Emoji Use in the New Normal

Emoji Use in the New Normal

A sentiment analysis performed by Emojipedia finds that positive emoji use is on the decrease, while the total number of emojis sent in our communications continues to rise.

Analyzing 68 million unique tweets, a number of patterns have emerged which go some way toward reflecting the global mood and how we communicate in the โ€œnew normalโ€ of 2020.

๐Ÿ˜„๐Ÿ˜ซ๐Ÿ“Š Emoji Sentiment

By grouping โ€œsmileyโ€ emojis โ€“ generally classed as the non-human yellow balls of emotion โ€“ into positive and negative categories, we can assess various sentiment trends on Twitter.

Of all the available emojis, smileys tend to be most used to convey emotion, and are most useful for this style of sentiment analysis. They're also the most popular type of emoji sent, according to Unicode statistics.

Isolating instances[1] of smileys and charting the relative size of their emotional polarity ("Positive", "Negative" or "Other/Ambiguous")[2] allows a look at emotional trends on Twitter, when it comes to emoji use.

Charted below are these three groups of smileys, shown as a percentage of all individual emoji instances during four selected time frames between August 2018 and April 2020.[3].


Above: The relative use of positive emojis is down, while negative emojis have seen a slight increase.

Between August 2019 and April 2020 the percentage of all individual positive smiley instances decreased from 29.92% to 28.12% - a relative decrease of 5.63%.

What this data also shows is that positive expressions remain the most popular type of smiley. These never dropped below 28% of all emoji instances throughout the period measured.

While it's impossible to determine all reasons behind any sentiment shift, this change could be a result of fewer positive tweets due to the current global pandemic, especially as the largest relative drop was seen in the most recent period.

There is a considerable jump in the number of "Other/Ambiguous" instances, which is accounted for by rapid ascent of the popular and variable ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face. This relative newcomer has ended up as the third most popular emoji on Twitter.

Relative to all smileys sent, negative emoji use continues to show a steady climb year-on-year. This a trend which continues year on year.

๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ”Ÿ Top Ten Emojis

A total of thirteen different emojis appeared at least once in the analysis of the top ten emojis found over the four timeframes assessed.

This shows a relatively stable level of popularity for those emojis most often used by Twitter users. People are known to be creatures of habit after all.


The top thirteen emojis, ordered by their relative rank in our sample from April 2020[4]:

  1. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy
  2. ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face
  3. ๐Ÿฅบ Pleading Face
  4. ๐Ÿคฃ Rolling on the Floor Laughing
  5. โค๏ธ Red Heart
  6. โœจ Sparkles
  7. ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes
  8. ๐Ÿ™ Folded Hands
  9. ๐Ÿ˜Š Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes
  10. ๐Ÿฅฐ Smiling Face with Hearts
  11. ๐Ÿ‘ Thumbs Up
  12. ๐Ÿ’• Two Hearts
  13. ๐Ÿค” Thinking Face

Across all four time frames, the ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy was firmly in first place, followed somewhat distantly by the ๐Ÿ˜ญ Loudly Crying Face.

Movement among ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes, ๐Ÿ˜Š Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes and ๐Ÿฅฐ Smiling Face with Hearts seen in April 2020 is of note: each express affection, so it is possible the relatively new ๐Ÿฅฐ Smiling Face with Hearts is appearing in tweets where either ๐Ÿ˜ Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes, ๐Ÿ˜Š Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes would have previously appeared.

Note that in the chart above we describe the percentages for each emoji in each time frame[5] as "Emoji %". This is the percentage of tweets featuring at least one emoji that the specific emoji appeared in.

๐Ÿ™ Folded Hands saw nearly a 25% increase between August 2019 and April 2020, which could be related to our current circumstances. No it's not a high-five.


Above: Use of ๐Ÿ™ Folded Hands has increased.

