TUESDAY 22 SEP 2015 2:37 PM


Almost everyone with a smartphone in their pocket has taken a picture of food at some point. Most people go on to share those pictures and a good amount include emojis in those posts. The language of food communications has changed largely due to this engagement. It is now something that is forcing food brands, restaurants and even chefs to change their practices. But the universal language of emojis may not suit the tastes of every brand.

A Social Media Week event, 'Food, Emotions and Emojis,' hosted by food marketing consultancy Digital Blonde examined the relationship between food and emojis. One of the panelists, Sarah Morton, a food marketer with experience at Zomato and Just Eat, says, “The way that you should approach it is, ‘Does this fit into your brand personality?’” Some, like Pizza Express have embraced the #foodporn culture in their own communications. Pizza Express’ most recent out of home campaign uses and encourages the relationship between photography and food.

Emojis have become a sort of universal signage system that convey emotions regardless of culture, country or language. Food emojis account for 26.95% of emoji use in the UK and 41.65% and 29% of people use them when showing off about food they are eating and making plans to eat out, respectively. Panelists at the event said emojis are simplifying communications for brands on Twitter and for diners worldwide. 34% of people said emojis are used to express emotions they can’t express with words. That is a powerful notion for food retailers and restaurant chains that operate on social media. A picture is worth a lot of interaction on Instagram and Twitter, but the value of an emoji is yet to be determined.

Karen Fewell, founder of Digital Blonde, says, "For brands, marketers, chefs and hospitality professionals there is a lot to think about. Social media can be great for spreading awareness and interacting with customers, but if it’s desensitising and decreasing a guest’s overall enjoyment, somehow, a balance needs to be struck. Our experiment has raised some bigger questions around the role of marketing when it comes to food and food experiences and I’m looking forward to debating the topic more with industry colleagues.”

The consultancy did conduct an experiment to determine how reliant diners are on social media in advance of the Social Media Week event. At an atmospheric dinner aboard a disused tube carriage, the Digital Blonde team made everyone put their phones in a box for the duration of the four-course meal. Attendees were surprised but most felt the conversation flowed more freely afterward. However, 68.2% still say they think restaurants should not ban phones. Panelists and chefs Peter Lloyd of the Spice Market and Russell Bateman of Collette’s at the Grove, though, both note that phones present problems. Lloyd says #foodporn photos actually slow down the restaurant’s efficiency and account for poorly-lit, unappealing photos turning up on review websites.

But change is in the air and food brands are coming around to the use of social media, and emojis, in their communications. In the survey, 36.35% said they would think brands that use emojis are fun and lively, 31.1% that they’re appealing to a younger audience and 26.9% that they’re on trend.