We have talked already in our previous blog about the importance of spelling and grammar on your social media pages, but another key aspect of modern-day online communication is through the use of emojis. Although you might think that these small images added to posts and sentences in emails are trivial, studies have found that there is a huge age difference in the way that they are used. Just as the old adage goes, ‘a picture says a thousand words’, so it goes with emoji use where a whole mood can be conveyed with the correct selection of an emoji that’s just perfect for the job.
So, lets get into it.
We will start off with a Boomer favourite – the thumbs up emoji – which is often interpreted as rude by young people in Gen Z. On the face of it, you might think that it signifies understanding and approval, and replying in the affirmative. Yet many young people argue that it instead suggests hostility and disinterest. This could be due to the way that using aa thumbs up alone on a message thread quickly closes down a conversation in a way that appears dismissive.
If you find this mystifying, then you might want to read on. With such a big divide between the generations, should you be wary of which emojis you use?
Since the cycle of ‘what’s cool’ and ‘what’s not’ moves so quickly these days, soon enough this list in this blog will be out-of-date. If you are over 30, over 40 or older still, a year can pass in the blink of an eye, but for the younger generations, time can drag on, so what was de rigeur last month, might be outlandishly out of date this month. So we would advise you read this blog as a frozen moment in time. Who knows, we might all be back to using the red heart and the monkey covering eyes again within 6 months!
However, for now, here are the results of a recent survey by Perspectus Global, as shown on the Daily Mail, showing the top ten emojis that young people avoid:
👍 Thumbs up – although popular with the older generation, young people mainly use this emoji ironically. This emoji has recently been voted ‘the most uncool emoji’, due to the dismissive tone it conveys (and possibly due to its popularity amongst older users which already lends it an element of uncool!). Extra fun fact: people in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Nigeria see the thumbs up as very insulting and disrespectful which is a societal thing.
❤️ Red heart – this has been overused and is now cringe-worthy, but if you must use it there is at least a range of other colour options to choose from. Similar to the easy dismissal associated with a quick thumbs up on a message thread, the red heart is the first option in your emoji library, so if you must use hearts, put a little more effort into it!
👌 Ok hand sign – its previous association with white supremacy has put a lot of the younger generation off using this symbol. And quite right too. Read more about this here.
✅ Check mark – the boring tone of this emoji is off-putting to a generation who prefer a more creative usage of emojis.
💩 Poo – does this one really need explaining?
😭 Loudly crying face – rather than taking its literal meaning, Gen Z now use this emoji more sarcastically to suggest laughter as in, ‘crying with laughter’, replacing the once popular ‘tears of joy’ emoji (😂). Younger people still in Gen Alpha are using the dead/skull emoji 💀 to convey laughter as in, ‘I’m dead!’ or ‘so funny I could die’.
🙈 Monkey covering eyes – once trendy, this emoji has fallen out of fashion and has now been deemed officially ‘uncool’ by the younger generation. So unless you are literally talking about a monkey that is currently covering its eyes, leave this one alone.
👏 Clapping hands – once meaning ‘applause’ and a means of celebrating something, it now has an opposite meaning. Like a lot of emojis, this now carries a much more sarcastic meaning and is often used for drawing attention to a statement/issue. If you think of a slow handclap given to someone who just really messed up with the sarcastically toned comment of, ‘Well done’, you might get the vibe of this emoji. Extra fun fact: for people in China, the clapping hands emoji refers to lovemaking, so pay heed!
💋 Kiss mark – when using this emoji, it is best to think of the recipient, do they really want a kiss? If you are trying to show someone you know affection, then try this 😘 or this emoji instead 🥰
😬 Grimacing face – this cringing face now makes Gen Z cringe. On Snapchat, this means you best friend is their best friend too.
That being said, these opinions do not reflect all of Gen Z, and if you enjoy using the thumbs up or red heart emoji, you should of course continue! However, be aware that they might not only be giving away your age, but also causing miscommunication between yourself and your younger peers if they take it the wrong way.
Often, Gen Z use emojis in a knowing and ironic manner, rather than using their literal meanings. These meanings evolve at a quick pace, so it is important to keep up with the changing ways that they are used. Because of this, understanding what emojis mean relies a lot on shared knowledge, which can be alienating to those who are not on platforms like TikTok where these conversations happen.
It is easy to see the differences in emoji use between the generations by looking at the representation of one emotion in particular – laughter.
Whilst boomers and millennials may use the 😂 emoji, this has long since been deemed ‘uncool’ (or ‘cheugy’) by Gen Z. Instead, this has been replaced by the skull (💀) or the crying emoji (😭), dramatising the idea of ‘dying with laughter’.
This demonstrates the literal interpretation of emojis by the older generations, versus the creative (and often sarcastic) use of emojis by young people.
For some people, these differences might seem unimportant. However, the use of an incorrect emoji can completely alter the tone of the message that you are trying to convey. A serious message can become funny very quickly due to the simple misuse of an emoji. For instance, if you wrote, ‘My cat got run over this morning 😭’ this could be interpreted that you found this really funny. So you could find yourself in bother if you don’t fully understand what you are sending out.
To avoid any misunderstandings, it is vital to ensure that your emoji is relevant to the context and is conveying what you want it to communicate. One way that some people have combatted the cross-generational issue is by changing their emoji use based upon their audience. For instance, when conversing with parents, young people may use different emojis to when they talk to those in their own age group. A revelation that will have all parents of teenagers now curious to find out what their kids are saying to their friends through endless emoji based conversations. Don’t worry, we checked for you and the answer is, ‘it’s hard to explain,’ and, ‘you wouldn’t understand.’ 🤷♀️
If you do not understand the intricacies of emojis, particularly in a professional setting, it might be best to steer clear of them. After all, the last thing that you would want to do would be to accidentally offend a colleague who is more emoji-fluent than you are. It would be even worse to embark on a social media posting journey using emojis left and right and find yourself the subject of ridicule.
In this case, stick to what you know. You could either use the emojis that you do understand, or stick to the good old-fashioned method of using words to communicate with your peers!
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