Why using many emojis to substitute words can harm your chances online

Dr Davide Orazi, Senior Lecturer at Monash University
Dr Davide Orazi, Senior Lecturer at Monash University

Sad face news for heavy emoji users. If you want to sell something online – say some nights at your Airbnb, or your old couch on Facebook Marketplace – you might assume a heavy sprinkling of emojis will help you stand out from the pack. You may even substitute some words with emojis to save space. But the findings of a study from Monash University’s Business School shows that less is definitely more when it comes to using the cute icons.

Are non-face emojis an effective tool?

The paper, which studied emoji use across more than 195,000 Airbnb listings in the United States, is the first to look specifically at the effects of ‘non-face emojis’ in marketing communication, and offers important insights for digital marketers and other sellers.

“Our findings suggest that for the majority of regular users in digital marketplaces, non-face emojis are actually an effective differentiation tool,” lead researcher Dr Davide Orazi said.

“But – use too many to substitute words and they’ll hinder, rather than help, your selling power. Emojis such as smiley or winky faces popped up in the late 1990s to help compensate for the lack of non-verbal cues in computer-mediated communication.”

“Now there are almost 3664 registered, unique symbols. About 90% of the registered symbols are non-face emojis – everything from thumbs to beers, to rainbows. However despite these emojis being used just as frequently as their emotion-sharing counterparts, their effects from a marketing perspective are little understood,” Dr Orazi further said.

How best can non-face emojis be leveraged?

To combat this, Drs Davide Orazi, Bhoomija Ranjan, and Yimin Cheng from Monash Business School looked at how Airbnb hosts, and ‘superhosts’, used non-face emojis in their short listing titles, and whether that affected electronic word of mouth. In this case, online reviews.

In Airbnb reviews, they looked at two styles of using emojis: complementary, where for example, the word beer is followed by a beer emoji, and substitutive, where the beer emoji replaces text entirely. For regular sellers, the study found using one complementary emoji can increase electronic word of mouth by about 26%, or more with multiple emojis. For superhosts, the study recommends using a maximum of one complementary non-face emoji – if any.

“But those substituting more than one word with emojis should tread carefully, because it’s much harder for the brain to process and will lead to worse results. If you’re a premium seller, you’re expected to ooze competence. One emoji can grab attention and feel a little playful, but go beyond that and you run the risk of looking unprofessional,” Dr Orazi said.

What do the study findings mean for other platforms?

Dr Orazi said the research findings could be extrapolated to other digital platforms such as eBay, Alibaba or Upwork. The study also has policy implications for such platforms. While using symbols or emojis is still a violation according to Airbnb’s content policy, many sellers on the platform still try their luck. “We suggest that Airbnb and other e-commerce platforms that do not currently endorse the use of emojis update their content policies,” he said. 

“E-platforms have a history of revising user policies when existing policies are sub-optimal. For instance, Twitter recognised the restrictions of 140-character messages and doubled it.”

To view the research paper, please visit the website.