Facebook recently completed research into how its users express amusement in their posts.
Of the many findings, a couple stood out to me:
- While ‘haha’ is still the most common form of expressing amusement, at 51.4%, emojis are a fast on the rise in a respectable second place, at 30.7%.
- What’s also interesting is that use of emojis to express amusement is the pastime of the young, whereas the other most common words – haha, hehe and lol – are used by progressively older demographics. Lol by the oldest of them all.
So lol is no longer an acceptable addition to your written communications … was it ever? If you’re my vintage, you’ll remember the days of MSN Messenger after school on the ‘family computer’, struggling with the AOL dial-up connection. There were lols aplenty scattered into those meandering and pointless conversations. You may even have known a few fellow school mates who, horror of horrors, brought the chat speak into their regular conversations. Instead of actually laughing out loud, these individuals literally lol-led at your in-person attempts at comedy. Or maybe your mum started texting ‘lol’ to you thinking that it stood for ‘lots of love’. Either way, lol, like early noughties fashion, is firmly out alongside some of it’s more cringy extensions like ‘megalols’. (Perhaps to be followed fairly quickly by banter, bantz and bantersaurus rex, which has already been thoroughly harvested for parody.)
But what exactly is the appeal of emojis to the younger ‘generation Z’? There are several theories.
We are bombarded by written communication, but we no longer expect this to be very formal, as our grandparents would be used to. Perhaps at school you were told to try to speak as you would write a letter? Now, the challenge for individuals, as well as brands, is to do the opposite: create written communication that is informal and non-stuffy, and that accurately reflects the feeling and humour that we’d convey in a personal exchange. Most likely you know how nuance and emotion lost via email communication can result in accidental offence taken. Pictures are much less ambiguous. What better way to make sure your recipient knows you’re joking than my adding a winky face emoji to the end of your sentence?
Not everyone is a professional writer either, and we’re all under time pressure. Do you spend hours crafting a minor work of literature messaging your friend about how you’re feeling a bit down, or do you just add a sad smiley? We Brits traditionally find emotional conversations difficult (stiff upper lip and all that); maybe emojis appeal to us as they are much easier than having to articulate feelings.
So how can this research help us improve content marketing? Obviously, don’t ‘lol’ your teenage target audience. But the point runs deeper than that: to successfully connect, you need to truly understand your target audience; what they talk about and, crucially, how they do so. Social listening, the technique of gathering and analysing the conversations your audience is having on social media channels, can really help out in this area. By doing this research, not only will you understand the topics of most importance to your audience, but you’ll also have a sense of the language and phrases most commonly used. Equipped with these insights, you’ll add depth and authenticity to your content calendar and, crucially, avoid putting your linguistic foot in it with naff, inauthentic slang.