digital media

Emojis: “A New Language in Digital Media”

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Visual communications can take odd twists, such as the emergence of emojis as defining icons for marketing campaigns.

An article earlier this year in Adweek went further, describing emojis as a “new language in digital media” that can communicate “tone and sentiment on messaging apps and social media among consumers.”

Whereas they used to be limited to a happy face and a sad face, now there nearly 2,000 emojis and the character count keeps growing.

Emojis have matured beyond being punctuation marks for text to becoming the message itself. Well known brands such as Taco Bell use emojis that correlate to their products in digital marketing via apps, social media and email. General Electric launched the #EmojiScience campaign that invited people to send emojis to get short video lessons from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Twitter now enables marketers to target customers who have used specific emojis. Dominos has an Emoji Ordering campaign that centers on customers including the pizza slice emoji in tweets. Instead of zeroing in on key words, brands search for relevant emojis. Consumer brands with an eye on younger adults are eager to jump into emoji-based marketing.

While emoji marketing may work best for now with Millennials, it won’t be long before its appeal spreads, if it hasn't already. Who wouldn’t want to order a pizza by posting an emoji on an app? I received a message with a rose emoji from my wife after urging her to take a moment before going to work to look at the beautiful blooms sprouting on her rose bushes.

The advice to marketers at this point seems pretty basic. If you sell ice cream, look for the ice cream emoji. Keep up to date on the growing cast of emojis. Be sensitive to the details of these little drawings, which sport a range of skin tones and nuanced emotions. Don’t expect everyone to jump on board with your emoji campaign until you build some trust. 

Engaging people with emojis means using them as if you are actually communicating with someone. Expressing emotion or sentiment through an emoji can personalize a brand’s interaction with a consumer and sharply increase engagement rates.

Learning how to use emojis may not be quite the same as taking French lessons, but it kind of is. Emoji fluency is critical to say what you mean and not inadvertently communicate something you never intended.  When you are fluent in emojis, you can tell stories with pictures.

Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Trust = Barrier to Earned Digital Media Coverage

Digital media outlets are more open these days to content supplied by PR firms. At the same time, reporters remain highly skeptical of PR professionals who they claim too often provide misleading information.

The findings come from the 2015 Media Influencers Report prepared by D S Simon, a digital video communications firm. "Communicators are missing out on significant opportunities to earn media with their content in the digital space," the report says.

More than three-quarters of producers and journalists who responded to survey questions indicate they have used video they didn't produce. Almost the same percentage expressed willingness to post links or entire videos to digital outlets affiliated with television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines and blogger sites.

"This provides an unequaled opportunity for direct communication of the entire PR or marketing message to consumers," says Doug Simon, CEO of D S Simon.

However, PR professionals need to be careful not to foul their own nest. Ninety percent of producers and reporters say they have been misled by PR professionals, with a quarter of them saying they are misled often, which means there is an underlying lack of trust. A common problem is the failure to include proper disclosures on submitted video content.

There also is a gap in taking advantage of opportunities for "brand integration," which involves combining earned and paid media in a communications channel. Simon says it is easier for marketers to go for paid media instead of scratching a little harder for ways to earn media coverage.

The voracious appetite of media for fresh or compelling content, especially video content, is what has wedged open the door for third-party submissions. TV stations simply don't have enough film crews to fill up all the time slots devoted to news, which is why, according to the report, 93 percent of them accept third-party video. More than 80 percent of website producers, 78 percent of bloggers and 73 percent of magazines follow the same practice.

While B-Roll (pre-filmed material that often serves as background) is the top source of third-party digital content for TV stations, website producers and bloggers depend on it for infographics. Virtually all media outlets use images supplied by third-parrty sources. Newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers and even radio stations will link or include entire videos on their online platforms.

The report suggests digital platform managers look for news ideas on social media. Facebook and Twitter are by far the greenest pastures for producers and reporters, but there is significant attention paid to LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.

Television producers and newspaper assignment editors are the most likely to accept a story pitch via social media, but you can get luck with radio and website editors and bloggers, too.

As barriers have crumbled between public relations, marketing and advertising, new opportunities have risen for brand integration. Simon says this is still an emerging arena in which 50 percent of the PR professionals who inquire about it are shuttled off to news outlet advertising departments.

"Improving the quality of your creative content, pitch angles and relationships with the media increases the percentage of media you earn rather than pay for," says Simon. "While brand integration has a role, earning digital media is a more credible and authentic way to communicate with your key audiences."

Values Over Volume

Advertising can be faulted for failing to state a product's value proposition. But ads also can fail to speak to the hearts of consumers about values.

Digital media has created headaches for advertising executives. Content marketing has confounded them. But in some ways, the revolution in technology has released advertising from its own boundaries.

People don't "believe" advertising, so it makes little sense to pound away at your value proposition. Even Wal-Mart has shifted its advertising from a bouncing yellow ball knocking over price tags on its shelves to ads featuring customers "discovering" they can buy what they need at a lower cost than a competitor store. Same message, but very different context.

In a blog post published by, Chad Cipoletti argues that sometimes it is better for advertising to sell values than products. He cites the 1988 Nike ad showing 80-year-old Walt Stack on his daily run. As he crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, Stack says, "I run 17 miles every morning. People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime. I leave them in my locker." 

Targeting Your Audience Via Social Media

While social media has become increasingly popular with almost every demographic, there is still a lot of room for zeroing in on the audience you want to reach.

Pinterest has roared into the galaxy of social media superstars as a female favorite. Its online metaphor of boards and pins creates an organized visual bouquet of everything from recipes to architectural designs.

Brands are flocking to Pinterest because of its high degree of audience interaction. People can track boards that interest them without being friends. It's about content as much as relationships.

If you have a product aimed at a female audience, Pinterest is a smart place to be.

Matt Wilson, writing for, describes the success of Major League Baseball's Fan Cave, which has emerged as much more than an inviting New York location to watch baseball games.

On the third day the Fan Cave opened, it held an online contest to see who could pitch a perfect game in MLB 2011. It attracted tons of tweets, Wilson says. Now there is a full-time video crew at the Fan Cave to record celebrity and player drop-ins, which are posted on the Fan Cave website. A contest was held to name cave dwellers that drew 22,000 applicants and whittled down to 50 "finalists" who were asked to campaign for themselves in their respective hometowns.

"It was like having 50 PR firms out there promoting your initiative," a MLB official tells Wilson.

The goal was to interest a younger audience in baseball, and it has worked. MLB says its Fan Cave audience is 17 to 18 years younger than the average fan that goes to games. Just as important, 35 percent of the Fan Cave audience "likes" or shares content, reflecting a high level of engagement compared to other sports leagues.

Smartphone usage is skyrocketing, especially among African-American and Hispanic users. Several research studies indicate minority groups have embraced online shopping through mobile devices at nearly double the rate of the Caucasian population in the United States, offering a clear opportunity for marketers trying to reach those audiences.

Marissa Ellis, writing on the Madame Noire blog, reports "21 percent of African-Americans utilize their phone to engage in online shopping, reading product reviews and maintaining a shopping list, compared to only 13 of white shoppers."

"Don't think the industry hasn't taken notice," Ellis adds.