What Do Emojis Mean? Navigating a Sea of Emoticons 😎

emoji meaning

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Learning how to use emojis correctly can help you improve your digital performance and make your communication more web-friendly. Find out how.

Between Puzzles and Rhymes

In the world of social media, there are two opposing groups of people.
On one side, there are users convinced that, deep down, verbal language isn’t that important and that every message can be translated using an infinite series of emojis and other symbols.
These are the ones who will tell you about their latest blind date like this: “πŸ˜πŸ’ƒπŸ’ž” and who will turn WhatsApp conversations into indecipherable puzzles even for the editor of a crossword puzzle magazine.

On the opposite side, we have supporters of the purity of language, ready to write a rhymed sonnet just to invite you to a football match, and who, come what may, won’t use a smiley even under torture.

Learning to use graphic symbols correctly, capturing their value without overdoing it, is not only an excellent way to enhance your digital performance but also a friendly suggestion to avoid unwittingly becoming part of one of these groups.

It’s Easy to Say Emoji

First of all, a clarification: “emoji” is not, as many believe, a cute diminutive of “emoticon,” but the combination of the Japanese terms e (picture), mo (writing), and ji (character). So, an emoji is nothing more than a word expressed through an image.

These “special characters” emerged in the late 1990s with a very specific purpose: to say as much as possible using minimal space.
This function, while still partly relevant, has lost its centrality by now.
Today, the famous yellow faces have become a fundamental part of our digital communication, and there’s no place on the web where they aren’t at home.

To give you an idea: 92% of the online population uses emojis daily, and only on Facebook, more than 700 million emojis are used every day!
Despite these numbers, many still consider all of this a passing trend and something unsuitable for the world of marketing.

But the truth is that the emoji phenomenon is much more complex than one might think, and using them intelligently could genuinely help improve your business.

Non-Verbal Emotions

Before we delve into how emojis can become a useful element in your communication strategy, let’s explore the deeper implications their use has had on a linguistic, psychological, and social level.

One of the major limitations of written language has always been its difficulty in conveying emotions.
Sure, Proust didn’t need to resort to smiling emojis to entertain the reader; but very few (if any) write as well as Proust, and in our everyday lives, it’s not always easy to be understood.
How many times has it happened that a friend couldn’t catch the joking tone of a WhatsApp message and mistook it for a reproach?

These misunderstandings arise from the fact that, when we write, we can’t use those non-verbal languages (facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice) that we use when we speak in person.

This is where emojis can come to our aid. Some studies have shown that they activate the same parts of the brain that we use when engaging in face-to-face conversations.

Receiving a message like, “Stop talking nonsense! 🀣,” will be very different from receiving one like this: “Stop talking nonsense! 😑.” In the first case, the tone will seem more playful; in the second, more severe. Yet, without emojis, we might misinterpret that message.

Communicating with Symbols

In 2015, the Oxford Dictionary chose the well-known crying with joy emoji (this one: πŸ˜‚) as the word of the year. This might surprise you: it was the first time a linguistic institution awarded recognition to a non-verbal character, acknowledging its importance.

This emoji had been the most used in the world for years, but this year it was overtaken by the desperately crying emoji: 😭.
Contrary to what may seem, this is an important fact: it proves that emojis, like every language, reflect and express changes in society. The fact that crying surpassed laughter tells a lot about our emotional state, affected by the pandemic, economic crisis, and other stressors.

But if one swallow does not make a summer, here are a few more facts to support this thesis. During the months of the first pandemic wave, the virus emoji (🦠) saw a significant increase in usage. The same happened to the black fist emoji (✊🏿) during the “Black Lives Matter” protests and the syringe emoji (πŸ’‰) during the vaccination campaign.

The communicative potential of these symbols is increasingly evident even for linguistic (as in the case of the Oxford Dictionary) and political institutions. In China, for example, some emojis were banned after several people began using them to express their displeasure with the government.

We see, then, that what happens around us has a significant reflection on our way of communicating and that emojis are also a valuable tool with which we can interact with reality:
For example, starting a Facebook post like this: “🌍🌱” will immediately make users understand that the post will discuss ecology. Starting it with the symbol of a computer (πŸ’»), on the other hand, will give a clear hint that it will talk about informatics.

And now, if you’re finally convinced of their importance, let’s look together at some tips on how to best use emojis in your business communication.

Why Use Emojis

From what we’ve discussed so far, it’s clear that using emojis will first help you communicate more effectively and direct your audience’s emotions towards your brand. Remember that marketing isn’t just about awareness and conversions but also about empathy and the ability to put the customer, their desires, and needs at the center.

Furthermore, it will allow you to focus users’ attention on specific content, helping them understand immediately what it’s about. Remember that to capture attention, often an image is better than a thousand words!

Finally, emojis can make your tone of voice friendly and more suitable for certain web environments, primarily social networks, helping you establish a more human and informal relationship with your potential customers.

If you’re still skeptical, here are the stats: according to the most recent statistics, on Facebook, 57% of posts using emojis receive better interactions. We ourselves conducted an A/B test on emoji usage some time ago.

A Few More Tips

In addition to what has been said so far, let’s conclude by providing you with a list of ideas and useful tips not to forget!

  • Make sure you know the emojis you use

    Emojis don’t always have such an immediate meaning, and the risk of encountering a double meaning is always around the corner. If you don’t know what you’re writing, don’t write it. And avoid sending eggplants to your boss πŸ†πŸ†.

  • Context is key

    Think of it this way: sending an email full of emojis to the marketing department of a prospect would be like showing up at a board meeting in shorts and flip-flops. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, it’s better to avoid it.

  • Don’t overdo it!

    While one or two emojis can evoke sympathy, a copy composed solely of emojis will have the opposite effect. Remember that your goal is to get closer to the customer by communicating an emotion, not making them decipher an encrypted message.

  • Respect your brand’s message

    If you’re the manager of a pub, and your audience is young people, an extra emoji won’t hurt. If you work at the Ministry of Justice, it’s probably better to avoid all those hearts.

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