Elevating Your Text Messages With SMS Emojis

Dikran Seferian
Dikran SeferianContent Writer

Published: Jan 22, 2024

SMS Emoji

Without vocal cues, a message can sometimes mean a lot of things—except its intended meaning. This is why we have SMS emojis, which step in as expressive symbols to clarify the emotions and context of messages. There’s no denying that emojis like smileys have become an integral part of our daily communication. Even businesses have hopped on the bandwagon, adopting these little icons in their messaging strategies.

SMS emojis can play a big role when sending longer messages, saving time and adding visually pleasing displays. Our article shows you how to include them in text messages. You’ll also understand the do’s and don’ts of adding emojis to SMS marketing messages. But first, let’s start with the basics.

Understanding Emojis in SMS Messages

You’re most likely familiar with emojis—those tiny digital icons that show emotion or expressions. You use them on WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter (now X), and other social media apps. Their purpose is the same for SMS communication. In many cases, text messages lack tone. A casual comment, for example, can come off as criticism. That’s where an emoji enters the scene to clear things up, conveying the sender’s intent or emotions better.

Emojis offer a brief way to express feelings, emphasize points, or add a dash of personality to a text message. They allow for a more engaging form of communication, boosting customer engagement in business messaging. Serving as a universal language, emojis go beyond linguistic barriers and resonate with various audiences.

Difference Between Emojis and Emoticons

While both emojis and emoticons convey emotions in digital communication, they are not the same. An emoticon is when you combine keyboard characters to express emotion. A smiley face can be “:)” whereas you can use “XD” as a laughing face.

Emojis, on the other hand, are colorful and detailed symbols that cover a much wider range of emotions as well as objects and activities. They are standard across different communication platforms, which means recipients can interpret them in the same way. As for emoticons, a certain level of imagination is necessary for the reader to understand the intended emotion. The “XD” emoticon, let’s say, can be misleading to some recipients who may confuse it for an abbreviation.

SMS Emojis and Unicode Characters

Emoji SMS characters are not part of the GSM character set, so any SMS text that uses special characters like an emoji will have Unicode encoding—UTF-16 in particular. Each emoji counts as two 16-bit Unicode characters. The smiley-face symbol is 0x16F03 in Unicode.

But here’s where it gets a bit complicated: When using HTTP, Unicode characters are encoded in UTF-8. In this case, the smiley face emoji in SMS will have four 8-bit characters (0xF0 0x9F 0x98 0x83). The character count becomes 70 since you’re using Unicode instead of the GSM character set, which has a 160-character limit. Basically, the text message will initially have a limit of 160 characters but will allow for fewer characters once you add an emoji. Exceeding the limit will result in multi-segment messages, also known as SMS concatenation.

How to Include an Emoji in SMS

Sending Emojis on Android

If you’re using an Android device, the most common and straightforward way to add emojis to an SMS message body is with the default keyboard. Android phones often come with a stock keyboard that contains a wide variety of emojis. The following steps show you how to do it:

  1. Go to your phone’s native text messaging app and select “Start chat.”

  2. Choose whom you want to send the message.

  3. Open the keyboard by tapping on the text input.

  4. Locate the emoji icon on the keyboard. This is usually a smiley face near the space bar. On some phones, you’ll find it near the text input field as well, so you won’t have to open the keyboard to access emojis. 

  5. Open the emoji panel by selecting the icon.

  6. Look for the emoji you want to add and tap on it. The emoji will appear in your text message.

Of course, there are different ways to include emojis in SMS text messages. You can install a third-party emoji keyboard from the Play Store or copy and paste emojis from a website, a social media post, or even a WhatsApp message—the list goes on. You can also use the emoji shortcuts that many Android devices offer.

Sending Emojis on iOS

To be able to add emojis to a text message on an iPhone, you’ll need to make sure the emoji panel is enabled. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the “Settings” app and tap on “General.”

  2. Select “Keyboard” and then “Keyboards” at the top.

  3. If “Emoji” isn’t in the list of available keyboards, select “Add New Keyboard.”

  4. Tap on “Emoji” in the “Other iPhone Keyboards” list. If it’s not there, you can use the search bar to find it.

The “Emoji” keyboard will now be in the available “Keyboards” list, and you should be able to add the available characters to your text messages. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the “Messages” app on your iPhone and open a message thread.

  2. Tap on the text input field to bring up the keyboard.

  3. Select the emoji icon to the left of the space bar.

  4. Look for the emoji you want to add and tap on it. You can also find a specific emoji using the search bar.

  5. You can now tap on the text input box if you want to keep typing, or tap on the “Send” icon if the text message is ready.

Other Ways to Send Emojis via SMS

The previous two methods are great if you're sending an emoji to a friend, colleague, family member, or even a small group of customers. But if you plan on reaching out to a larger audience, using your phone to send text messages can be impractical. You'll need to use an SMS API or platform in this case. Many business messaging providers, like Dexatel, offer these solutions, allowing you to include emojis in your texting campaign.

Text Message API Service Pricing

Dexatel employs a pay-as-you-go approach that charges you per sent message. This is the most affordable SMS gateway pricing model, and the service costs are free of setup, monthly, or any other fees.

Do’s and Don’ts of Using an SMS Emoji

1. Do Understand Your Audience

When you want to use an emoji for SMS messages, remember who your recipients are. You’ll want to account for the demographics, cultural backgrounds, and different preferences of your audience. Not all age groups may interpret emojis in the same way. That’s why you should tailor your use of emojis so that specific audiences can relate to them. By understanding these nuances, you can make sure your emojis are well-received and convey the intended message.

2. Don’t Overdo It

While emojis add a touch of personality to a message, you want to avoid overdoing it. Using too many emojis—or using them in every single text—can be detrimental to the impact of the content. It can even seem overly unprofessional in certain cases. Keep emojis for times when they actually boost the quality of the text, highlighting emotions or creating a more engaging tone.

3. Do Be Mindful of Tone

The main point of an SMS emoji is to convey the emotional tone of the SMS message you're writing. Use emojis that match the mood you want to express, whether it’s humor, excitement, or perhaps empathy. By considering the context of the message, you can adjust the way you use these forms of expression according to where you’re going with your content. A simple smiley face can downplay the hype of a special promotion. 

4. Don’t Be Ambiguous

Some emojis—especially hand gesture ones—can have different meanings across various cultures. For example, the “OK” hand emoji—the one where the thumb and index finger form a circle—means “excellent” in some countries but is considered a threat in others. Being careful of these things can help you avoid misunderstandings, especially in sensitive communications. When you account for the cultural and contextual aspects of certain emojis, you won’t have to worry about recipients interpreting your message incorrectly.

5. Do Test Across Devices

Many emojis appear differently from one device to another because of variations in design and rendering. Some iPhone SMS emojis, for example, can have a somewhat different look if the recipient's phone is an Android device. Having said that, it’s always a good idea to test your SMS message on various mobile phones. This helps you guarantee that the SMS emoji you choose carries the same meaning across a range of devices.

6. Don’t Use Emojis in Formal Cases

In formal or professional scenarios, you’ll want to avoid using emojis altogether. While they add personality to SMS campaigns, using them in cases where you shouldn’t can make you seem unprofessional. Emojis are ideal for casual or friendly communication. But they’re often unnecessary in contexts where you should maintain a high level of professionalism. A bank wouldn’t use emojis for account balance notifications.