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Emoji analysis reveals new insights into customer sentiment

Posted October 28, 2021
Person walking on street holding coffee and smart phone with emojis floating around it

Over the past decade, emojis have transformed the way we communicate in both personal and professional settings. As effortless as a keystroke, these little icons can tell our friends, families and colleagues whether we’re feeling happy, hungry, dejected — or that we’d rather be sipping cocktails on a beach. 🍹🏖️

In a recent article in The Guardian, cognitive science researcher Benjamin Weissman explained that emojis “give us a way to enrich the text-based medium. Just as facial expressions and gestures are intrinsic to our face-to-face conversations, it’s easy for us to use emojis in our electronic conversations to fulfil some of the same functions.”

As a result of their expressive qualities, emojis have become a vital tool customers use in order to communicate with businesses. In turn, it’s important for brands to have a grasp of the complex usage of emojis, as well as the nuances of cultural and social context surrounding them, to better understand customers’ sentiments and deliver the best possible customer experience.

Emojis are ubiquitous

An integral part of digital communication, emojis enable people to succinctly provide emotional context for their statements. Emojis add humanity to text-based media where you can’t see faces or hear intonation. In fact, Adobe conducted a study of over 7,000 global emoji users, and 88% of respondents said that they were more empathetic toward people who use emojis in their digital communications.

The same Adobe survey also shared that 71% of respondents said using emojis in a professional setting positively impacts both credibility and likability. For example: If a leader messages a team member “Nice one,” there is little in the text to confirm the leader’s sentiment. The recipient might even wonder if the leader is being sarcastic. Now compare that to another leader who adds emojis and sends, “Nice one 😁🕺.” These small additions add tone and context, and let the recipient know the sender is genuinely congratulating them for a job well done.

These findings by Adobe underline that businesses can’t afford to ignore emojis. Brands that use them in their communications, whether in marketing emails, website copy or support responses, stand a better chance at connecting with their customers on a human level. But brands need to be cautious in their emoji interpretation and use; not everyone uses emojis the same way.

Differences and nuances in emoji use

Emojis convey a lot of meaning, but the intended meaning is not always straightforward. There are differences in the cultural, social, geographical and even generational use of emojis that companies must take into account in order to fully grasp their customers’ sentiments.

In a study published in Computers and Human Behavior, researchers showed that age and gender have a marked effect on emoji use, while a different study in the journal Online Networks and Social Media made it clear there are also linguistic, geographic and cultural differences in how people interpret and deploy emojis. To call back to Adobe’s research, 63% of Gen Z agree that they use emojis differently than their intended meaning. This goes to show that broadly speaking, the same emoji can mean something very different depending on these different contexts so it’s vital to factor this in when performing analysis.

Brands that analyze their customers’ emoji use can develop a deeper understanding of the sentiments they’re expressing and unlock new potential for enhanced loyalty, retention and revenue. Read on for different ways to make that a reality.

Voice of the customer

Voice of the customer (VoC) analysis is a way to understand what customers want and need from your company, and how they feel about your brand. It can take many forms and have many components, but at its core VoC involves reviewing customer input in an effort to improve future experiences. When your VoC program takes into account large volumes of text data, text analytics solutions are essential — but don’t limit yourself to the alphabet. Emojis have become an integral part of a text-based VoC program.

Text analytics

Text analytics solutions enable brands to capture the valuable information embedded within text-based communication, regardless of the channel through which the text is submitted. These analytic tools gather inputs from across text-based channels and sort through the data to highlight themes, recurring issues and customer sentiment. To really grasp the full extent of what customers are expressing, it’s important to maintain the emojis within the data.

By making sure that your analytics tool picks up emojis, you retain all of the critical information that a customer is sending your way. For example, “Great customer service” is very different from “Great customer service 🙄.” A study in the journal PLOS ONE on expressing sarcasm and irony through emojis concluded that “😉” as a marker for sarcasm or irony has the same effect on the brain as verbal irony. Ignoring emojis in favor of only text can have a detrimental effect on any brand’s understanding of customer expression.

Sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis focuses specifically on the opinions a customer is conveying in any interaction. In order to enhance the customer experience, and improve retention and loyalty, you have to understand how customers feel in their interactions with your brand. Are they frustrated? Grateful? Enthusiastic? Angry?

If customers are using emojis, the puzzle can come together more easily. Sentiment analysis measures polarity (positive to negative) and intensity (strength from low to high) — two attributes that come together to map and visualize customer emotions. From there, brands can identify whether or not things are trending in the right direction. This alone is a powerful tool, but it can be made to be even more nuanced. Knowing which platform the emojis came from, for instance, can help you learn which channels are doing better than others at CX delivery, or which platform has a more loyal fan base.

Altogether, VoC programs establish an understanding of how your customers feel about your brand. And that understanding is substantially deeper when you account for emojis.

Use emoji analytics to improve CX

Emojis may seem like a foreign language, but the challenges of understanding their use and incorporating them into your text analysis aren’t insurmountable. An experienced partner can help.

Getting emoji analytics right empowers brands to gain insight into how and why customers use emojis, and what their usage says about their sentiments. With this information in your arsenal, you can leverage it against key operational metrics to improve customer experience and build on customer loyalty and retention.

If you want to know whether your customers feel 😊 or 😩 about your brand, emoji analytics will help you get the full picture.

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