How emojis provide an emotional dimension to cross-cultural messages

The Language of the 

This post is contributed by Brenda Storch, Director, Multicultural Social Media and Shawn Savage, Senior Engagement Specialist

In an era of digital, telegraphic communications, old and new codes provide an emotional dimension to cross-cultural messages

We can relate.

Many of us have developed a Pavlovian response to the alerts on our phones. Wireless communication and social media have changed the way we behave, the way we interact with others, the way we eat lunch and even the way we talk and write.

This is a time of dramatic linguistic change. The dictionary (let alone our vernacular) is expanding faster than ever before. With nearly 37% of adults in the US regularly using emojis , we have “left-swept” past abbreviating our words. Images are now accurately capturing and summarizing our thoughts and feelings.

But, what happens when the audience speaks another language?

There are 57 million+ Latinos in the US, of which 55% are bilingual and 19% are Spanish dominant according to the 2016 Nielsen Hispanic Report. With social media’s ever growing presence and its particular relevance within this segment, many marketers often feel at a loss for words.

To Ñ or not to Ñ

Character count in social media has had a huge impact on the written word, and while brands have transformed the way they speak to both fit the channel and become more relatable, grammar in Spanish might add an extra layer of difficulty for Hispanic marketers to peel back.

For example, Epsilon honed in on two emotionally-charged Spanish words that contain “ñ,” “quinceañera” and “español”. We pulled US mentions for these words with and without “ñ” over the course of three months on Twitter, and found that the word “quinceañera” with “ñ” was used 1,000% + more than without “ñ.” Moreover, 2,100% + more people spelled the word “español” with “ñ” than without it.

Despite the fact brands will see some consumers dropping the tilde on the “ñ” and other punctuations in social media, an overwhelming majority of Spanish-speaking consumers still take the time to incorporate them. Could it be because modern day keyboards and smartphones make it easy to access them? Perhaps. It could also be because including the tilde is the right way to spell it, and the right way just feels more organic.

While striving for relatability, brands should understand what can be sacrificed for the sake of brevity and what needs to be kept for the sake of authenticity.

The universal language of 

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” and with the 6 billion emojis sent everyday worldwide,  this statement rings true more than ever before. An emerging and ever expanding pictographic code, emojis have become not only prevalent, but effective in conveying emotionally-charged messages and enhancing their engagement power in social media platforms.  Tweets that include emojis increase engagement by more than 25 percent, while posts with emojis in Facebook boost likes by 57 percent, as well as comments and shares by more than 30 percent.

Personal experiences are a lens that individuals use to create and filter messages in any language. This is also true with culture and emojis. A fascinating study by media company Swiftkey analyzed over one billion of them to understand their usage across 16 different languages and regions. The results show a clear preference among countries. For example Spain overindexes in party emojis, while France uses the heart emoji more than 4X the world average. Argentina, Colombia and Brazil love the music emoji, while the US leads the world in the use of a few, including royalty, money and meat emojis.

As it is the case with any language, the meaning of emojis is highly contextual. When using them, understanding your audience is critical. A safer approach? 1. Do not make assumptions and, 2., seek universality. And if emoji usage stats paint the portrait of a people, brace yourself- the most used emoji for 2016 worldwide was the red heart symbol.

Perhaps there is hope after all.