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Emojis: The future of mobile surveys or just a research fad?

Emojis: The future of mobile surveys or just a research fad?

Smartphones have become an almost ubiquitous aspect of our daily lives. Within the MENA region, the number of smartphone connections has more than doubled between 2013 to 2016, to reach 263 million in 2016. In fact, the UAE has amongst the highest smartphone adoption rate in the world, with over 80% of connections being smartphones (the global average is around 65%).

It is believed that UAE consumers spend around 4 hours a day on their mobile devices, processing large quantities of bite-sized information across the day. The amount of time spent on mobile devices in the UAE is second only to Brazil, where consumers spend an additional thirty minutes a day on their mobile screens. Our growing dependence and attachment to our mobile devices has radically changed the way we communicate, whether through abbreviations, the introduction of new expressions (“Google it”) or indeed through Emojis. The question is: what impact does this have on the market research industry?

For starters, the use of mobile surveys as a research tool is growing in popularity. According to Research Now, 30% of their respondents prefer to answer surveys on their mobile devices. Where the target segment consists of younger or more tech-savvy respondents, this percentage increases considerably.

Despite the growing popularity of mobile surveys, clients often fall into the trap of assuming that a survey designed for the computer is automatically suitable for a mobile device. Mobile optimization is key to ensuring a smooth user experience. As mobile surveys also tend to be shorter, this should be reflected in the research design, content, questions and answer choices.

In a bid to capitalize on the digital trends, some research companies are experimenting with the use of Emojis in order to increase respondent engagement. Research conducted on 12,000 respondents by ARF in partnership with GfK and Focus Vision revealed the following key points: 

  • Over half of the smartphone survey participants found it “enjoyable” to use Emojis in the response section
  • Numeric and emoji scales were answered more easily and quicker by respondents
  • The number of survey drop-outs was reduced by half when incorporating the use of Emojis
  • Female respondents as well as those in younger age brackets indicated higher satisfaction with using Emojis in surveys

Although incorporating Emojis may serve as a creative and arguably fun way of shortening the length of surveys, it is worth noting that their application is also limited. For instance, respondents can only be pressed to answer questions using the most universal Emojis (such as thumbs and down, or the basic smiling or frowning faces). Secondly, attributing Emojis that can reflect importance or frequency also becomes problematic. Additionally, the incorporation of Emojis is not always appropriate, particularly where sensitive or more serious topics are concerned.  Finally, the interpretation of Emojis varies considerably from one person to another. For example, when presented with the question of what the “grinning emoji face” symbolizes, the responses of 12,000 participants varied considerably ranging from nervous (15%), to scared (15%), frustrated (11%), happy (9%), stressed (8%), angry (8%), etc.

Whilst Emojis may represent an interesting avenue of exploration, it is questionable whether their power primarily lies in their novelty aspect. Nevertheless, should one consider the use of Emojis in mobile surveys, it is recommended they be limited to simple evaluative scales, so as to maintain consistency across the responses.