Gen Z gives Thumbs Up a Thumbs Down

Nov 29, 2022 | Online Marketing

The meaning of emojis changes over time. Here's what's cool - and what's out - when it comes to using emoticons in your marketing.

Recently an old Reddit query resurfaced where a user asked the internet: “Am I not adult enough to be comfortable with the “thumbs up” emoji reaction?”

The responses exposed a generational divide when it came to giving the thumb, particularly in the workplace.

Gen X and older workers didn’t have a problem using the emoji to acknowledge a message when they had nothing more to add.

Meanwhile, Gen Z’ers believe that a thumbs-up is rude or passive aggressive.  “Hearting” the response or giving short reply like “Thanks!” or “Agreed” is always preferable to the sore thumb.

Some Redditors even felt that the offensive emoji should be “cancelled” in the workplace as it comes across as unfriendly or even hostile.

Say What You Mean

Emoji misfires don’t only create anxiety at work, but they can send mixed signals in your marketing and social media interactions. The key is to know your audience and communicate accordingly. Deliver your message in a way your recipient will instantly understand, instead of assuming they communicate via text as you do.

When we type to talk, we are losing a surprising 70 percent of our emotional context which is delivered via physical cues, such as body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Emojis are intended to add nuance to our communication, but they shouldn’t be used to replace our words altogether.

In most professional situations, a quick written response is always better than relying on emojis.

Likewise, your social media followers are all future clients or customers, so it’s best not to leave anything up to misinterpretation. Besides, a quick “Thank you” will do far more for building connections than simply clicking a thoughtless thumb.

Emojis that make you look old

As digital natives, Gen Z’ers are emoji power users, sending out an average of 76 little icons per week. They set the trends, reshape context, and dictates the rise and fall of emoji popularity.

The generational disconnect over thumbs up opened the debate to other emoticons that cause Gen Z to cringe.

According to a survey of 2,000 16 to 29-years, using any of the following 10 emojis officially makes you look ‘old’. How many of these emojis are you using?

  • Thumbs up 👍
  • Red heart ❤️
  • Ok Hand 👌
  • Checkmark ✔️
  • Poo 💩
  • Loud Crying Face 😭
  • Monkey Covering Eyes 🙈
  • Clapping Hands 👏
  • Kiss Mark 💋
  • Grimacing Face 😬

Which Emojis Are Gen Z Using?

Context is everything, and so the thumbs up emoji isn’t the only one that has seen its meaning evolve. Here is a sampling of emojis that are popular with Gen Z. A couple might look familiar from the “old” list, but that’s only because they have been refreshed with new meaning.

Red heart ❤️

While the heart might be classified as an out-of-date way to express affection, Gen Z still uses it as a means to soften the blow to a response.

“The math test is tomorrow, right?” “No. ❤️”

Folded hands 🙏

The debate rages on as to whether the folded hands are praying or giving a high-five. Either way, the emoji has become a way of expressing hope or gratitude.

“I forgot my calculator for the test. Can I use yours? 🙏”

The hourglass emoji has nothing to do with time. Instead, it’s a way to let someone know that they are looking fine or attractive – like the classic hourglass figure.

“Lend me your calculator and you can borrow that dress that makes you look ⏳.”

Fire 🔥

Nothing is burning, but something is lit when the fire emoji is in play. Want to express that someone is hot or sexy, fire it up.

“OMG! My dress with your boots! 🔥”

Eyes 👀

Tell me more, tell me more! The eyes say it all when you want to hear the rest of the story or just let someone know that you’re listening.

“Which boots? 👀”

Loud crying face😭

Yet another emoji that makes both lists. While millennials and beyond might’ve used the loud crying face to express extreme sadness or frustration, Gen Z uses it when they are overwhelmed by all the feels in a good way.

“Thanks for lending me your calculator. You are the best! 😭”

Grinning face with sweat 😅

“I might be stressed, but I’ll be okay” is the message Gen Z’ers imply when using the grinning face with sweat emoji, as opposed to sweating it out at the gym.

“I think I did OK on the test. 😅”

Kissing face 😗

If you use this face for kissing, you’re not from Gen Z. The younger generation uses this emoji to agree on plans or an idea, or simply to say “ooh”.

“Bring the dress when you come over tonight. 😗”

Zany face 🤪

Feeling goofy or in a weird mood? According to Gen X, the zany face says it all.

“Oops! I forgot your calculator in the classroom…. 🤪”

Upside-down face 🙃

When things aren’t going your way, the upside-down face emoji is another way of expressing your disappointment or as a shorthand for FML.

“But I need my calculator for my next class! 🙃”

Eyes and mouth combo 👁️👄👁️

Want to get fancy with emoji combos? The eyes and mouth combo is a way for Gen Z to express their shock. Think wide-eyed and slack jawed, and you’ve got the context.

“Oh no!! 👁️👄👁️”

Considering how varied emoji meanings can be between generations, if you’re looking to extend emojis into your youth marketing, maybe run it past your favourite Gen Z’er first. They won’t hesitate to tell you what’s what.