Exploring the Use of Emojis in Qualitative Research

Emojis are a huge part of how people express themselves today, and they can benefit your smartphone qualitative projects.

Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

By Over the Shoulder

Whether English teachers like it or not, emojis are a huge part of how people express themselves today. To get a sense for how fast emojis – which literally means “picture character” in Japanese – are flying on the web, brace yourself as you check out this website that visualizes how frequently each one is used on twitter. And that’s just one source.

Another staggering statistic: Swyft Media reported that the world’s 2 billion smartphones shared over 6 billion emoji (or stickers) every day. In 2015.

Marketers recognize them as cultural currency and co-opt them. McDonald’s recent campaign is clearly lovin’ em.

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Their adoption seems set to accelerate even further as major players are actually building tools that enable emoji usage. Facebook has added emoji-based “reactions” as a feature. Smartphone keyboards in iOS and Android have launched a new emoji prediction and replacement feature that make adding them one-touch simple (e.g., tap in the word “happy” and iMessage suggests a 😀). Seen the latest Macbook Pro? Then you know theTouch Bar has effectively added emojis right to the laptop keyboard. It doesn’t take a 🕵🏽 to see that emojis are embedded in our culture, language and vocabulary.

BUT WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH QUALITATIVE RESEARCH?
💡 AN AH-HA MOMENT

The moment I realized emojis and smartphone qual might fit well together happened during a text conversation with my mom – a baby boomer and target of brands like Whole Foods, Subaru, Nordstrom, and Nutella. She was always very loose with the use of punctuation when texting. Our text conversations typically ended with something like, “I LOVE U TIMMY!!!!!!!!! HOPE TO SEE U SOON!!!!!!!!!”

Somewhere around 2014 she discovered emojis. To my surprise and intrigue, all that “!!!!!!” vanished… it was replaced with, “I ❤️ U 🦀🏃🏼🎶! HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON 🃏 🍻 🎟 !” Curious and confused, I called her to ask what all the emojis meant. This is what she said:

🦀 = I’m a Cancer and we share an intuitive nature (not intuitive enough, apparently)

🏃= She knows I’m busy running around the city but wishes I’d visit her in burbs more often

🎶 = She hopes I still whistle Beatles’s songs while I work

🃏 = She misses laughing and joking around while playing crazy 8’s

🍻 + 🎟 = She hopes we could catch a concert before the summer ends

In that moment, I realized three things: 1) texting with emojis is an inherent part of communicating on smartphones today, and not just for millennials; 2) compared to written words, emojis are not only quick, easy and fun they’re sometimes a more accurate way to express emotions; and 3) with a little explanation, they reveal a lot about what a person is really thinking and feeling.

👈🏽 THEY STARTED IT!

It wasn’t just my Mom. Around the same time, we started to see participants in the smartphone-based qualitative research projects we helped design and implement use emojis to express themselves instead of responding in text – completely unsolicited… It was just a natural part of how they were responding. With participants using them more and more often, it became clear that ignoring emojis was the equivalent of ignoring the body language of someone during an interview.

TIME TO STOP 🙈 EMOJIS AND START LEVERAGING THEM IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

That’s when we stopped ignoring emojis and started having fun experimenting with the best ways to work them into our smartphone qualitative projects. We adjusted the Over the Shoulder platform so that emojis could be used by participants, included in questions, and even used to rate participant responses. Here are some successful ways we’ve used them so far:

1. Making Instructions & Prompts Simpler and More Engaging for Participants
Projects that make participation fun and easy for consumers get more and better insights. Our entire Over the Shoulder platform is designed around that crucial principle. So, we’re now animating the instructional text in our projects with emojis. It’s a simple way to make projects more engaging, and we’re finding that it’s already producing better insight.

2. Our New Favorite Projective Technique
Classic projective tests like the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception Tests work well on good smartphone-based qualitative platforms, but emojis definitely have something to add. It turns out that you can use them to help reveal motivations, needs and associations based on the participant’s free-association, just like the classic projective techniques.
Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 10.26.16 AM.pngImagine you’re looking to understand a person’s emotional experience with fast food. When consumers use the app to document their in-the-moment occasions, why not have them type a string of emojis that represent how the experience is making them feel, and then explain their emoji selection in a follow-up video or audio response. This simple way of making it engaging and easy for people to express themselves definitely gets more insight than just using plain old words.

3. Multiple Choice Emojis
Sometimes you want to have people select an emotional association from a closed-ended list. How are shoppers feeling during checkout on Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday? Happy, stressed, totally mad? The Over the Shoulder platform lets you add a corresponding emoji next to written words, so people can easily identify and select the emotion that fits their in-the-moment experience the best.
4. Beautify Reports
Our qualitative practitioner clients tell us that emojis help them make their debriefs and reports more powerful. Check out these colorful and visually-striking pages from some Over the Shoulder-inspired research as an example:

We’ll keep you posted as we experiment more with emojis in the smartphone-based projects we help our qualitative practitioner clients develop and execute. What do you think about using emojis in qualitative research? How have you been using them in your work?  We’d love a comment or question.

Originally posted here

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