Put a Smiley on It: Should You Use Emojis in Business Communication?

By business.com editorial staff,
business.com writer
| Updated
May 28, 2020
Image Credit: oatawa/Shutterstock

Emojis might be fun, but are they appropriate in the workplace?

  • Emojis are informal, personable and often used to inject humor into digital conversation.
  • Emojis in a business setting break down barriers in formal communication and bring conversations down to a personal level.
  • Emojis should be used wisely and selectively in business communications, as not all sectors allow the use of emojis. For example, the legal sector does not allow for the informality of emojis.

A picture is worth a thousand words – and an emoji can save you that many characters. Emojis are based on symbols from Japanese comics and express emotion through digital communication. The idea is to provide a reaction when emailing, texting or messaging someone who can't see your body language.

Benefits of using emojis in the workplace

1. They add a personal approach.

If you're too formal and stiff, you might keep away potential customers. Your clients are human beings with feelings. Expressing your emotions as a business appeals to your client's human side and potentially attracts more customers. Emojis also help to build on existing relationships.

2. They act as a display of honesty.

Emojis help you build connections with your clients because they are deemed to be honest expressions. Use of emojis in a business setting gives your customers the impression that you are honest and approachable. Always use the proper emoji for the context.

3. They get the reader's attention.

Besides being eye-catching, emojis give emphasis to an important message and inject spirit into your communications. This can enhance your brand image.

Drawbacks to using emojis in the workplace

Most messaging programs, even ones for business, offer a menu of emojis. But just because they're available doesn't mean you should use them. Here are some concerns with emojis in the workplace – and some instances where you might get away with including them.

1. They aren't universal.

Even if emojis might be appropriate in the moment, they don't always work as intended. According to Andrea Lehr, brand relationship strategist at Fractl, there is no universal agreement on what specific emojis represent.

"Individuals bring their own personal experience to how they interpret an emoji, so although you might use an emoji with streaming tears after something you found incredibly funny, someone else might wonder why you're upset," said Lehr.

"Emojis can get lost in translation," added Marty Estelle Lundstrom, founder of Polished Professionals and a practicing attorney and certified etiquette consultant with Manners Pro. "While a red-faced emoji might mean 'angry' to one person, another person might interpret it as 'embarrassed.'" This can cause confusion and disconnect between correspondents.

2. They make you seem less competent.

According to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, emojis make workers appear less competent. Additionally, an OfficeTeam survey found that 39% of senior managers think it's unprofessional to include emojis in work communications. Their opinions could ruin your reputation as a qualified expert.

"Emojis are a newer form of communication, so if your recipient is older, an emoji can make you seem less competent simply because your recipient was expecting a more traditional correspondence," added Lehr.

Using emojis at work

Despite the concerns, many employees still use emojis – not only because millennials make up a large percentage of the workforce, but because of the widespread adoption of collaborative office tools such as Slack that promote casual work interactions.

Whether you should use emojis at work depends on context. If your workplace is informal, emojis are likely more acceptable, particularly if your co-workers use them frequently.

"Mirroring is a proven strategy for in-person communication, and I believe the same is true online," said PR manager Hillary Hafke. "Emojis are appropriate for some business emails in the same way that jokes are OK in some job interviews. You simply need to know your audience."

Don't use emojis with people you don't know very well. Be careful when messaging your boss, and particularly with customers. If you don't have a comfortable relationship with someone, it's best to avoid anything that could potentially turn them away.

"If you are creating a professional business email for a new client or business client that you haven't met personally yet, I would shy away from the use of emojis in any sort of correspondence with them," said James McCarthy, CEO of Placement Labs. "However, if the email recipient is a co-worker/employee or a client with whom you have a friendly, conversational relationship, then you should be able to use as many emojis as you would like."

Know your demographic. As Userlike points out, older people may be uncomfortable with emojis, and may not even know what they mean.

"If you're sending an email to a supervisor, executive, or client or work in a corporate environment, emojis may not be appropriate," said Seamas Egan, director of sales and marketing at Campaigner. "But for millennials and younger colleagues, or in a startup work environment, emojis may be more popular and acceptable."

In responses to a serious complaint or issue, emojis are inappropriate. Above all, don't use one if you aren't certain what it means, and never replace a word with an emoji, added Egan.

"Work life without emojis sounds boring to me, but I also understand that there are moments where they are not necessary," said McCarthy.

How do businesses use emojis?

Marketing

Emojis are often used when the target market is millennials. A simple smiley face tends to grab the attention of younger generations. Do not throw random emojis at your audience without a plan, though. Ensure you know the meaning of an emoji before you use it.

Communication

Most of our communication is nonverbal cues. Emojis add emotions to formal conversations, helping to create richer and more meaningful conversations by clarifying the tone of the written conversation. This helps prevent the receiver of your message from negatively interpreting it. Here are a few rules for using emojis in formal conversations, according to Spike:

  • Don't use emojis in email conversations until you identify the conversation style of your recipient.
  • Follow the recipient's example. If they use emojis, you can make the assumption that its okay to use emojis.
  • Establish a common meaning for the emojis. It is crucial that emojis you use in business mean the same thing to everyone, reducing chances of conflict.

Slack

Emojis can be used in Slack messages to brighten up a dull mood or drama, or just for fun. Well-used emojis can convey a message faster than a written message. You can even add an emoji to your Slack name. However, only use the approved emojis for your workplace. 

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff
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