When the Oxford Dictionary chooses an emoji as the word of the year in 2015, you know times are changing.

Digital communication is rapidly evolving, and 2016 will be unlike any other given the amount of options consumers now have to communicate with each other and with brands, companies, government, and more.

“Social media channels and apps have caught on and are starting to adapt to match user behavior.”

Mobile consumers especially need a quick way to express their emotions. It’s much harder to type out the context of your emotions on a small keyboard. GIFs have also added a rich variety to more visual forms of communication, but the rise of emojis can’t be denied. How can you adequately reply with a physical emotion or action – like an eye roll – if you do not have GIFs and emojis?

How to Emoji_1

Chances are you’ve used most of these to express yourself many times in your communications, and now brands are doing the same.

You can’t.

Sometimes a Tiny Fey head nod is the only way to communicate your true feelings.

via GIPHY

Social media channels and apps have caught on and are starting to adapt to match user behavior.

Twitter has integrated custom emojis into hashtags. Facebook users and brands alike nervously await the arrival of Facebook Reactions, which is launching globally “in a few weeks”. Nearly half of comments and captions on Instagram contain emoji characters, and let’s not forget the Instagram hashtag emoji rollout, too.

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For social media platforms like Instagram, emojis have been on the rise for nearly half a decade, via Instagram’s Engineering blog.

Meanwhile, Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, and Slack have all integrated GIFs right into their platforms to make using emojis easier than ever. Tumblr has always been a foundation for GIF aficionados, and Giphy – well do I even need to mention its success?

As trends continue in this direction in 2016, here are a few key best practices to keep in mind:

Listen & Learn

“Don’t use language – whether it’s a word, an emoji or a GIF – that doesn’t fit your brand’s range of voice.”

An oldie but a goodie – always listen first. How can you use this trend to better understand your audience? Most social analytics tools aren’t ready for this yet, so you may have to do some manual listening and reporting to understand how emojis play into social conversation until more automated tools catch up, particularly with Facebook Reactions rolling out soon. Most social listening tools currently use keyword-based queries, so the growth of visual analytics – particularly incorporating emojis – will be important.

Test it out

Look, no one is suggesting emojis are right for every brand, but it might be a worth a test to integrate GIFs and emojis where it makes sense. Should you use seven emojis in your copy? No. Should you try integrating emojis into your customer service responses to make your brand feel more human? Maybe – if you have good training, protocols, and governance in place. Will a Giphy channel add to your brands’ ability to engage in a more meaningful conversation with consumers? Give it a try and see.

Don’t force it

If it feels out of place, it most likely is. Don’t use language – whether it’s a word, an emoji, or a GIF – that doesn’t fit your brand’s range of voice. Your audience will call you out for this. We’ve seen it before with LOL and bae. Don’t be that guy.

Own it

Many brands (especially those with a strong millennial focus) have really stepped up to the plate to own their emojis. Taco Bell. Dominos. Not only did they align or simply integrate it into their everyday toolkit, they launched entire creative campaigns with a great story for consumers to talk about. Is there an emoji that fits in your story? Consider how to make it part of your strategy and get your audience to rally around it, too.

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