Welcome to the new digital age – an era of hybrid communication where we revert to the ancient use of pictographs as written language. Smiley face email emoji This new world is the world of the email emoji.

From NPR, the story of the emoji starts in Japan in the mid-1990s.

Back then, pagers were all the rage with teenagers. The ability to send an image of a cartoon heart was one of the unique features on DoCoMo pagers. That’s widely believed to be the first instance of an emoji.

Twenty years later…

Apple included the first official emoji keyboard in iOS 5 and emojis were standardized by the Unicode consortium as part of Unicode 6.0.

Since then, email emoji usage has exploded (image from Instagram):

Email emoji usage over time

Emojis and Emoticons are NOT the Same Thing

Before we dive further into the benefits of using emojis in social media or an email emoji for your marketing campaigns, it’s important to point out that emojis and emoticons are not the same thing.

Being somewhat green myself, I thought they were interchangeable.

To avoid further confusion, here are their definitions:


An emoticon is a short sequence of keyboard letters and symbols, usually emulating a facial expression that complements a text message. Here are some examples:

🙂 Smile
😉 Smile with a wink
:<}) User with mustache, smiling
:-|| Mad
🙁 Sad
:’ -( Crying
:~ Also crying
:-)) Really happy
😀 Big grin
:-* A kiss
:-P~ A lick
😮 Wow! or I’m surprised
😐 Grim
😛 Sticking out your tongue
:- User happens to be Popeye
:-/ Perplexed
=:O Frightened (hair standing on end)
=8O Bug-eyed with fright
:-} Embarrassed smile
:-)<>>>>> Basic Smiley with a necktie
;-^) Tongue in cheek
%*@:-( Hungover
:-~~~ Drooling
>:) Perplexed look
.) Keeping an eye out for you
8:-) Glasses on forehead

Definition of Emoji:

The word emoji means “picture letter” in Japanese. Each character has an official name, defined as part of the Unicode standard. The encyclopedia of emojis called Emojipedia exists to add more context to each emoji character than can be provided by the official Unicode name. Find out what is this emoji by entering an emoji character or name into the search field.

For a complete list of all emojis, start with your platform preference:

What does an email emoji mean on Snapchat?

  • iOS (for iPhone and iPad) and OS X (for Mac): Apple Emoji List 2015. Changes from the 2014 Apple Emoji List include skin tone modifiers (for pale, cream white, moderate brown, dark brown, and black emojis), additional family combinations, new country flags, and some refined images.

And the latest addition to the email emoji hot list:

  • Instagram: Recently, Instagram updated its app and added a crucial new feature – the ability to use emoji as hashtags. Within the first week, these were the most popular emoji hashtags on Instagram along with the number of times used:

Most popular email emoji hashtags on Instagram

Smile, Wink, Pray: How to Use Emojis in Social Media

According to a Business Insider Intelligence report, characters now make up 40 percent of messaging on networks like Instagram and Twitter. As part of your social media marketing plan, here are a couple of ways to test the use of emojis:

Can Use of an Email Emoji Open Email – Hum?

Mycleveragency.com tested the question, “Can emojis open an email?”

The short answer: YES

  • 56% of brands that Experian analyzed experienced an increase in open rates when icons were included in email subject lines.
  • An A/B test by Swiftpage showed higher unique opens (+3.29%), unique clicks (+6.28%), and click-through rates (+18.93%) for an identical subject line that featured a symbol.

Most popular emojis by subject line appearances

Earlier this year, MailChimp announced support for emojis in subject lines. The MailChimp data shows thousands of marketers running email campaigns are including emojis in their subject headings. Here is a chart listing the top 15:

Top 15 email emoji by subject line appearance

A warning:

MailChimp warns us that not all email clients support all symbols. Whether your target audience wants to see an emoji in your subject line or not, they’re less likely to engage with any that look like this:

MailChimp Email Emoji example incorrect

rather than this:

MailChimp Email Emoji example correct

Emoji Best Practices

From Can Using an Emoji Help Open an Email?:

1. Like most social media marketing tactics, understand you target audience.

2. Test thoroughly to see how your intended emoticon will appear across the popular email clients. See “A warning” above.

3. Watch your tone-of-voice. If you’re working B2B, with a serious brand message, perhaps a smiley face isn’t right for that email.

4. Don’t over do it – the novelty will wear off 🙂

5. Use the icon early to make sure it shows up in the preview.

6. Remember that a high open-rate doesn’t necessarily equal conversions.


What do you think of using an email emoji?