February 23, 2017

The Language of Things: Slang, Emojis, Reactions

In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year wasn’t a word at all. It was an emoji: face with tears of joy. It was the first time in history that a picture was named “word” of the year, and the award signified how the way we communicate has evolved since IMs, text messaging, and social media have become popular channels for communication. And popular they are:

These methods of communication have altered the way we communicate—not only from individual to individual, but from brand to consumer. Business has become more shorthand. And while it’s critical to meet customers where they are and communicate with them using the language they’re comfortable with, it’s important to remember that the customer experience is impacted by brief sentiments.

As with any emerging language or new technology, brands must incorporate these elements into different touchpoints of the customer experience journey. Being able to communicate shorthand can speed things up, but can also lose an element of humanness - walking the language transformation tightrope becomes a learned skill to influence and gauge customer sentiment.

Communicating with Slang

For some brands, using slang in social media posts and marketing campaigns leads to incredible success. Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example. Using casual language and wit in their advertising campaign the startup was able to attract enough attention to take on major brands like Gillette and Schick.

But like all communications, using slang is only appropriate if it resonates with your audience.

Poor slang usage can damage perception of your brand. In fact, in a 2016 study of why users unfollow brands, respondents named using slang and jargon as one most annoying things brands do on social media—second only to posting too many promotions. Slang certainly has a place in marketing. But it must be used correctly, and it must cater to your audience.

Used effectively, slang can entertain and delight audiences. Used incorrectly, slang can seriously damage your brand’s reputation. However, using slang and casual language can delight audiences when used appropriately. IHOP received nearly 5,000 retweets with a simple post using the lyrics of a Missy Elliott song to advertise its pancakes:

Communicating with Emojis

Ten years ago, LOL was the preferred method of signifying via text that you found something funny. But LOL has fallen out of favor in recent years, replaced by smiling, laughing, and face with tears of joy emojis.

Emojis play an important role in providing contextual cues in written communications. When we communicate in person or over the phone, visual and verbal cues help us better understand the meaning of words. If someone says something sarcastic, we understand that it’s sarcasm by interpreting tone and voice inflections, or by observing that someone smiled at the end of a sentence. But when communicating with words only, those visual and audio cues are absent.

Emojis allow for the reinsertion of contextual, visual cues in written communications. If you want someone to understand that a statement was a joke, you can follow the statement with a winky face emoji.

But, again, you have to consider your audience when employing emojis in your messaging. In a recent study conducted by Appboy, 52% of respondents stated that the use of emojis by brands was relatable or fun, but 23% found the use of emojis to be childish or inappropriate. With the right audience, emojis can delight customers. With the wrong audience, using emojis can damage your brand.

For brands, emojis can be used as a differentiator. Coca-Cola has its own custom Twitter emoji, and you can order from Domino’s by tweeting a pizza emoji. Brands can use emojis to decrease character counts for posts while still signifying sentiment, to vary text-heavy posts by adding visual appeal, and to differentiate itself in search results. In some cases, emojis appear in search snippets and help results stand out:

Interpreting Reactions

The newest method of communication occurs through Facebook reactions. Released last year as an expansion on the “like” button, reactions allow Facebook audiences to express their opinion on posts without commenting.

Last year, a technology failure led to Southwest Airlines having to cancel more than 4,000 flights over several days. The company’s CEO released a live broadcast on Facebook detailing what had occurred and the steps they were taking to recover and get flights going again. The broadcast received nearly 8,000 reactions: more than 80% were like and love reactions, and fewer than 10% were angry or sad reactions.

Facebook reactions can be used to gather insight into what posts delight audiences and what posts damage the customer relationship. Certainly the 80% of people who liked or loved Southwest’s live broadcast weren’t thrilled by the situation of thousands of planes being grounded. They were reacting to the way the company handled communications.

When testing new communication styles, consider posting them to Facebook first. By analyzing how your followers react to your posts, you can determine which communication styles are right for your audience, and which should be left behind.

One creative example of using Facebook reactions is in collecting sentiments during live coverage. Several applications are available that allow you to display reaction counts on-screen during live coverage, and it makes a fun and interactive way to engage with offsite fans during live coverage events.

Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

As communication continues to evolve, it’s important for brands to consider how these changes can be used to support the customer experience journey. Communicating with your audience in their preferred style can boost engagement and create more personalized experiences, but only if you understand exactly what types of communication styles your audience prefers.

When considering a shift in your communication style, start small. Use slang sparingly, and incorporate emojis into your communications occasionally. Then, measure how your audience reacts. Monitor Facebook reactions, and track your unfollow and unsubscribe rates. With a methodical approach to incorporating new communication styles into your brand communications, you can ensure your efforts are enabling—rather than hampering—the customer experience.