Understanding Cultural Perceptions of Emojis Around the World


Increasing your cultural intelligence to leverage diversity means accessing knowledge about cultural norms and applying that knowledge in respectful ways. Keyboards, system applications, hardware and software vary by country — and so do social norms. For example, the “bowing” icon would be appreciated differently in Asian countries than in North American countries. An emoticon that sends “hugs and kisses” is interpreted very differently in different communities around the world.

Distinguishing Between Emoticons and Emojis

Emoticon development is still in progress, and the creative evolution of “emojis” continues. Emoticons are combinations of keys typed in a sequence to illicit or convey emotion. Emojis were developed and popularized by Japanese designers, and they refer to pictographs inserted into text to add meaning.

Emoticons and emojis had an early start with pre-typing visuals incorporated into text as early as the 1700s. The rise in popularity of emoticons and emojis around the world has been fairly recent, however. Social media platforms continue to proliferate, as do communication software programs and downloadable applications that utilize emoticons.

In 2016, the Oxford Dictionary named the emoji “Face With Tears of Joy emoji” the word of the year.

Taking a Cultural View of the Use of Emoticons in Corporate Communications

Increasing education about the development, use and various interpretations of emoticons and emojis is essential to successful remote business operations worldwide. Emojis and Emoticons around the world communicate nonverbally and are specifically designed to elicit emotional responses. They have proven to be very persuasive, and the creation and development of emojis has become an enterprise venture.

As you expand operations, the need to review the cultural appropriateness of all of your visuals, including emoticons and emojis, becomes more important than before. Any communication in new languages relies heavily on visual cues, but differences in dialect and idiom can vary greatly — even within a local geographic area. Often the connotations that consumers have with emoticons are historically or event-based — so to have a historically respectful perspective is important to maintaining sound business practice.

Creative Communication Strategies Using Emoticons and Emojis

Being creative with corporate communications results in win-win, success-oriented situations that do tend to bring profit and wealth. Domino’s Pizza has had success implementing an emoji order system- press the pizza emoji and your favorite order is in progress for delivery with no other communications needed. Taco Bell recently launched ‘create a taco emoji contest’ that went viral, as customers were happy to engage in co-creating with the company. Budweiser launched a hyper-viral emoji sensation this Fourth of July by constructing a flag image created out of 3 emoji’s- beer, fireworks and a smaller flag image. The patriotic Bud Light image has been retweeted over 130 thousand times by consumers that understood the connection between pride, independence, the flag and non-verbal communication- emoji style. Many apps incorporate emojis as well that are localized to the audience.


Creative strategies for using emoticons effectively include:

The Future of Emoticons and Emojis in Business Communications

Technical developments, spreading Wi-Fi connectivity around the world, more education and access to technology are all contributing to an increase in machine and people connectivity around the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) requires a renewed concentration on what “global language” means, as well as a renewed appreciation for cultural intelligence as we do business together.

The historical poetic appreciation for “le bon mot,” or the “perfect word,” as the French poets searched for, is apparent in the quest to develop even more universally appealing emoticons and emojis. That does speak to a brighter future filled with win-win investment, development and celebration opportunities


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