What Your Nose (or Lack Thereof) Says About You

Did I get you with that headline? Here’s what you came for: Tyler Schnoebelen, a Stanford-trained linguist at the forefront of research in today’s use of emojis discovered through his analysis of emoticon use on Twitter that a divide exists between people who include a hyphen to represent a nose in smiley faces— :-)  and people who use the shorter version without the hyphen— :). “The nose is associated with conventionality. People using a nose also tend to spell words out completely. They use fewer abbreviations. People who use no noses tend to be tweeting more about Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber. They have younger interests, younger concerns, whether or not they’re younger.”

Okay, wait. The “forefront of research in emojis?” That’s real?

Evidently so. The #IS6621 feed itself has spoken several times to the uptick in use of emojis by brands and marketers in a variety of ways. During the Super Bowl, we saw the branded hashtag emoji give some extra color to our Twitter feeds, and now, more and more, we’re seeing brands embracing the emoji and all it has to offer.

Which begs the question: what exactly do emojis have to offer?

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It’s no mystery that emojis have become part of the way we communicate. I didn’t realize prior to doing some digging and reading that some people are actually in semi-panic mode about the possibility (or reality) that emojis are replacing– or at the least diminishing– written language. If you’re on the same wavelength as me, this probably sounds a bit dramatic to say the least, but the fact that emojis are becoming increasingly commonplace in the messages we send and use to communicate proves that there’s real value there, and that we should definitely think about the implications.

When we think about emojis, our first instinct is likely to envision the handful that we most frequently use. These are, by definition, the ones we believe best express our tone and our emotion in many of the messages we send. The way we use them differs based on our gender, the recipient(s), the channel, the friend group, the context, and more. Overall, research has shown that we interact with emojis much in the same way we do with real faces. When we see a smiling emoticon, our brain reacts much in the same way it does when we see a real face. Messages with emoticons are seen as more enjoyable and personal, and in general, people think messages with emojis are written by writers that are more committed. For brands and marketers, this is a no-brainer. Using emojis can help a brand achieve a more personable and unconventional tone, and appeal to the all-important ~millennials.~

However, a brand that doesn’t completely agree is Always. As part of its #LikeaGirl campaign, they called attention to the message sent by the selection of emojis itself; namely, the utter lack of female emojis portrayed doing activities outside of getting a manicure, doing a hair flip, or being a bride. The Unicode Consortium (the emoji gods) is not new to these criticisms, having rolled out non-white emojis just last year in response to a lack of diversity among emoji skin tones. Still, Always found that 67% of girls feel that emojis subtly reinforce societal stereotypes by implying that girls are limited in what they can do.

The director of the campaign spot, documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker commented, “Society has a tendency to send subtle messages that can limit girls to stereotypes. As someone who has studied sociolinguistics, I know the kind of impact even seemingly innocuous language choices can have on girls.”

In response, Always calls on girls to share the emojis they would like to see– a way to show girls everywhere what the reality of their potential actually is. Although emojis aren’t fundamentally essential to our ability to communicate, I think ensuring that they reflect reality is just as important as it is in any other media portrayal.

Do we lose any value or voice in a limited selection of emojis? What do you think?


  1. The topic of representation is definitely discussed today in many different settings. We hear about in elections, business leadership positions, classrooms, media, and so many other places. It’s interesting to see how emojis are used as an example as a lack of representation to connect with younger girls. My guess is that had the target audience been older, the emojis would have been replaced by a discussion of workplace representation. This shows that social media is so prevalent and understood that it can be used as a means to educate people on big picture concepts such as representation. I think you did a great job tying in linguistics and examples to prove your point. A well researched blog post for sure!

  2. I confess that I’m a bit skeptical of some research that focuses on these types of issues (that’s my job, after all), but I do see the power in emojis. I think of it as an illustrated book, in which pictures tell more than text alone. Even in the middle ages, they produced illuminated manuscripts. I think emojis help overcome some of the limitations of text that could be accomplished no other way. Maybe hieroglyphics is a better analogy, but there are many throughout history.

  3. I personally feel as though the use of emojis is not replacing or diminishing my use of the written language. I only use emojis in order to complement the language that I use, as opposed to using them in place of the words that they represent. For this reason, I personally do not feel as though my personal voice is limited by the limited emojis, but rather extended. However, for those who do use emojis instead of the words they represent, the limited set surely limits their voice. Representation is a significant issue, but people must also remember that the limited selection of emojis is just that: limited.

  4. Very interesting and well-researched post. I find this whole question of emojis very interesting. I tend to think like Ashley. I don’t feel like the limited emojis actually limit me. If they were to really match everything that I – and every user – want to say, wow there would be tons of them. I actually think that the fact that they are limited makes them more meaningful. I am actually wondering if emojis could be just a trend that will fade away pretty soon or if they are going to be here for a while. My point is that since everybody and every brand is starting to use it, how can it keep up with “being cool”? Even Facebook is going for it with its new reaction set. I found this interesting article about Twitter sponsored emojis. http://www.socialmediatoday.com/social-business/adhutchinson/2015-09-23/twitters-sponsored-emoji-new-advertising-trend-or-fast-track The question to all of this is how is the engagement going to be? I’d say that for now the number of emojis keeps on growing and it makes it interesting for people. But until when?

  5. Really interesting post and you left me thinking a lot about this topic after reading it. I have seen the growing number of people who use emojis to communicate, and I myself am a big user of emojis. They are fun, they can take the place of typing out longer texts, and sometimes, all you need is a good emoji to sum up the way you’re feeling! :) <— note that I make my smiley faces without the nose, but I still tend to be more conventional, spell my words out completely and I definitely don't tweet about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber! I loved your discussion of the Always campaign, something I hadn't heard of. I had never thought that the emojis representing females could tend to enforce stereotypes, and now that I've read it, I will definitely be thinking about that when I use emojis. Good or bad, I think emojis will only become a bigger part of our language and the way we communicate with each other, but I hope that there still is a firm line between using emojis with friends and family versus using them at the workplace. It would be a little weird to be communicating with your boss and clients through emojis…but who knows, maybe that is the future!

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