๐Ÿ“ˆ๐Ÿ“‰๐Ÿ“ˆ Total Emoji Usage

A common question right now is whether our global shift to working-from-home has resulted in more emoji use. Emojipedia itself has seen high growth recently, but does that mean more emojis are being used overall?

Based on our analysis of 68 million tweets, the answer is a resounding yes: emoji use is up. The most recent period assessed shows nearly one in five (19.04%) of tweets contains at least one emoji.


Emoji usage has increased from 17.74% of all tweets to 19.04% between August 2019 and April 2020 (a relative increase of 7.1%).

This follows an increase from 14.9% to 17% between August 2018 and April 2019, a relative increase of 14.1%. So while emoji use continues to grow, this is a trend that has been taking place for quite some time now.

A wider analysis of emoji growth trends would need to be conducted to make a more substantive claim about whether Coronavirus has impacted growth, either positively or negatively.

๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ” Emoji Categories

Are the types of emojis we are sending changing, and if so: how?

Competing mobile phone and app platforms categorize emojis in different ways. Emojipedia lists emojis in these eight groups:

When assessing the relative popularity of each group, smileys and people make up such a high percentage, it's difficult to even make out some of the lesser-used groups.

Shown below are the top three categories of ๐Ÿ˜ƒ Smileys & People, ๐Ÿป Animals & Nature and ๐Ÿ”ฃ Symbols.

All other categories have been combined into a single group for legibility.


๐Ÿ˜ƒ Smileys & People assumes the lion's share of emoji instances, never dropping below 60%.

In distant second is the ๐Ÿ”ฃ Symbols category, which is dominanted by the various heart emojis. This is continues to trend down, possibly due to new smileys that include hearts.

Third place shows ๐Ÿป Animals & Nature category, relatively stable.

All other categories collectively accounted for no more than 7.92% of all emoji use.

To better observe trends in the smaller categories, the top three categories have been removed from the chart below.


While the variations in these categories do largely appear to be following an expected pattern of ebb and flow, the relative decline of the ๐ŸŒ‡ Travel & Places category of 27.28% between August 2019 and April 2020 seems initially interesting as a potential response to the travel restrictions of 2020 in many countries around the world.

However, one should also note the 20% decrease in this category between August 2018 and April 2019: could this be a seasonal effect for travel emojis between Summer and Spring in the northern hemisphere? A closer analysis would have to be taken to determine the month-by-month trends here.

What is shown is that this year's drop in travel-related emojis is more pronounced than the same decrease in 2018-2019.

๐Ÿ†•๐Ÿ“ˆ Emoji Winners

Looking deep into the wider emoji set: which emojis saw large increases or decreases in their use of late?

Often the lesser-used emojis can be missed in charts of most popular emojis, but that doesn't mean there aren't trends to be found.

We peformed this analysis by assessing the relative increase in usage between August 2018 and April 2019, excluding any emoji that did not have over 1,000 instances of use in April 2020.[6]

These are the emojis which saw the greatest relative increases in the past nine months:

  1. ๐Ÿค White Heart
  2. ๐Ÿฅฑ Yawning Face
  3. ๐Ÿ›’ Shopping Cart
  4. ๐Ÿฆ  Microbe
  5. ๐Ÿณ Spouting Whale
  6. ใŠ™๏ธ Japanese โ€œSecretโ€ Button
  7. ๐Ÿ‘ˆ Backhand Index Pointing Left
  8. ๐Ÿ’ฐ Money Bag
  9. โšก High Voltage
  10. ๐Ÿฅ‡ 1st Place Medal

Both ๐Ÿค White Heart and ๐Ÿฅฑ Yawning Face were introduced in 2019 via Emoji 12.0 and introduced to Twitter users on browsers in April 2019.

Despite this, its usage in August of 2019 was quite minor. However, following the introduction of both ๐Ÿค White Heart and ๐Ÿฅฑ Yawning Face to Samsung and Apple devices at the end of August and October respectively, these emojis experience a meteoric relative rise in usage in terms of their overall share of tweets featuring at least one emoji.


