be difficult on mobile. With over half of Facebook’s usage coming from mobile the testing of Facebook’s Reactions are another step in optimising our mobile experience. Furthermore, so that users could express emotions where a thumbs up is not necessarily the most appropriate. In Zuckerberg’s own words such emotions may include sorrow, empathy, delight and warmth.

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Director of Product (news feed), was charged with condensing the range of human emotions into 6 new emoticons, something that apparently required considerable research and analysis including working with leading sociologists. Emoji’s can be ambiguous at the best of times, is it a high five or someone praying? What does the cheeky monkey really mean? More on this in part two, but Mosseri’s task was not a simple one. Facebook have in fact proactively sought to eliminate any confusion as to the interpretation of the amusing graphics by presenting them with titles. In addition to this Facebook have also taken them a step further than their static counterparts offered by the likes of Apple and Google. Facebook’s Reactions are animated which not only makes them more effective at conveying emotion but also helps clarify their meaning.

The final result, or first iteration of Reactions, is 6 named emojis: Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad and Angry.


It must be remembered that Facebook has 1.5 billion users globally and as such these 6 emojis would have to translate across borders and cultures. As a result Facebook have chosen Ireland and Spain as their English speaking and non-English speaking digital petri dishes for testing. This will give them an opportunity to analyse if the design of the emojis accurately express the emotions of the user across languages, geographical locations and cultures prior to rolling Reactions out to all users.

Facebook Reactions and Content Marketing

Facebook’s news feed curates and delivers content through analysing multiple factors, one of which being engagement. Akin to link metrics analysed by Google in regards to SEO, not all engagement was created equal on Facebook. For example, a share is considered to be a higher form of endorsing a piece of content than a Like. Therefore content that has been shared by your friends is more likely to be make its way onto your news feed than one that has been merely Liked. This therefore raises the question of where Facebook’s Reactions sit in the hierarchy of engagement. As an easier method of expressing emotion does it replace commenting and therefore have the same weight as commenting? Or considering that the number of Wows or Haha’s appear to be displayed alongside Likes, will emojis have the same effect as Likes?

Facebook were kind enough to tidy this up for us, clearly stating that not only will content publishers be able to see the different engagement each post receives through Insights but that Reactions will have the same influence as Likes for ad delivery. Their PR and Communications team have reinforced the positive message of Reactions by identifying this as an opportunity for content publishers to further understand and analyse the type of reactions their content receives. We tend to agree with them, regardless of the potential ambiguity associated with emojis, analysing Reactions via Insights and cross referencing these with the intended effect of the content will allow marketers to further tailor their delivery of said content.

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