How do you feel about receiving an emoji from a colleague? I’m sure many of you are emoji fanatics and think that I am crazy for even having this conversation, but there is a point to be made here. The debate isn’t necessarily over whether emojis are fun to use (because we can all agree that they are) it’s more about whether or not they are appropriate in the workplace.
For the few of you who are not familiar with what an emoji is, let me explain. An emoji is a small digital image or icon that is used to express an idea, emotion, action and more. It can be a smiley face, a heart, a car, a birthday cake, etc., — nowadays, there is an emoji for just about everything.
Due to the growing use of emojis in the workplace, there has been an increasing controversy over the suitability of their inclusion in professional business writing and work correspondence in general. Despite this quarrel, the vast majority of people still use them. Today, roughly 61 percent of people use emojis at work and believe them to be a beneficial form of communication. Emojis can be seen as a way to help make communication clear and concise, liven up a dull conversation and they’re just plain fun.
In certain situations, using an emoji is great — like sending your colleague a happy birthday message and adding in a present or a balloon icon. It’s well-intentioned and really has no noticeable drawbacks. Other times, it can be totally inappropriate — like sending an employee (who you fired) a laughing smiley face to mock or ridicule them. Sometimes, emojis can be used to exacerbate an already bad situation and escalate the interaction to be considered harassment. For obvious reasons, this is never good — in your professional or personal life.
Ironically, one of the risks of communicating with emojis is that it could lead to misinterpretation. Emojis have different meanings in other parts of the world and even on different teams within a business.
Depending on the context and understanding of what an emoji signifies, it can take on an entirely new meaning. There are no universal or formal rules that specify each of their meanings (at least not yet). So, if you decide to include emojis in your business writing, be mindful and take this into account. Choose your icons carefully! Although the ambiguity on what an emoji means or represents isn’t necessarily created with bad intentions, it can be damaging or hurtful.
I can go back and forth about the pros and cons of using emojis all day, but what it really comes down to is the context: Sometimes they’re great and sometimes they’re not.
One of the biggest concerns is whether or not emojis are acceptable to send to customers. Again, that depends. Before sending an emoji, you should take into account a few things:
- The kind of business you own and your brand voice;
- The type of customer touchpoint;
- The channel you are using; and
- Your relationship with the customer.
58 percent of people stated that they would be more likely to open an email if the subject line has some sort of icon included in it and 44 percent said they'd be more likely to buy something advertised with emojis. These statistics can’t just be ignored.
There is a case to be made that emojis are good for business — and any A/B email test you run with and without emojis may verify that. However, there are times when emojis can be distracting or take away from the message you are trying to relay. It all depends on the context of the situation.
Social media and email correspondence are perfect places to test out using emojis and see if they work to benefit your business. Emojis allow you to express emotions in a way that text often does not allow for, but again, it’s whatever you prefer and whether or not that is the type of messaging you want to convey. Either decision is completely acceptable.
In most cases, you will have green light to go ahead and use emojis on popular social profiles like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Emojis can help to:
- Make your business more personable;
- Boost engagement; and
- Make your content more fun and exciting to read.
Emojis are a good tool to include in your communication efforts, but you have to use them responsibly and strategically. I know it’s tempting to post a bunch of emojis that you love, but as a business owner, you need to reign it in.
It’s important that you don’t overuse emojis because it can be detrimental by coming off as over-the-top or unprofessional. It’s also important to stay on brand. You want to create a cohesive voice and the emojis need to align with this. You don’t want to post emojis that are completely contradicting your usual voice.
Communicating With Other Business Owners
Are you the kind of boss who prefers to have your employees adhere to a professional and formal tone when communicating with you? If so, you’re actually in the majority. Over 50 percent of executives believe that it’s never appropriate to use emojis at work.
Again, there are plenty of factors to take into consideration here. A big one is the kind of business you run and what businesses you interact with. What is deemed acceptable at a new startup business might not necessarily be seen as acceptable at a well established law firm or bank.
If you run a business where your employees show up polished in their suit and tie everyday and those are the kinds of businesses you interact with, maybe stick to the formal language and ditch the emojis for now. However, if you run a more casual and laid back business, you can probably give emojis a try.
If you happen to love emojis and the spice they add to a conversation, be mindful that not everyone shares that belief. As a business owner, a part of your role is to connect with other business owners. So, the struggle persists: to use or not to use emojis.
You should never assume that other business owners, who you aren't familiar with, like emojis. You don’t want to risk coming off as unprofessional. Some individuals feel that using emojis in work communications represent a lack of seriousness. And that's okay. Don’t use emojis with them! You can tailor your usage depending on your audience.
As a general rule, it’s always smart to play it safe. Establish a working relationship first, build rapport and credibility, see how they communicate and then feel it out. If there is no reciprocity with the emojis in your conversations, chances are you should stop sending them.
Unfortunately, there is no easy formula to follow, so it is largely up to your discretion. Regardless of what type of business you own, if you aren’t comfortable with using emojis, then don’t. You have the power to choose the way you communicate and the message you want your business to give off.
Casual Work Interactions With Employees
Including emojis in the back-and-forth banter that you have with employees who you have a pre-existing relationship with is usually fine. Whether it is via text, email or on platforms like Slack, emojis are typically a great addition to any conversation. Chances are, if you regularly interact with your colleagues, there won’t be that much room for misinterpretation, and if there is, you will likely have an opportunity to clear the air.
Just to be clear, I am not promoting the use of emoji-only conversations (which have oddly been on the rise). As of now, I don’t believe emojis are capable of replacing written content. However, I do think that emojis can be advantageous to include in a conversation in certain situations.
For example, if you are asking one of your employees for an update on a timeline regarding a task you delegated to them, it might be nice to include an emoji to ensure that you aren’t sounding too direct or coming off as impolite.
Here's an example:
I wanted to check in and see when you will finish up the presentation. We need it finished before the meeting tomorrow at 2pm.
Including the smiley face emoji makes the message come across as less harsh, it softens the delivery and it allows your employee to better gauge the tone of your voice.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to context. You have to know your audience and try to anticipate the way you will come off and the manner in which you will be perceived by your colleagues, fellow business owners and customers.
Establishing a relationship with someone prior to inundating their inbox with emojis is always a good idea. Emojis can be great to use at work: They liven up a dull conversation, help establish your tone and are fun to use, but they need to be used appropriately. If you aren’t a fan of emojis, that's also fine. It’s solely up to your discretion.