PRmoment Leaders PA Mediapoint PA Assignments PRCA PRmoment Awards Winners North Creative Moment Awards 2024 PR Masterclass: AI in PR

Study shows how the wrong emoji may pose a reputational risk

An ill-placed emoji brings laughter to my family group chat. But we move on pretty quickly to the next faux pas. The thing is: brands aren’t afforded the same grace.

When they mess up, it gets people talking (not to mention screenshotting) and leaves a lasting mark. If you're thinking, “Well, sure, you’ve got to be careful with what you say online,” that’s true—but it’s not enough for businesses to only consider the impact of words; visual language needs to be considered, too.

When agencies speak to brands, emojis are often at the bottom of the visual language list when, in reality, they’re the 21st-century way of adding personality to digital communications.

PR agency Brands2Life commissioned research to show businesses the impact of not speaking emoji. Sourced from a survey of 2,000 UK adults conducted by research firm Opinium and a survey of marketing professionals, both conducted from December-January 2024, the results were eye-opening.

41% of people think the use of an unprofessional or insensitive emoji on social can damage a brand’s reputation. And one-quarter of people would consider not buying from a brand if it inappropriately used emojis on social media.

Then, as expected, the audience plays a huge role in the way emojis are understood...

Take ‘😂’; for many, it’s used to represent laughter... but so are ‘💀’ and ‘😭’. Dropping ‘👌’ can mean okay - or it can be used to display sarcasm. And ‘🚁’ isn’t just a helicopter, it also represents the want to escape from an awkward situation.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so brands have got to know who they’re speaking to, to ensure the intended meaning is understood.

And it’s not just about age, this goes for the location being targeted too.

What % of people would avoid a brand on social media if it inappropriately used emojis?


Not to mention how views differ between platforms. Across the board, the study, perhaps unsurprisingly, identified TikTok users as having the strongest opinions.

What % of social media users agree the wrong use of emojis can damage a brands reputation?


The research speaks for itself: not considering inclusivity through emoji use can literally be bad for business, since one-quarter of people would consider stopping buying from a brand if its use of emojis wasn’t inclusive.

Whilst building a positive brand identity is important, the value of proper emoji use goes beyond vanity; it’s about making your audience feel genuinely welcome and included on your channels, turning passers-by into long-term followers and engaged customers.

So, in a world where reputation means a lot, the trick is learning how to speak emoji as the language evolves, so you don’t attract unwanted attention.

Article written by Kinda Jackson, managing director of digital, social and influencer at Brands2Life

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for free to our twice weekly editorial alert.

We have six email alerts in total - covering ESG, internal comms, PR jobs and events. Enter your email address below to find out more: