The trials and tribulations of emojis 🙃

This isn't the first, and it certainly won't be the last time I talk about these guys.

Hello! I missed last week, because I was going to write about Australia and then everything changed for the millionth time and I decided not to. Or perhaps this was always going to be fortnightly… we’ll see for sure next week.

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I am locked in a love-loathe relationship with emojis.

Working in social media has only intensified these complex feelings too, as their use is all the more nuanced when you’re using them as a brand rather than an individual.

These little faces and icons have gone from being something my generation wildly overused on MSN, to something my parents’ generation wildly overuse on Facebook. But there’s so much more to these guys than that.

The process for creating a new emoji is wonderfully complicated.

A group called the Unicode Consortium are responsible for ensuring all our phones and computers are able to read, send and receive the same symbols. They are the reason that you can all see this [🤩] regardless of what kind of device you are using.

A lot of their work is actually to do with characters for other languages, but the emoji decisions are what has really thrown this very important group into the limelight.

The group’s members come from all sorts of interesting backgrounds: from senior figures at major tech companies like Apple and Google, to stakeholders from the Malaysian government and the Lithuanian Standards Board. The Unicode Consortium comes together a few times a year to debate and discuss the new emoji updates.

But anyone can suggest a new emoji; it’s a totally open process, albeit one with exceptionally strict guidelines.

New emojis:

  • Must not be too specific (e.g. a lollipop in a particular shade of blue)

  • Must not represent a brand or company

  • Must not be of any specific person (alive or dead) or deity

  • Must not be already constructible through existing emojis

  • Must not be associated with a short-term fad or meme

If you can think of something which is missing, you can fill out the incredibly detailed form here, and - if you’re approved - you can expect to see your new icon in your keyboard within 18 months-2 years.

At this point you might be asking yourself what’s so great (or what’s so terrible) about emojis. Why have you spent an entire newsletter talking about something so inconsequential, Marthe?

Because they are massively changing the way we communicate.

In the same manner that Twitter has condensed discourse and discussions to 280-character faeces-slinging shouting matches, emojis have become a huge part of how we connect with other people.

For many of us, particularly but not exclusively people who are neurodivergent, emojis serve as really useful, informal tone indicators. They help convey the nuance of our words that we lose when our communication is written rather than oral.

Of course there are multiple other tone indicators we use without being conscious of them, like capital/lowercase letters and punctuation, but emojis are fast becoming one of the most effective ways to help us express meaning not only more efficiently, but also more specifically.

Nowadays though, as with everything, emojis are becoming a demarcation of age and coolness.

I’m newly-27, so I’m in the odd crossover in the Venn diagram between uncool millennial and cool zoomer. My younger sisters would say I’m firmly in the former, but my hatred of these three specific emojis 🤣🙈😭 would suggest otherwise.

Along with side partings, Gen-Z are keen to rid the world of the laugh-cry emoji, and I don’t disagree (although I will never be a centre-parting person).

But soon a younger, edgier generation will come along and begin mocking Gen-Z’s sarcastic use of 🤪 and their love of 💀.

I have no qualms with anyone’s personal emoji usage, but I genuinely think this new world of communication is fascinating. It’s no longer just about whether or not you use these little icons, but about exactly which you choose, why you choose them, and when you type them.

Which brings me onto one of the best parts of my job: emoji education.

The above is a snippet of an email I sent to my colleagues last week, offering a little guidance on appropriate emojis to use on our work social accounts.

Fun as that email was to write, send, and then discuss - it’s something that people working in social media have to consider.

I use more emojis in work tweets than personal ones, often as bullet points to break down the key themes in a story, or as a tone indicator (!) of sorts for our readers.

I’m obviously never going to put 😭 in relation to an article on the violence Indigenous communities face in the Amazon, but I may use 🐝 in a tweet about the importance of pollinators. When used right, they are genuinely great (even if Gen-Z aren’t huge fans).

I’ll leave you this week with the excellent reply-all I received to the above email. And I’ll say the same to you as I did to everyone else: ask your parents or Urban Dictionary if you need them explained.

Also - if you’re free at 12pm UK time on Friday, I’m talking about sustainability and the media for half an hour in a free event with Bagboard and Capture. Please do join! I’m likely to go on another rant about greenwashing and influencers agin, which is always fun.

Tickets are available here