Emotion can often be difficult to portray in writing. Depending on how the reader interprets the voice of the writer, a succinct, to-the-point message can come across as rude; a message meant to convey excitement can often be taken as yelling and off-putting. How do you overcome this conundrum and make sure that the reader really understands your message as it is meant to be depicted, emotion and all?
Enter: The emoji.
Emoji are “small digital images or icons used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in digital communication”. The first emoji was created circa 1998 and, as a group, they have gained immeasurable popularity worldwide as they allow users to more fully convey emotion that is often left out of an otherwise cold medium.
So now comes the tricky question… where do we draw the line of emoji usage – are they appropriate in the business world?
You will most presumably react to this question one of two ways:
1. Emoji breach a level of professionalism for any, and all, business communication – no future CEO, thought leader, or high-powered brand is going to put a playful icon into a message that carries any professional weight.
2. Emoji add a fun, relatable dynamic to professional communication – by combining text and emotive icons, messages are better communicated and virtual conversation is humanized.
Whether you’re a type one or type two, emoji are slowing encroaching on the business world, in both everyday communications with colleagues as well as branded messaging. Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you start to see small smiley faces popping up everywhere:
Using emoji in a business interaction has the potential to diminish the level of professionalism – if you incorporate an emoji into an email that is addressing a problem or making a critique, the reader is far less likely to take the issue seriously.
Emoji use should be determined on a case by case basis, sometimes dependent on the industry. It is very important to consider the culture and the targeted recipient of each message and how an expressive icon might be received. While it might be acceptable to incorporate an emoji into a team-wide email at a marketing agency, there is a good chance it will not have the same level of acceptance in a law or accounting firm.
The same is true for social posts or any outward communication from a business to the target prospect. A number of professionals, especially older generations, deem them too casual, and believe it would be inappropriate to email your colleagues with an emoji in a business setting or to receive a branded communication with an emoji in the content.
On the other hand, many of the younger generations find that the addition of emoji makes a brand more fun and relatable. In fact, a study completed by mobile app engagement provider Appboy earlier this summer found that 39% of UK and US mobile phone users ages 14 and older think that brands who use emoji are fun.
Business Casual Communication
Millennials have become the biggest generation in the American workforce and have ushered in a shift in behaviors and technologies. Casual conversation is becoming more acceptable as it incorporates a level of camaraderie in the workplace. Not only do emoji better set the tone of a conversation, but they can minimize perceived negative nuances in an email.
Emoji lend dimension to business language, people are better able to interpret the tone of digital communication. Emoji are also increasing the level of casual conversation at work, employees are starting to feel more comfortable conversing with one another because emoji break down the traditional stiffness of the work environment.
The same is true for brands. An ever increasing number of messages from brands contain emoji – in June of 2015, brands sent 145 million mobile messages that contained emoji, and this summer that number increased to 814 million, an increase of 461%.
The Professional Smile
There is absolutely no doubt that emoji have infiltrated the business world – according to a survey completed by Cotap, 76% of American workers have used emoji in their digital communication in their professional lives. Whether this is good or bad can only be determined with time. For now, I think it is important to find a balance and level of acceptability when incorporating emoji into your work day and brand messaging.