Have you really laughed behind the screen? How has emoji changed online communication

Living in a digital age, online communication seems to be the dominant way of communication in our daily life. It is normal for us to chat with families, friends and colleagues for hours each day, adding cute emojis behind each line to express our emotions at the moment. “Smiley face” is one of the most frequent emojis people use yearly according to Unicode. But is that also representing one of the most frequent emotions of the public? How has emoji changed online communication in general?

The History of Emoji: How It is Invented and Recognized


In 1999, through the hands of Shigetaka Kurita, a graphic designer for the telecom giant NTT DoCoMo in Japan, 176 emojis were created. The intention behind the invention was simple: DoCoMo had its very first mobile internet system that restricted an email to 250 characters but it wished more information could be passed on (CNN 2018). Shigetaka Kurita was given the task to “compress” information, discovering new ways of delivering information directly and effectively. Creatively, Kurita invented 176 emojis. They all fit in a 12 by 12 pixel grid, including numbers, weathers, sports and more. For the first time, emotional information was emphasized and could be delivered that concisely through emails.

One of Kurita’s original sketches for the original emoji set. Credit: Standards Manual

In 2010, Unicode officially released emoji which has later swept the world as a new mode of language. Due to its popularity, the emoji family has continued to grow yearly. New emojis are created each year, according to social trends and values. In 2020, COVID-19-themed emojis were added, including “face with masks” corresponding to the current pandemic.

However, not every new emoji is lucky enough to join the Unicode emoji family. There’s a strict selection process before each emoji gains approval. Does the new image or emoji have a clear indication? Does it connote a new idea or information without overlapping with previous ones? Will the public like it and use it in social media? As emoji has been approved as a language by Unicode, this thoroughly considered and detailed selection process is to ensure the effectiveness of this online language.

Present Application of Emoji: How Obsessed the Public is with Emoji

While Emoji has certainly redefined online communication since its birth, the next question that comes along is by how much.

Based on the data in annual Instagram users’ behaviors reports produced by Quintly, a company known for its social media analysis service, in 2017, approximately 57% of Instagram business users included at least one emoji in their posts; in 2018, the figure was nearly 45.1%; and in 2019, there were around 47.7% of business users including at least one emoji in their posts. Although the figures indicate that a large number of Instagram business users tend to apply emojis in their posts, there is a noticeable decrease in the percentage of business users who apply emojis.

However, when the number of emojis included per post is calculated for the three years, the numbers point to another direction. In 2017, there were at least 0.57 emojis included in each post analyzed by Quintly; in 2018, the average was approximately 1.397 emojis per post created by business users; the mean in 2019 was around 1.463 emojis per post. The average emojis included in each post-produced by business users tends to rise in three successive years.

The two findings together suggest an interesting trend: while less business users seem to be “obsessed” with emojis, the level of “obsession” increases for those business users who still stick to emojis. This finding on Instagram, one of the giants in social media platforms, implies general increasing popularity of or reliance on emojis.

Explaining the Trend: Motives for Using Emojis Come Into Play

What triggers this trend? Motives for using emoji are worthwhile to look into. Though the initial motive behind adding emoji in messages was to express greater ideas in limited characters, the current motives for applying emoji have evolved with the expanding emoji family. On a daily basis, social media users think it is more fun to use emojis; it makes themselves look kinder to others and more approachable as emojis ease potential tension in a conversation. Around 50% of people responded that emojis helped them create a more personal connection with others, and over 40% of them agreed that, compared to words, emojis were a better way to express emotions(EMarketer 2015). Positive responses tend to overcome negative ones when discussing the purpose of using emojis in a daily theme.

However, when it comes to a business setting, the discussion becomes more debatable and serious. Opinions vary significantly between younger employees of 18–29 years old and older employees of45 years old and above. About 46% of the former believes it is appropriate to use emojis at work with reasons similar to why they use emojis on a daily basis: it is more fun, more approachable and kinder to use emojis. Yet, the latter is 14% more likely to view emoji in the workplace as inappropriate (SurveyMonkey). Meanwhile, researches completed by Quintly (2017) have suggested when emoji is added to a post, interaction rate generally increases by 15%. For business profiles and accounts discussed in Quintly’s annual Instagram user behavior reports, this is an upside to be taken into account.

Contradicting opinions on using emojis in business settings are clear, with some business profiles still hesitate to apply emojis in their posts and others enjoying the increase in interaction rate brought by emojis.

Further Question to be Considered Before Emoji Completely Dominate Social Media

Indeed, with the trend and motives behind using emoji suggesting a positive idea of applying emoji on social media in general, a further question rises.

Do emojis really suggest better communication? Emojis is a creative way of expressing emotions in text without typing it out directly. But, if the emojis applied by the public really represent their true feelings is a question. They might be adhering to the social trend and trying to leave a better impression on others rather than expressing their feelings. Approximately 20% of respondents phrased their motives of using emojis as “other people are using them, so I use them too.”(EMarketer 2015) Even though the number is not as significant as the 40% who responded emojis are better to express their feelings(EMarketer 2015), it cannot not be overlooked and needs to be kept in mind when one analyzes the effect of emojis on online communication.


“About Emoji.” Unicode, 2 Mar. 2021, home.unicode.org/emoji/about-emoji/.

“Emoji Frequency.” Unicode, 14 Oct. 2019, home.unicode.org/emoji/emoji-frequency/.

“Emojis Help Consumers Communicate.” EMarketer, 14 Oct. 2015, www.emarketer.com/Article/Emojis-Help-Consumers-Communicate/1013102.

Gitlin, Jon. “Is It OK to Use Emojis at Work? Here's What the Data Tells Us.” SurveyMonkey, www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/is-it-ok-to-use-emojis-at-work-heres-what-the-data-tells-us/.

Herrmann, Nils. “Instagram Study: We Analyzed 9 Million Posts and Here's What We've Learned.” Social Media Analytics & Competitive Benchmarking, Quintly , 22 Nov. 2018, www.quintly.com/blog/instagram-study.

Kmieckowiak, Tilo. “Emojis Lead up to 47.7% More Interactions on Instagram.” Social Media Analytics & Competitive Benchmarking, Quintly , 24 Jan. 2017, www.quintly.com/blog/instagram-emoji-study#:~:text=Instagram%20Emojis%20Study%20Shows%3A%2056.5,one%20emoji%20in%20July%202017.

Michalski, Justina. “Instagram Study 2019: What We Learned Analyzing 5.4 Million Posts.” Social Media Analytics & Competitive Benchmarking, Quintly , 9 Sept. 2019, www.quintly.com/blog/instagram-study-2019.

Pardes, Arielle. “The Complete History of Emoji.” Wired, Conde Nast, 1 Feb. 2018, www.wired.com/story/guide-emoji/.

Prisco, Jacopo. “Shigetaka Kurita: The Man Who Invented Emoji.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 May 2018, edition.cnn.com/style/article/emoji-shigetaka-kurita-standards-manual/index.html.




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