The increase in ๐Ÿ›’ Shopping Cart is of interest considering the widely-reported instances of crowded supermarkets that occurred across much of the world in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.


Fourth in the list of emojis which have seen the most growth in this period is the ๐Ÿฆ  Microbe which appeared in our initial COVID-19 emoji analysis last month.

That analysis showed increases for both ๐Ÿฆ  Microbe and ๐Ÿ˜ท Face with Medical Mask, echoed here in this analysis. ๐Ÿ˜ท Face with Medical Mask was the #11 in the most significant increase seen on an individual emoji, so just missed the cut in this chart.

The relative change in use of each emoji is shown below.


๐Ÿ†•๐Ÿ“‰ Emoji Losers

Finally, which emojis are decreasing in popularity in recent times?

Looking at emojis with over 1,000 usage instances that experienced the largest relative decrease in use shows a mixed bunch.

The emojis which dropped in use the most significantly from August 2019 to April 2020 are:

  1. โ˜”๏ธ Umbrella with Rain Drops
  2. ๐Ÿ”ต Blue Circle
  3. โšฝ Soccer Ball
  4. ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Flag: India
  5. โžฐ Curly Loop
  6. โœˆ๏ธ Airplane
  7. โšช White Circle
  8. ๐ŸŒ€ Cyclone
  9. ๐ŸŒด Palm Tree
  10. โšพ Baseball

The reason for โ˜”๏ธ Umbrella with Rain Drops or ๐Ÿ”ต Blue Circle losing so much ground is not clear, but the suspension of many professional sports in 2020 could be behind the dropping โšฝ Soccer Ball, โšพ Baseball.

โœˆ๏ธ Airplane has seen its use halve in the period assessed, though some of that change will be due to seasonal factors noted in our category analysis.


๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Flag: India dropping in use can be explained by Independence Day in India being held during one of the assessed periods, but not the other.

โžฐ Curly Loop would require additional analysis to determine if there were social campaigns or alternative uses of this emoji which may have led to its decline.

The relative change in use of each emoji is shown below.


๐Ÿค“ Summary

Following an analysis of over 68 million tweets across four time periods in 2018, 2019 and 2020, we made the following findings:

  • โ˜บ๏ธ๐Ÿ“‰ The relative use of positive smiley face emojis is on the decline (down 5.63%).
  • ๐Ÿฅบโซ Pleading Face is experiencing surging popularity.
  • ๐Ÿ“Š๐Ÿ“ˆ The top ten emojis used on Twitter are relatively stable
  • ๐Ÿ”๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy remains the most used emoji on Twitter.
  • ๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ†™ Emoji use as a whole continues to rise, with nearly one in five tweets now containing at least one emoji
  • ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿฆ  The increase in emoji use has been potentially slowed by our new normal, but its too soon to say this with certainty.
  • ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ‘ Smileys & People still dominate in terms popular emoji categories, while ๐Ÿ”ฃ Symbols are on the decline.
  • โœˆ๏ธโคต๏ธ Emojis in the Travel & Places category have seen larger than usual decreases recently, possibly due to travel restrictions.

As with any data, many of these figures can be read in different ways. It's clear in the real world that our new normal is continually changing.

If, how and when the changing planet affects our digital communications is something that remains interesting to watch. Whether we use our digital lives to reflect our real lives, or as an escape from them may also vary by individual, and social media platform.

The insights shared here are using Twitter data due to the public nature of the platform, so are inherently unable to determine whether private messaging conversations have seen similar shifts.

