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An Emojional Connection
An Emojional Connection

Higher ed institutions get expressive with custom emoji keyboards

By Selene San Felice

The George Washington University

Forget foam fingers, embroidered baseball caps, and logo T-shirts. In 2017, school spirit is spelled out in emojis. As alumni's relationships with their alma maters go digital, institutions have started branding their own emoji keyboards.

Emojis, GIFs, and stickers that come in keyboard packs are great for repping an institution on Facebook, Twitter, and via text messages. But having branded emojis doesn't mean spamming the internet with icons of your mascot making goofy faces. Institutions have to be strategic about their icon designs and rollout to get the most out of their media.

When New York's Columbia University released its emoji keyboard in the App Store and Google Play in October 2016, the alumni association's marketing team expected a rush of social media notifications showing off the C-mojis. Instead, alumni and students emailed positive feedback to the alumni association.

"Our app is similar to ones like Bitmoji and KIMOJI, which are more successful in texts, so [C-mojis] don't show up as much on social media. The school wasn't expecting that," says Rachel Ely, associate director of marketing and digital initiatives for the alumni association.

Columbia's emojis and GIFs include such campus references as a man eating a slice of pizza twice his size (a nod to Koronet Pizza, a local hangout with giant pizza slices) and the Low Memorial Library's columns lit up in rainbow colors for LGBT pride. The greatest success, however, has come from pairing unique emojis with events. For Columbia Giving Day in October 2016, three special emojis were added to the app: a Giving Day stamp, an "I Voted"-style "I Gave" sticker, and a spinning globe GIF with the words "Columbia: Change Lives, Change the World." 

"We wanted alumni to be able to identify their posts in a more creative way instead of just stating it in text," Ely says.

The George Washington University has deployed a similar strategy for its iMessage sticker app.

"The fun part about the stickers is that they can be interactive," says Maralee Csellar, director of media relations. "An individual can drop a pair of GW-branded sunglasses over a photo so it looks like someone is wearing them. We even created a hairstyle graphic of our dean of students because his hair is so recognizable."

The university plans to add stickers for student move-in next fall, and GW and Columbia both released several unique cap-and-gown emojis for May commencement. 

About the Author Selene San Felice

Selene San Felice is a Currents 2017 editorial intern.




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