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A Picture Says a Thousand Words


In June this year, Twitter announced the roll out of emoji targeting. In what was a fairly low-key press release, Twitter detailed how brands could now actively target Twitter users who have in some way interacted with a tweet containing specific emojis.

This was surprising in two ways. Firstly, the size of the press release (a blog on the Twitter site) was modest. Secondly, the general reaction from the industry was also modest. Why surprising? Because the potential for marketers is huge.

Emojis are bigger than ever. An expressive and rich new language for some, to others a weird and impenetrable world of yellow faces and questionable vegetables; emojis have become a symbol of our digital age and the people that use them.

And those people aren’t just ‘millennials’: according to a recent poll, 63% of over 35’s use emojis on a regular basis. This means that far from being a niche marketing fad, emojis represent a way of communicating to huge swathes of the market.

Recent examples include Domino's, who let people tweet orders using the pizza slice emoji, matching the user’s handle with its CRM database and delivering their usual order. It’s a nice touch and, certainly from the perspective of younger generations, it’s a great piece of customer experience improvement. But, more than this, emojis give us something we marketers have been seeking since the beginning of marketing itself: sentiment.

Facebook have been busy in this area. Many will have seen the launch of Facebook ‘Reactions’ earlier this year: Facebook’s very own set of emojis. By limiting the number to a small set broadly representing the emotional spectrum, Facebook now has a huge amount of sentiment data for countless posts, videos and images. Brands can now analyse sentiment at scale, looking at how different profiles react to different pieces of content and optimising appropriately.

So where do we go from here? Real-time targeting is one area for development. Once a reaction is logged to a Facebook page the brand can react instantly, pushing relevant and timely display ads. The implications for customer service, an area where social has seen development in recent years, are also substantial: if you know how a customer has reacted to a digital interaction before you speak with them, you can adjust your tone and messaging accordingly.

There are pit falls, though. Whilst emojis are universally used, they are not universally understood, and many mean different things to different people (an aubergine is not necessarily an aubergine…). How brands utilise new features like Twitter emoji targeting will be largely dependent on who they are marketing to and what they are trying to achieve.

With World Emoji Day officially a ‘thing’ and the use of emojis growing by the day, it won’t be long until emoji-based targeting becomes a staple of part of social marketing strategies up and down the land. The key for brands is to unlock the potential in ‘sentiment at scale’.

After all, a picture says a thousand words.

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