I don’t think that emoji means what you think it means

By Mark Schaefer

When I travel around the world, I go to extreme measures to assure that my talks are culturally-sensitive. I sift through my speeches for humor or American phrases that might confuse or even offend somebody. I try to use local language and images whenever I can. I even think about my body language and try to learn about any gestures or positions that might communicate the wrong message.

And that leads me to emoji.

Did you know that some of the common emoji in America might be offensive to other cultures? I have been thinking about this because more than 60 percent of my blog and podcast audience is outside my cultural comfort zone of the U.S. I have large audiences in India, Germany, Philippines, Pakistan, and South Africa. When I use emoji, does it mean what I think it means? Here are some examples …

This is probably my most-used emoji, I use it to signify approval and good work. However it has a very different meaning in other parts of the world. In Latin America and the Middle East, this means “up yours.”

Another popular sign is to encourage people to “rock on.” But in Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Portugal and Spain, this is tells men that their wife is cheating on them.

I might use this symbol to indicate good luck but in Vietnam this is something that is very lewd.

To me, this means “peace” but in some countries like Ireland and New Zealand it represents a contempt of authority.

We’re number one! Not so fast. In China this is the symbol for the number 8 and in Italy it means that something is not so good.

In America, this is the common sign for “OK” but in Brazil this is the “one fingered salute.”

In summary, all this research has made me a little paranoid about the general use of emoji. I’ve determined that there is only one “safe harbor” emoji that means the same thing in every culture and it is this:

So to be culturally-sensitive, this is the only emoji I will be using from now on. I will use this to safely express all my emotions which makes me as happy as a little poo emoji.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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