There are indications here that positive emoji use remains high despite the difficulties faced by many. Regardless of how you express yourself online, take care out there ๐Ÿ’•

๐Ÿ“– Further Reading

  1. When we refer to an "instance" of emoji usage in our sample, we are referring to the number of tweets which featured any given individual emoji character (for example, of the 18,753,639 tweets analyzed in April 2020, 444,525 contained at least one ๐Ÿ˜‚ Face with Tears of Joy. As of course a tweet can contain more than one emoji, the sum total number of emoji "instances" in each of our time periods is greater than the number of individual tweets that featured at least one emoji. For example, in April 2020 3,570,019 of the 18,753,639 tweets we collected containd at least one emoji (roughly 19%). However, across those 3,570,019 tweets a total of 5,177,992 individual emoji instances occured, with this figure being the sum of all tweets each individual emoji was featured within. Therefore when assessing the relative sentiment of smiley emojis the summed emoji instances is used instead of the total number of individual tweets featuring at least one emoji. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  2. Emoji polarity was divided as follows: "Positive" {๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ˜„๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜†๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜—๐Ÿ˜™๐Ÿ˜šโ˜บ๏ธ๐Ÿค—๐Ÿ˜‡๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜Œ๐Ÿ˜›๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿค‘๐Ÿ˜ˆ๐Ÿ˜ธ๐Ÿ˜น๐Ÿ˜บ๐Ÿ˜ป๐Ÿ˜ผ๐Ÿ˜ฝ๐Ÿค ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคค๐Ÿคฉ๐Ÿคช๐Ÿฅณ๐Ÿฅฐ}, "Negative" {๐Ÿค”๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜‘๐Ÿ˜ถ๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ˜ฃ๐Ÿ˜ฅ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿค๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ช๐Ÿ˜ซ๐Ÿ˜ดโ˜น๏ธ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ˜’๐Ÿ˜“๐Ÿ˜”๐Ÿ˜•๐Ÿ˜–๐Ÿ™ƒ๐Ÿ˜ท๐Ÿค’๐Ÿค•๐Ÿ˜ฒ๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜Ÿ๐Ÿ˜ค๐Ÿ˜ข๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ฆ๐Ÿ˜ง๐Ÿ˜จ๐Ÿ˜ฉ๐Ÿ˜ฌ๐Ÿ˜ฐ๐Ÿ˜ฑ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ต๐Ÿ˜ก๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ‘ฟ๐Ÿ‘น๐Ÿ’€โ˜ ๏ธ๐Ÿ˜พ๐Ÿ˜ฟ๐Ÿ™€๐Ÿคข๐Ÿคฅ๐Ÿคง๐Ÿคจ๐Ÿคฌ๐Ÿคฎ}, and "Other/Ambiguous" {๐Ÿค“๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ๐Ÿ‘ค๐Ÿ‘ฅ๐Ÿ‘บ๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ‘ฝ๐Ÿ‘พ๐Ÿค–๐Ÿ’ฉ๐Ÿคก๐Ÿคซ๐Ÿคญ๐Ÿคฏ๐Ÿง๐Ÿฅด๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅถ๐Ÿฅบ๐Ÿฅฑ}. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  3. These four time periods were the 8th to the 17th of August 2018, April 2019, August 2019 and April 2020. August and April were selected at the months-of-interest for convenience for the following two reasons: this analysis was conducted in April of 2020 , and the most recent historic batch of tweets available via The Internet Archiveโ€™s Twitter Stream Grab at the time of writing was August 2019. Data from April 2020 was collected and cleaned by Emojipedia using RStudio. An exact total of 68,157,582 tweets from across the globe were assessed. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  4. Honourable mention to ๐Ÿ˜” Pensive Face, which did not crack the top ten during any of our time frames but was ranked 11th in our April 2020 sample after a 35% increase in usage since August 2019. Another potential byproduct of the coronavirus? โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  5. As we were counting the appearance of each invidual emoji as opposed to a grouping of emojis, we opted for the relative percentage of tweets featuring at least one emoji as opposed to the sum of emoji instances used in our smiley emoji sentiment analysis. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ

  6. This was done to avoid mapping relative variations in use of extremely uncommon emojis, where an increase from 10 uses to 30 uses would be an increase of 200% despite being a small jump in actual usage. โ†ฉ๏ธŽ