Words and Messages; The Use (and Misuse) of Emojis

We’ve all heard the stories of our first words being told by relatives, but who’s ever heard the story of their first message? In fact, who remembers their first message? I know that I certainly don’t, and in lecture on messages in PR earlier this week this got me thinking…

Where has this come from?

Humans are social animals, we interact with each other daily conversing on all levels with different people seamlessly. For approximately five-thousand years, language has been a vital part of human civilisation, our ability to send and receive messages interpersonally is a key factor in our rise to top of the food chain. However since late 1996, we have been forced to adapt to a new way of communication; Instant Messaging.  

The instant message changed the world, it gave the ability for people to communicate freely with anyone else in the world so long as they had an internet connection. This was the beginning of the social media revolution. Instant messaging is at the heart of some of the largest companies in the world at the moment. Facebook boasts a staggering 2.41 billion users as at June 2019, which according to my rough calculations is just above 30% of the worlds total population.

Bare with me this is going to loop back to speech…  we send hundreds of messages everyday, often I find myself walking down the street, speaking to numerous people at the same time whilst being completely silent. The vast majority of people use their phones subconsciously, especially when instant messaging. This is because social media has gave birth to The Phone Age.

Humans are growing ever more technology dependant in every day situations. I find; people are often too engrossed in their phone to participate in conversation, and when their attention turns back to the conversation after a brief social media scroll, they often give a poor response or no response at all, as they have been zoned out inside the digital world. 

Do we give more thought to our Instant Messages than our Speech?  

This question is why I wrote this post and it is entirely dependant on who you are as a person, and because of that there is no simple yes or no answer, but I can understand both perspectives. 

Instant Messages are reliant on words and more recently emojis to formulate the interpretation of the sender, and without the use of body language, tone of voice and volume to support them, they can be very easily taken out of context.  Emojis help keep messages short and simple whilst still providing some context to our message. The video below helps to explain this point; the laughing face 😂 in this video would make the response seem impolite (in my opinion!). The sad face 🙁 is much more appropriate for this situation because it makes the receiver feel like the sender is upset about not being able to spend time with them, rather than laughing at their offer. 

The younger generations, who have grown up with instant messaging and have been making this decision throughout their childhood, are often able to pick a more suitable emoji to support the context of their message than those older than them, who were forced to adapt to the new technologies later on in life. This is because they have essentially trained this as a skill from childhood, rather than developing it later on in life; when people naturally find learning harder.

Our speech tends to improve in a linear fashion as we get older, we never usually had to make any adaptations to this. Ours use of words when communicating requires a very well used and well trained brain processing power, emojis forced an entirely new thought process upon us when messaging and some people did get left behind.

Who got left behind?🤔 

Firstly, this section is going to use emojis, this is probably the only time I’ll use them on a post but I hope it adds emphasis to my points. So as mentioned before, it appears some people still haven’t quite taken to the emoji scene. During my research for this post I noticed a lot of emoji misuse came from parents, in the first sentence I contemplated using ‘older generations’ instead of the word ‘some’, but I’m not one to generalise 🤷‍♂️. Pic: The Sun

blog-post-contentThis is mainly aimed at public communications rather than corporate. But the problem I see is that a lot of organisations management teams are composed of these older generations, notably SME’s, who don’t have the financial capability for PR employment.

This can lead to some embarrassing social media moments. On social media, the humour varies rapidly and organisations are frequently late to react to the change in trend. Trends phase in and out, often fuelled by memes originating from sites such as Reddit and Twitter. What’s amusing to say one day can lead to embarrassment, if said a few day later and if the people running the social media accounts are unfamiliar the platforms current sense of humour, it can lead to cringe-worthy outdated posts. One way to think about it would be like your unfunny uncle cracking jokes when he’s round for dinner😐.  

Some digital marketing agencies have aimed to tackle this issue by using strategies such as only employing people aged under 30. However,  this raises questions as this could be viewed as discriminatory and possibly testing the barriers of ageism. 

Another way organisations tackle this issue is through the use of social media strategies tailored to their stakeholders, and yet despite their reach most organisations tend to stay away from memes, due to issues with its ability to impact advertising revenue. It is very tricky to post well on social media and highlights the benefit of having an awareness of the current trends on social media.

Even commenting on current news stories can back fire on an organisation, leaving them at risk to legal action or damage to their reputation. One example of this is Burger King and their comical indirect tweet aimed at Nigel Farage and the Milk-shaking incidents during his last political campaign, one of which happened in my home town funnily enough!

Nigel Farage Tweet

Source: BBC News

They came under fire for the tweet as it was seen to be promoting the anti-social behaviour, although there is no direct reference to the incident in the tweet, the context leaves no room to be misjudged. This incident is likely to have minor impacts on the reputation of Burger King however, with the main group of people likely to see this in a negative way being the Brexit Party Followers. Specifically those followers who actively use social media, so I would say that’s a relatively small amount. In fact could this event have been positive for Burger King? After all, they did get organic coverage of their brand through large media outlets and although in not large amounts, this interest stretched from May to late October and will have boosted the overall reach of their brand. The graph shown below taken from Google trends shows the searches for the term “Burger King Milkshake Tweet” with the curve peaking in May when the tweet was published, then again rising over the next few months when articles following the legal action from the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) were published.   

Screenshot 2019-11-02 at 00.07.45

Overall the themes discussed in this post aim to highlight some key topics of discussion that many organisations who seek to improve their digital presence will be having, and one which shouldn’t be ignored as an organisations online reputation plays a key role in the formation of their overall reputation; one of its hardest to manage, yet most vital assets.

Published by Nathan Bickerton

Masters digital marketing student. First class business and public relations graduate. Trying to get known.

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