Emojis are taking over e-mail subject lines everywhere.
A study by Appboy finds that the volume of “active customer messaging campaigns that include emojis” grew by 609 percent in just one year (June 2015-June 2016).
And why not? Most people like emojis, according to the same research. Sixty-four percent said they like or even love emojis. But that doesn’t translate into liking/loving the brands that apply emojis liberally.
Of the 540 participants in the Appboy survey, 39 percent said brands that use emojis are fun; another 13 percent said the brands are relatable. The balance, however, found messages with emojis to be at best “normal” and at worst “childish” or “inappropriate.”
This tracks with research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science that considered how consumers react to a smiling face versus a smiley face. What they found should give you pause before punctuating your next email campaign with an emoji.
Researchers discovered that people who smile are perceived as more competent than those who wear a neutral face—whether live and in person, or in a photo. But people who use smiley emojis are seen as less competent.
This is especially true for work-related e-mails.
“The study also found when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” said lead author Ella Glikson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing” (Telegraph.co.uk, Aug. 14, 2017).
So, when is it okay for a brand to use an emoji?
Emojis aren’t made to be taken seriously. The Appboy study said as much (39 percent of respondents said brands that use them are “fun”). So, if you’re a light-hearted brand, say in the food and beverage business, travel and tourism or entertainment industry, an emoji may be just the right amount of cowbell for your campaign.
Some channels are more emoji worthy, according to the Appboy research. Survey participants were most open to receiving brand messages with emojis via text message (37 percent) or social media (28 percent) rather than through messaging apps, email or push notifications. Consider this sweet tweet from Baskin-Robbins. Now that’s fun.