Facebook and Twitter are employing Emoji to provide their users with the most intuitive and expressive response tools

Facebook users have been feeling increasingly restrained by the emotionally-limited “like” button, and many had proposed the addition of a “dislike” button to give users more choices when interacting on the platform. “Likes” present a problem, Mark Zuckerberg recently explained, because one response is not always adequate when users are interacting with content from their friends and family Facebook: “Not every moment is a good moment if you share something that’s sad, like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post…I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.”

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Facebook’s solution arrived last month in the form of an all-new “Reactions” toolbar of six expressive emoji, including symbols to communicate agreement, happiness, laughter, sadness, and anger. “Reactions” is currently limited to Facebook users located in Spain and Ireland, which serve as prime test groups because, according to Director or Product Adam Mosseri, “both have largely national user bases without extensive international friend networks.” While Ireland’s population speaks English, Spanish Facebook can be used to test the reception of the wordless emoji among non-English users.

In implementing the “Reactions” toolbar, Facebook was merely following the example set by their users, who had already begun to use the expressive visual Stickers to respond to posts. By further integrating emoji into their system, Facebook will have more access to data about individual users’ habits and emotional patterns, which will then be used for advertising and marketing purposes. Product Manager Chris Tosswill posted on the topic: “Initially, just as we do when someone likes a post, if someone uses a Reaction, we will infer that they want to see more of that type of post.” Tosswill points out that Reactions will influence ad delivery just as “likes” do, allowing business owners and marketers to understand how their customers are interacting with their material on Facebook. Social media managers now have direct granular data about emotional responses to content, which will invariably lead to increasingly relevant material in the News Feeds of each and every user.

This update was also beneficial because Facebook is becoming predominantly reliant on mobile functionality as more users make mobile their default platform, so the issue of convenience and ease of expression needed to be addressed. Many users didn’t want to spend the time it would take to type their responses on their mobile phones, so “Reactions” will be an effective way to maintain user engagement.

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Facebook is not alone in embracing the emoji trend – Twitter began displaying emoji characters in April of 2014, and has stated that since then, emoji have become a “practical and fun way to convey extra meaning and emotion in the space of 140 characters.” In a study tracking emoji usage in Tweets about TV, Twitter saw that emoji were regularly used by users to quickly express emotions while live-Tweeting favorite TV shows. Studies show that when Tweeting about TV programs, users were most likely to employ the Oxford “Word of the Year” award-winning “crying from laughter” emoji. Emoji are also an undeniable way to connect with the youngest generation Twitter users, since 86% of emoji users in this study were 24 or younger, and nearly half of that number were between 18 and 24 years old.

Ever since changing their iconic “star” symbol to a “heart,” Twitter’s research reveals emoji usage increasing across the platform. Twitter continues to utilize emoji as a user engagement tool as they work on a new method of emoji response that would allow users to replace the heart symbol “like” with one of 36 options.

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This update would be a step in the direction of resolving the love-hate relationship Twitter has with its own characteristic 140-character limit. While the text limit makes Twitter unique, it also restricts how much users can communicate within one Tweet. Kevin Weil, Twitter’s SVP of Product, explained this dilemma in a recent interview: “Great product teams are always challenging their own assumptions, they’re always questioning their own core beliefs. When it comes to the 140-character limit, the way I think about it is brevity is a key part of Twitter, it’s what makes Twitter amazing, so the challenge and opportunity for us is ‘can we make it easier to Tweet, can we increase your ability to express yourself on Twitter?’”

Emoji have proven to be a fun and creative tool to solve Facebook and Twitters’ prevailing communication issues, and will undoubtedly be integrated into the future strategies of other social media networks.