Please Use More Emojis/Reactions in Digital Spaces

This is your occasional reminder to use more emojis and reactions in your digital spaces. Mash that ‘like’ button. Give things a thumbs up or a “thinking face” if you’re feeling grumpy. Like that tweet, even if you only kinda like it.

You might be wondering why you should use emojis and reactions. Here is my quick sociological take on why emojis and reactions are important. From here on, I’ll just refer to them as emojis, since this was originally shared with Agitare’s Slack to get them to think more about using Slack emojis.

Digital spaces are inherently lonely. Our patterns of behavior around reacting and responding to digital content results in an experience that often feels like wasted breath in a way that in-person interactions almost never do. Sometimes it can feel like you’re talking to a large group and then suddenly it feels like you were alone in a dark warehouse all along.

In a normal conversation, it would be pretty weird if somebody said something to a group of people and nobody said anything in return. What if nobody even smiled or raised their eyebrows. What if nobody even looked at them. It would be more than just weird. It would be pretty disturbing. It would make the sharer less likely to ever want to do something like that ever again. That kind of thing doesn’t really happen in person because we’ve all been socialized to react to one-another, to show some form of recognition when communication occurs. I’m not even talking about active listening here. The most passive form of communication still involves acknowledgment. If you say hello, I say hello in return. A failure to do so wouldn’t just be weird. It would be sociopathic. 

Those rules unfortunately don’t apply to digital spaces. Society has had thousands of years to come up with now deeply ingrained norms and mores about the conscious and unconscious ways in which we communicate in person, but digital spaces are only a few decades old, and thus we have to actively do the work to create new norms for every digital space we occupy. It’s one reason that when it comes to community management, you need to put extra work in to make the implicit explicit. You have to say things like “USE EMOJIs” to remind people that emojis serve an important function for communication. These things might just not occur to people–or worse… they actually have unhelpful mental models around what the use of emojis means. 

I have a theory that people use emojis sparingly. I think they hoard them like some kind of limited currency. I think that people might have fears about what people will think about them if they put a thumbs up on something that isn’t actually worthy of their thumb. This bothers me. Emojis are infinite, and nobody is judging you. A thumbs up can mean “I see you” as well as “wow great share!”. It can mean anything, which means that nobody has any basis to think they can interpret it to any kind of accurate extent. Don’t hoard emojis. You have extras. 

Emojis can be the equivalent of raising your eyebrows or nodding. They can be the equivalent of even just looking at the person who is speaking. If I post something to a Slack channel and nobody adds an emoji, it feels like nobody looked at me. Sometimes I use the “eyes” emoji to indicate I’m looking at what somebody shared. Sometimes I add an emoji that is just related to the content being shared because it’s a fun way to say “What you shared is about a badger. Here’s a fun cartoon badger for your efforts”. 

That’s it. Just use them. They help us feel more connected. They help us feel more heard. On Slack, Teams, LinkedIn, Twitter, or whatever other platform you happen to be using, emojis are a very low-cost method of collectively bringing a digital community closer together and encouraging positive interaction. 

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