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And the Most Enchanting Emoji on Instagram is…

Instagram is nothing if not visual, a statement that’s solidified by the fact that even captions and comments—the one section intended for text—have become inundated with images. Ah, the emoji. Just a month after Apple and Android released emojis on its keyboards, Instagram saw a 10% jump in emoji usage on its channel.

Today, some 50% of all captions and comments on Instagram contain at least an emoji or two. tweet

To build on this trend, at the end of April 2015, Instagram released a new feature to make emojis more useful to consumers and brands: the ability to use these expressive characters in hashtags. Now, an Instagram user can search for specific emojis (and emoji combinations) when exploring content on the platform. This functions just like a hashtagged term, so if you’re a brand, Instagram’s update provides a new way for you to track and tap into visual conversations. As expected, there is much to be said:

Over a one-month period, Curalate found that individual emojis on Instagram have been hashtagged more than 6.4MM times. tweet

A Piece of the Pie

Emojis are often referred to as a universal language, and it makes sense. They allow the people who share them to convey entire messages without using many words. It some instances, they eliminate the need for text all together.

No brand knows this better than Domino’s. The pizza behemoth recently announced that their customers can order a pie by simply directing a ? tweet to the Domino’s account. (If you scroll down to our infographic, by the way, you’ll find that the pizza emoji ranks 92 on Instagram.)

Gone are the days when a hangry diner had to pick up the phone, turn on a computer, or—gasp—tap into an app. It sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but it’s true: The American pizza chain is now taking orders with a single ?. (Do you think they’d send a Hawaiian if we included a ??)

The Language of Lust

While Twitter has become a valuable and convenient form of customer service, Instagram’s visual prowess, as well as its emphasis of products and experiences, is creating new opportunities for brands to connect with their fans. Now that emojis are a big part of that equation, we got to thinking: Which characters do people care about?

To explore the growing importance of emojis in Instagram communication, we put together an infographic of the top 100 by rank. It’s followed by a handful of insights. See if you can find your favorites below.


Insight 1: Love isn’t just in the air. It’s on Instagram.

The No. 1 most frequently used emoji is the single red heart. It was shared more than half a million times (575,381) in tandem with a hashtag, which is 79% more than the next most popular emoji.

Insight 2: Instagram is all smiles

Four of the top five most popular emojis are positive smiley faces (including the laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying icon). If you look at the top 20 emojis, smileys comprise half.

Insight 3: Positivity and humor abound

Smileys aren’t the only positively sentimented emojis to dominate the top 25 either. A plethora of hearts, kisses, affirmative hand gestures and, of course, the perfect “100” all made the grade too. At the end of the day, Instagram users are generally using the platform to express joy and delight. Your content and your comments should follow suit.

Insight 4: Celebrate good times!

Beer is the most popular beverage (it ranks 49), while the most popular food is birthday cake (it ranks 64). What can we conclude from this? Instagram is a place where people go to celebrate. When communicating with your fans, have an uplifting attitude.

Insight 5: It’s a grand old flag

Fact: According to Instagram, 63% of images shared by users in Finland contain at least one emoji; this is more than any other country. Additionally, some 70% of Instagram users dwell outside of the U.S. Despite this, the American flag is the only flag emoji to break the top 100 (it ranks 59). The next most popular flag comes from Italy, ranked 125, followed by the French flag at 160 and the Japanese flag at 166.

How We Did It

Instagram introduced the ability to use emojis in hashtags on April 27, 2015. To understand the growing value of emojis on Instagram, Curalate analyzed the total photo count for each single character emoji hashtag between April 27th and May 27th, 2015 – a one-month period following launch. This analysis includes brand and user-generated images. It accounts for emojis that appear within the image caption as well as any comment posted by the original user.

Are emojis for me?

We know what you’re thinking. Emojis are quirky and all, but how do I know if my audience will respond positively to these icons too?

If you’re a brand that caters to a younger audience (say, the all-mighty millennial segment or perhaps even teens), then it’s a no-brainer. Emojis are now a part of the social and digital lexicon. Incorporating them into your messaging is simply another way to connect. As with any content strategy, however, it’s important that you do your homework first. As we learned from this study, there’s a method to this emoji madness. Go with what you now know.

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The Author

Stacy Goodman

Stacy Goodman, Content Manager

Prior to joining Curalate, Stacy wrote copy on the agency side for brands like TUMS, Sleep Number, Coca-Cola and Visa Small Business. Now, she writes about them as a Content Strategist at Curalate, focusing on visual trends, customer stories and best practices across social, mobile and digital.


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