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Updated Jan 19, 2024

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

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership

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A picture is worth a thousand words — and an emoji can save you that many characters. They can also often convey what plain text cannot, such as tone and emphasis and can help make a message feel more personal.

While emojis have become commonplace in text message marketing campaigns and on social media, how or if they should be used in business communications is still something to consider. Here’s what you need to know about using emojis in the workplace and best practices for doing so.

What are emojis?

graphic of a text conversation with emojis

Emojis are based on symbols from Japanese comics and express emotion through digital communication. Emojis are informal, personable and often used to inject humor into digital conversation. The idea is to provide a reaction when emailing, texting or messaging someone who can’t see your body language. Emojis in a business setting break down barriers in formal communication and bring conversations down to a personal level. [Read our reviews of the best text message marketing systems to see which one suits your business.]

Benefits of using emojis in the workplace

Under the right circumstances, emojis can help your message better connect with your intended recipient. Some positives of using emojis in business communication include the following.

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.

TipBottom line

When emojis are used appropriately, they can help to build a sense of community and a positive atmosphere between colleagues.

2. They act as a display of honesty.

Emojis help you build connections with your clients because they are deemed to be honest expressions. The 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.

graphic of people using smartphones while leaning on a large smartphone displaying a conversation using emojis

Besides being eye-catching, emojis emphasize an important message and inject spirit into your communications. They’ve been shown to increase audience engagement. This, in turn, 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 at 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 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.

Emojis can make employees appear less competent and unprofessional when used in work communications, which 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.

Best practices for using emojis at work

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

Context is important

graphic of two businesspeople sitting on conversation bubbles

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 Hillary Hafke, corporate communications manager at Match Group. “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.”

In response to a serious complaint or issue, emojis are also inappropriate. Above all, don’t use one if you aren’t certain what it means and never replace a word with an emoji, added Seamas Egan, CEO of tinyEinstein.

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

Know your audience

Before using emojis, make sure you know your audience’s demographic. For instance, older people may be uncomfortable with emojis or 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 Egan. “But for millennials and younger colleagues or in a startup work environment, emojis may be more popular and acceptable.”

FYIDid you know

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.

Understand your team’s emotions

Especially with hybrid or remote teams, you can leverage emojis to keep track of your employees’ tasks and how they are feeling about their work. Employees can use emojis to update their status or “react” to messages. You can also encourage employees to choose an emoji to convey how their week is going. However, the communication shouldn’t end with an emoji. Rather, it should serve as a launchpad for more in-depth conversations, allowing you deeper insight into your team’s emotions and needs.

Reinforce company culture

A strong company culture can help keep employees engaged and motivated. Using emojis can reinforce that culture, whether you’re reinforcing core values or allowing employees to express their sense of humor. Remember not to force a certain atmosphere with emojis. Establish what your organization’s emotional culture is and then consider how emojis can enhance that.

Create custom emojis

Particularly across different age groups and cultures, emojis don’t have universal meaning. For example, a co-worker may consider a simple smiley face emoji as friendly or passive-aggressive, depending on the context and who receives the message. To avoid miscommunications, consider creating custom emojis for your workplace. This shared visual language can ensure everyone is on the same page and streamline your messaging process.

How do businesses use emojis?

Businesses can leverage emojis to enhance communications in several ways.


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. If you’re going to use one, know the meaning of it.

Additionally, make sure that the emoji is relevant to the marketing content and that it falls in line with your company’s online brand. If it’s not, any text messaging or email marketing campaigns will fall flat or feel disingenuous.

Bottom LineBottom line

In email marketing, emojis have been shown to help increase open rates. However, those emojis must be relevant to the email and to your company. If they are not, they can negatively impact open rates.


Most of our communication is nonverbal cues. Emojis add emotion 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:

  • Less is more. Make sure that you use emojis sparingly in your emails.
  • 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 assume that it’s okay to use emojis.
  • Establish a common meaning for the emojis. The emojis you use in business must mean the same thing to everyone, reducing the chances of conflict.
  • In the case of professional email conversations, err on the side of no emojis. Professionalism trumps personality.


Emojis can be used in Slack messages to brighten up a dull mood or drama or 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.

Should you use emojis in business communication?

You should use emojis in business communication if:

  • Your workplace or industry is more informal.
  • You’re messaging co-workers with whom you have a well-established rapport.
  • You’re sending a quick Slack message or email to your team, particularly if it is a close-knit one.
  • You’re communicating with someone who also uses emojis.

You should not use emojis in business communication if:

  • You’re messaging your boss or other higher-ups (unless this is an established part of the company culture or your dynamic with them is more relaxed).
  • You’re communicating with clients (unless emojis are integral to a marketing campaign or you have a friendly and established relationship with them).
  • You don’t have a strong or established relationship with the recipient.
  • Your workplace or industry is more formal.
  • Your message contains bad news or a potentially unwelcome request.
author image
Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.
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