Communicating over digital platforms can be a challenge when using text alone because we miss all the non-verbal cues. That’s where the emoji come in. Emoji help add context to our digital communication so we can distinguish the tone or mood of the message. They also act as flair, letting people show a bit of their personality and have some fun in the process. Since their introduction to the U.S. less than a decade ago, emoji have had a big impact on our digital communication.

History of Emoji

From the Japanese words e (picture) and moji (character), emoji are symbols or images that can replace a word in digital communication. The emoji dates back to 1998, when interface design engineer Shigetaka Kurita created 176 characters for his telecom employer, DoCoMo, according to an article in Reader’s Digest. In 2010, Unicode, the industry standard for text writing systems, incorporated emoji. One year later, Apple adopted emoji and added it to their phones. Google’s Android phones adopted them in 2013.

Emoji have become so popular that, in 2015, the face with tears of joy emoji was the word of the year chosen by the Oxford Dictionary. That year, it accounted for nearly one out of every five emoji used. According to Emojipedia, as of June 2018 when the last release of new emoji was announced, there are 2,823 emoji in use.

It’s fair to say that emoji are a widely-accepted part of our general communication, and they are changing the way people communicate digitally in multiple ways.

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The Impact of Emoji on Communication

Business Communication

As early as 2014, a survey commissioned by social media firm Cotap found that 76 percent of American workers had already adopted emoji into their professional digital communications. Emoji were put in e-mails with co-workers, then bosses, and eventually, companies tried to capitalize on the marketing opportunities emoji offered.

Just one year after the Cotap survey was released, Domino’s Pizza created a way for customers to re-order favorites by texting or tweeting the pizza emoji. In terms of marketing goals, the campaign paid off for Domino’s. The campaigned earned more than 1.2 billion media impressions, according to the Shorty Awards, and increased the company’s percentage of online orders to 60. That’s 10 percent higher than the company’s original goal.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Some emoji are like a universal language and can be understood almost immediately by anyone. That’s not the case for all emoji, though, and that can be especially evident across cultural lines. In Western cultures, a thumbs up emoji is used as a sign of approval, but according to the BBC, it has negative connotations in Greece and the Middle East. Similarly, the angel emoji is considered a sign of death in China, whereas in Western cultures, it’s a sign of peace and innocence.

Public Relations Management

Using just emoji without any corresponding text could lead to its own set of misunderstandings. In response to being traded from the Toronto Raptors to the San Antonio Spurs, NBA star DeMar DeRozan made a post on his Instagram account with a single emoji, the person face-palming. It came hours after the Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri issued a public apology to DeRozan for the trade, but it was unclear whether DeRozan’s post was meant for the trade, the apology or the situation overall.

The Future of Communication

As emoji have entered our daily lexicon, it has become more important to know how to understand and incorporate them in digital communication. At Notre Dame of Maryland University, you can take courses in business communication, cross-cultural communication and PR management, providing you with the knowledge and skills to succeed in a variety of industries.

If you’re looking to advance your career in communications, enroll today in Notre Dame of Maryland University’s online master’s in communication. Our flexible, online format allows working adults like you achieve your educational goals while balancing your busy life. In addition, you’ll learn from knowledgeable faculty in small class sizes.