Why are so many world leaders using emojis?

A 3D printed Twitter logo is seen in front of a displayed cyber code in this illustration taken March 22, 2016.

World leaders are increasingly using emojis on Twitter. Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Matthias Lüfkens
Managing Director, Digital, Burson-Marsteller
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Emojis are more than a series of smileys and other funny faces abundantly used by teenagers on social networks. These tiny, little pictograms offer an entirely new, more visual way to express complex concepts and are used more and more often by world leaders and diplomats on social media.

The Emojis available on Apple devices with iOS 9.3 and above.
Image: Apple

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos discovered the Colombian flag emoji during the FIFA Football World Cup qualifier between Colombia and Ecuador in March 2016. His team has since used the flags for more serious tweets about regional cooperation between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The French Foreign Ministry used the French, German and Spanish flags in a tweet about the trilateral meeting between the three ministers of European Affairs. France’s Harlem Désir and Germany’s Michael Roth regularly brighten up their tweets with flags. The French flag has almost replaced the adjective on the tweets of the French government, who is a heavy emoji user in many of its tweets.


The European Commission’s International Trade department @Trade_EU uses a series of emojis in its bio and has made its tweets more digestible with an average of three emojis per tweet. The Presidency of Paraguay often starts its tweets with an emoji, either to signify a link to a report or the agenda of the president. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is a fan of the classic smiley , which frequently surfaces on his Twitter stream. For the record, emojis preceded by a hashtag are already searchable on Instagram.

Since late 2014 the emoji has become a standard feature in the tweets of Australia’s Foreign Minister. Julie Bishop has come under heavy criticism for her emoji interview with Buzzfeed in which she described Russian President Vladimir Putin with a single red-faced angry man emoji . The ‘emoji interview’ led to a very serious exchange in the Australian Senate’s Foreign Affairs committee on the use of Unicode characters in diplomatic social media communications.


Despite the uproar, Julie Bishop has become a master in using these small visuals. On 22 February 2016, she packed three emojis into a very serious tweet summing up Australia’s relief effort after tropical cyclone Winston hit Fiji. The fact is, in most instances, without the pictograms the message would not have fit in the 140-character limit imposed by the platform. Her tweets are a masterpiece of concision as she also mentioned Australia’s Minister of Defence, Maryse Payne, two hashtags as well as a link to the foreign minister’s website.

Emoji was voted the word of the year 2015 by the Oxford dictionary and the 1,620 characters are slowly making their entry into mainstream social media communications. The pictograms brighten dull strings of text and best of all, save characters. Emoji which literally means “picture-character” in Japanese, only by coincidence sounds like the abbreviation of emotion.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry launched a series of country emoticons for their Christmas calendar in 2015 and some of the symbols such as the sauna symbol have been submitted for inclusion into the universal Unicode. The WWF used a series of 17 animal emojis for its #EndangeredEmojis campaign in 2015. As a result, the gorilla and the rhinoceros will soon make their entry in the universal Unicode.

The World Health Organisation trialed an interesting emoji on World Toilet Day which, put in words, would hardly have made it into their tweet.


Diplomats can chose from 257 flags of countries and territories and there is a bewildering choice of 1,363 other emojis. Since the tiny symbols are not easily recognizable on a smartphone or a tablet, it is worth checking their meaning on theEmojipedia.org website which helps find the appropriate symbol that fits your purpose and emotion.

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