The Secret of Monetizing Messaging Apps by Localizing Emoji

Craving for emoji globally

Did you not use any emoji in your online conversation today?

Emoji have spread around the world while it began as a Japanese phenomenon (Thanks to Apple’s introduction). Asian chat apps like Line and WeChat prove that selling emoji stickers can be a highly profitable business. Western rivals such as Facebook are also joining the craze in the past few year. Although selling

Although selling emoji stickers seems promising, there are other localization challenges that we have to avoid, especially if an app is going global. Read this blog post to learn more.

The little things that make huge money

Emoji are not just for fun. It is a killer feature that can make millions of dollar.

In 1990s, the creator of emoji and Japan’s largest mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo produced a series of best-selling pagers after they introduced a heart symbol in their messaging function. Nevertheless, its core customers were gone soon after NTT DoCoMo removed this feature in newer models.

The Japanese messaging app Line monetises sticker as one of its major revenue channels. In Line, some of the stickers are for free, but others may cost around 170 yen (about $1.75) for a pack of 40. The total delivery of these sticker messages is tremendous. Line says now its users send more than one billion stickers per day. The sales of sticker alone have contributed around $10 million in revenue to Line. Line has become one of the fastest-growing messaging apps in the world with more than 230 million users internationally.

The making of sticker also creates a lot of business opportunities in collaboration with artists and businesses, including Sanrio and The Walt Disney Company Ltd, and attracts more users and fans.

The emoji craze is due to the attractiveness of image-led communication. Performics shows that photos is the most engaging type of media on social media. Tessa Mansfield, senior vice president at research firm Stylus, suggests that communicating via emoji has created a kind of “digital slang” and “personalized conversation” for young teens.

Localization errors in emoji that even Line and Apple made

Confusing content to particular cultures

However, if an emoji is not well localized, the content may lack user’s sensibility, and lead to low usage.

Some emoji, like heart icon and smiley, are universal. But for many of them, their content is still biased towards Japanese culture. It tends to confuse many non-Asian users.

For example, a popular sticker pack in Line which is called salaryman, consists of pictures about the daily routine life of a typical white-collar businessman in Japan. This set of emoji works well in Asian contexts, where crazy working hours and commuting are not rare, it lacks sympathy in North American or European contexts.

Line stickers are popular in Asia, but look confusing to some westerners.

Low respects for ethnic diversity

Cultural sensitivity and respect for ethnic diversity are important in a globalized world. We all understand that.

But even Apple made mistakes on it. In the collection of 800 emoji in iOS, there are only two emoji portraying non-Caucasians. One is a turban and another looks vaguely Asian. None of them are black people.

There’s a petition on Do Something asking Apple to introduce a more diverse roster of emoji for the iOS7 emoji keyboard update. It calls for at least four characters with darker skin tones in the next update.

How to localize emoji right

Localization is not just about translation. It is also about adapting into local culture to meet local need.

That’s why cultural sensitivity in localization is important. Cultural sensitivity refers to the comprehensibility and cultural appropriateness of a product. There are four ways to improve cultural sensitivity.

Be diverse

Emoji are human-like images or icons. We should deal with emoji’s cultural issues as how we do for human photography or filmography.

Discrimination against gender, ethnicity, sexuality and even impairment should be eradicated when designing emoji. Check the number of emoji and stickers about different social groups and make them more balanced.

Study communication cultures

Understanding of local norms is the key to localization success.

Facebook discovered that the way Asians use emoji is not simply to express emotion. The context where the emoji is placed is also important. For example, a face on a beach with the sun glaring means they are happy, but not that they are attending to beach.

In US, however, only the emotion of the face on the emoji matters, not surroundings. So more explicit tone of emoji is needed in Western context.

Collaborate with local brands or artists

Collaborating with local businesses and artists is a short cut of localization success. Line, for example, is proactive in this aspect. To consolidate its 15 million user base in Spain, recently Line scored a

To consolidate its 15 million user base in Spain, Line scored a partnership with Spanish football clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. After installing Line and connecting with specfiic accounts, you will receive stickers featuring the two football clubs for users for free.

Allow customizing emoji

If a chat app has open culture in code, it may also allow users to customize emoji. Remember what MS Live Messenger did for emoticons in the old days. Let local creation meets local demands.

Corporate messaging app Slack is doing it right. It allows users to customize emoji that is unique to their user group. It helps add humor and localness among work communication.

There are apps that let users create emoji. MyEmoji Creator allows users turn photos into emoji in messages as well as share them via social media.

But again, customization can be a two-sided blade. Remember to do the best practices in preserving cultural sensitivity when allowing customization.

Build a killer chat app by doing localization right

Nowadays, 80% of Line’s users are from overseas markets, including 18 millions in Thailand and 17 million in Taiwan. Mr. Morikawa, chief strategy and marketing officer of Line, attributes its global success to its localization efforts. As mentioned above, collaboration with local firms is important to Line’s development of emoji and stickers.

After all, native content is king. The more local emoji is, the more successful the messaging app is in the local market.

What’s your take on localizing emoji? Any funny example that you came across? Please feel free to let us know below!

Feature Photo Credit: Gizmodo

Patrick Yip

Patrick Yip is the former Head of Marketing at OneSky. Heavily attracted to any brilliant growth strategy, well-crafted content and the idea of making the Internet globally accessible.

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