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The United Kingdom of Emoji: Which emoji were big in Britain in 2016?

21st December 2016

Did you know that earlier this week, a London company put out a job listing for an ‘Emoji Translator’? As emoji popularity continues to explode around the globe, we thought it was a brilliant time to put together another Emoji Report – this time, with a focus on the United Kingdom (after all, SwiftKey headquarters are in London!).

We looked at over 400 million pieces of emoji data to see which emoji are most used in general in the UK as well as which emoji are most representative of certain UK cities. And then, because we couldn’t help ourselves, we looked at the emoji most often used with words associated with one of the year’s biggest political rollercoasters, Brexit. So, buckle up – we’ve got a lot to tell you!

Top 10 Emoji in the UK 

emoji-uk-Top 10 emoji-hr

?  was the most popular emoji in the UK in 2015, and it is somehow even more popular in 2016. You might remember from our partnership with Oxford University Press last year that the Face with Tears of Joy emoji was 2015’s Word of the Year. Perhaps this was a contributing factor!

Meanwhile, the Grimacing Face ?  and Expressionless Face ?  both doubled in usage between 2015 and 2016. At the same time, the Kiss ? , Clapping Hands ?  and Fist Bump ?  emoji all halved in overall usage between 2015 and 2016 – could this possibly be a reflection of the sort of year 2016 has proven to be?

Interestingly, we found that the top 6 emoji in the UK for 2015 were exactly the same in 2016 (might be time to ramp up the creativity in 2017?). These 6 make up 50% of all emoji use in both 2015 and in 2016 – that means half of all emoji used are these 6 emoji! OK, it’s definitely time to ramp up the creativity.

Now that we knew which emoji were used over and over again, we thought we’d take a look at some that haven’t been getting quite as much UK love. What we found was somewhat surprising: ?  didn’t even make the top 50, despite British love for a good pub, and ?  – a favorite of millennials and foodies alike – barely cracked the top 150.

Top Emoji in UK Cities 

For each city, we built a profile based on the most representative emoji. Then, we compared the profile of the cities, taking into account the emoji that were common across the whole country. From there, we selected the emoji that is the most representative of each city’s usage patterns.

emoji-uk-UK map-hr

While we could think of an explanation for some of these – perhaps Leeds’ love of the Blue Heart indicates their sports team colours – we were dumbfounded by some of the others. Any ideas why Bristol dwellers love the Watermelon? Or why Edinburgh would like to Hear No Evil? Can you help explain any of the other cities’ most used emoji? 

Brexit by Emoji 

What about the UK’s emoji reaction to Brexit, which sparked a storm of social media activity and commentary? We took a look at top emoji used in conjunction with words associated with Brexit and found that the 10 below were used 3x as often as other emoji.

emoji-uk-The brexit factor-hr

What do you think – do these findings resonate with your city and how you use emoji? Let us know on Twitter!

The SwiftKey Team

Note: The data is based on 435 million emoji uses over Jan 2015 – Jul 2016 and where relevant, a comparison analysis between Jan-July 2015 and Jan-July 2016.