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Should I be using silly emoji in church communications?

By Jon Watson

Emoji are those small, cartoony icons used in texting and online communications to express emotions and ideas, among other things. If you're not a regular emoji-user, you may not know that they are taking the world by storm. Emoji has bypassed "trend" status, and is now redefining how the younger generations communicate digitally. So let's look at how to use emoji to communicate with your church, engaging them on a new level.

And yes, the plural of "emoji" is "emoji."

Where and how emoji are used

Millions of people around the globe use emoji on a daily basis to add some pizazz to their communications or to simply convey the message's tone, where facial expression is normally needed. According to the New York Times, in 2013 74 percent of people in the United States and 82 percent in China said that they have used emoji in texting and messages — and it's only gone up from there.

Emoji are used most commonly in text messages and on Twitter (though Facebook gets its fair share). EmojiTracker is a website that tracks what emoji are used most frequently on Twitter in real-time. At the current moment, "Face With Tears of Joy" is in the lead with 703,431,219 uses!

But emoji aren't just for tweets and texts. Realizing that this is normal digital communication for Millennials, companies like JC Penney, General Electric, Coca-Cola, and IKEA are jumping on the band-wagon. Studies are finding that marketing that uses emoji can foster deeper connections with people through expressing emotion in this light-hearted way.

But it doesn't stop with IKEA: even the White House is on-board. In October 2014, the White House released an infographic about Millennials: "where they are, where they're going, and what President Obama is doing to ensure their success." In this relatively-simple 3-page infographic they prominently use emoji 27 times!

A great example of a campaign designed with emoji is from the WWF to help endangered animals. Their #Endangered Emoji campaign asked people to donate every time they tweet emoji of the endangered animals.

Are emoji appropriate for church communications?

Even though legitimate organizations are using emoji to communicate, we still have to ask the question of whether they are appropriate in a church context. After all, their light-hearted, whimsical nature could be in sharp contrast to the gravitas associated with the topics relevant to the church. If emoji are to be used, some guidelines should be put in place.

While it may be jarring to have an emoji up on the projector during worship, there are other times and mediums that they could fit into quite well. Here are some ideas of where to use emoji:

  • Church newsletters
  • Youth ministry fliers, tweets, and emails
  • Church Facebook status updates
  • Communicating about ministries (community clean-up, meal ministries, and children's ministry)

Avoid using emoji to talk about more serious causes or projects; they detract from the gravity of the subject.

How to use emoji

If you are on a smartphone, you already have a massive library of emoji at your fingertips. If you have an iPhone, head to Settings, General, and Keyboard. Tap Keyboards, Add New Keyboard, and select Emoji.

Similarly, on an Android you will need to go to Settings, language and input, and Google Keyboard settings. Choose Add-on Dictionaries, and download/install Emoji for English Words.

If you're using a Mac running OSX, emoji are built right in: just select a text field and hit command + control, and choose the Emoji icon from the sidebar. On a PC it's a little more difficult. You can visit a site like Get Emoji and copy/paste, or, if you're using Chrome as your browser, you can install a free extension like Emoji Input.

Some basic rules

Emoji are meant to be used logically, which means that to use them correctly, don't be random! Use the emoji that makes sense with what you're saying, and you'll be okay.

Use emoji to substitute for words, separate phrases, or at the end of a sentence to illustrate. For example*:

  • "Bring a friend to ⛪️"
  • "Can you feel the ?"
  • "Youth worship service: ☕ + ♫ = ☻"

*Some older operating systems or browsers may not display emoji or else they only allow certain types  , but many iOS, Android and SMS applications will display the full array of emoji.

Use emoji in newsletters, email, Facebook, Twitter and various smartphone applications that support them. Try testing them out in blog headlines to grab attention. Generally headlines and subheads are more to-the-point than body copy (what we call the main text of your publication), so emoji in the headlines can help keep things even more concise. Keep in mind your blog service or content management system may not support emoji, so you may be limited to using them on your phone or in web applications.

With great power comes great responsibility — use sparingly! Emoji are whimsical by nature, and if you overuse them your church communications will begin to all have that whimsical undertone and perhaps not be taken as seriously. Use common sense to judge what's the right time and place, and have fun!

Jon Watson

— Jon Watson, Strategic Marketing Manager, United Methodist Communications. His children, William and Kathryn actually inspired the creation of smiley-face emoji. Watson has worked several years in marketing, and 1 ½ years as a pastor. He enjoys doing DIY house projects with his wife Beka, smoking a good pipe and listening to "good music," which is an objective term meaning anything Jon listens to.


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