Emoticons have been in the news lately.

That’s right, those little smiley faces and frownies have been the subject of several high-profile studies concerning their psychological and social impact. And the main takeaway of these studies, it just so happens, is that emoticons may actually be a good thing, which raises two questions for me:

One, where do they get the funding for this stuff?

And two, do I need to start putting smiley faces in all my tweets, posts, and email messages?

I won’t attempt to dive into the complicated world of science funding, which has given us great research on topics like “the effects of country music on suicide” and “why chickens prefer beautiful humans.”

Let’s save that for a later blog post. Instead, let’s go over some of the latest emoticons research, and discuss what this means for the average social media professional.

Social Media Smiley FacePeople react to emoticons the same as real faces

As it turns out, emoticons haven’t just been driving us crazy for the last 20 years (maybe I’m speaking for myself here). Emoticons have actually changed our brains.

When a person reads a text with that smiley face, his mind reacts to the emoticon the same as a real face.

Scientists proved this by scanning participants’ brains while showing them pictures of emoticons and actual faces, along with random images. It turns out that the same part of our brain that lights up when shown a human face lights up when shown a :-).

So a smiley emoticon elicits the same reaction, although subconsciously, as an actual smiling face. Suddenly, the power of emoticons just got real.Emoticons and Social Media

Emoticon users are more popular on Twitter

In an analysis of over 31 million tweets, researchers at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory came to the conclusion that twitter users who add little smiley faces to their tweets are more popular than those who shy away from emoticons.

If you are dedicated to learning from the best twitter users, then you should consider using emoticons in your tweets (if you’re not already). Yes, that includes even the most professional and serious social media professionals among us.

Emoticon Etiquette

I’m not suggesting that every tweet or Facebook post should include an emoticon, but the general rule is that they should be used to enhance emotional content. If you have something positive to tweet about, brighten up your tweet even more by including a smiley face.

All the data suggests that people respond emotionally to emoticons, but that’s where the artistry comes in—knowing when to use them to your advantage, and when not to use them at all.

Each brand is going to be different, but I suggest giving it a shot. Twitter is a great platform for testing things out, so throw a couple emoticons into your tweets and track your success.

Humans are emotional creatures, and social media is all about connecting with people on an emotional level.

What do you think? Do you use emoticons in twitter and social media? Let us know in the comments below. :-)

photo credits: Dominic’s pics via photopin cc
Miguel Pires da Rosa via photopin cc

Adam Fifield