The day emojis took over the world came last month when Facebook offered its 1.5 billion users five little face symbols for Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry to express their reactions beyond the all-purpose Like button. Emoji fans could already choose from hundreds of the tiny icons (going way beyond faces) to add to text messages, email, Twitter, Instagram, videos, even nail decals.

Marketers have glommed on to emojis big time. The movie “Deadpool” recently ran a billboard campaign that just displayed [skull emoji] [pile of poo emoji] and the letter “L”. Last year, Chevrolet issued a press release entirely in emojis. In fact, so many marketing stunts ran with emojis last year that Advertising Age could salute the Top 10.

Marketing for your local business should speak emoji, too, to lighten up your messaging, to get your email campaigns opened, to join in conversations on social media and to reach young women, the heaviest users of emojis.

What Are Emojis?

Pictographs: nothing new in human history — King Tut was a well-known early adopter. Emojis first appeared for texting in Japan in the 1990s but Apple kicked off the latest craze in 2011 when it introduced an internal keyboard for the iPhone with a large library of colorful emojis users could easily insert into messages. Other phone makers followed. To be clear, emojis are mainly a mobile phenomenon (though they can also display in web browsers).

In order for emojis to appear as images across many devices, each has a unique bit of code (or Unicode). According to the Emojipedia (where you can look them all up), 845 emojis are currently recognizable by any system, and 1,620 can be used in Apple’s latest operating system.

The Unicode Consortium periodically approves a new batch of emojis – a Chicago hot dog stand, Superdawg, lobbied the Consortium for two years to approve a hot dog emoji, released late last year. Big companies have also pushed to get product-specific emoji approved so they can offer “branded keyboards” for smartphones.

Superdawg Facebook

Emoji Marketing in Text Messages

Texting is the natural habitat of emojis so marketing with the little icons doesn’t seem intrusive here. Domino’s Pizza is a pioneer: Customers can simply text a pizza-slice emoji to order a pie, once they register their address and mushroom, anchovy, etc. preferences on the Domino’s website.

Emojis Marketing on Facebook

Facebook’s “Reactions” emojis likely are a game-changer, but not right away. For now, the company says it will treat any Reaction, even Angry, as equivalent to a Like, for purposes of ranking posts to consider them for inclusion in the News Feed of followers (though good luck to any business trying to get included in the feed—notoriously difficult). Down the road, it could be that a bunch of Angry emojis would affect a local business’s reputation on Facebook, particularly as the site develops its local listings – but that’s just speculation. You’ll be able to see Reactions to your posts and ads in your Facebook metrics to get an overall sense of sentiment for your business. And you’ll see how each customer emojis you. With visible Angry symbols now possible, time to think through your drill for dealing with unhappy customers on Facebook.

Facebook Reactions

Emojis Marketing on Twitter

Bud Light points the way to a simple but effective emoji advertising campaign on Twitter. For the Fourth of July, it assembled an American flag from flag and beer-glass emojis – an eye-catching image that almost 145,000 people re-tweeted. You can add an emoji to your business name on Twitter, though choices are restricted to this list. Twitter also creates Hashflags that automatically convert hashtags to emoji for major events like the Oscars, and it sells custom Hashflags to big businesses like Coca Cola.

Emoji Marketing in Emails

With more and more emails viewed on mobile devices, the available space to show your audience a subject line has shrunk, and use of space-saving emojis in subject lines has grown, particularly taking off last year as email vendors began to support the subject line emoji. MailChimp studied the 15 most-used subject line emojis among several thousand messages and found number one was the boring old circle-R for “registered”, along with six variations on the smiley face, two hearts, and a thumbs up. Do the symbols result in higher open rates for email messages? Yes, MailChimp found; no, concluded a similar study from email metrics firm Return Path.

Product Hunt Email Subject Line

Cautions and Tips

1.  Big technical caution: Though the Unicode is standard, different phone operating systems and email service providers will display a different image to render the same code. Usually, differences are slight but sometimes, as this video from Slate shows, they’re way off: a surprised boy emoji texted from a Samsung phone comes out as a sad ogre on Microsoft. Worst case, an emoji may render as an empty little box, for instance on Outlook 2003 for email, which doesn’t tolerate this sort of silliness in subject lines. So test your messages across platforms.

2.  Keep it simple. The two basic ways to use emojis are 1) as exclamation points that finish a string of words with a flourish that conveys a meaning or feeling and 2) as word substitutes mixed in a sentence or lined up on their own. Either way, they grab the attention of the audience with a little puzzle to be solved—what do they mean?—and that’s a moment of fun. For marketing purposes, keep it fun by sticking to a few symbols that are quickly recognized.

3.  Texting and social media are primarily for private communication, and so are emoji. And when brands pile on to a good, new thing, they tend to over-do. Recently, several brands appropriated the key emoji made popular by Snapchat personality D.J. Khaled, to denote “major keys” to success, his words-to-the-wise sayings. They got shamed on social media. So major key advice for business use of emojis: Show some [heart] and hold your [horse][horse][horse].