Emoji Etiquette: Tips for Evolving Business Communication

Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2015 wasn’t even a word. For the first time, the respected publication’s editors chose the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji to best convey the “mood, ethos and preoccupations” of the year. Pedants and purists were not happy about this decision, but it confirms that emojis are now part of our writing system — and not just for younger generations. More and more, creative and marketing professionals need to figure out emoji etiquette.

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Other conversations about email etiquette have covered emoticons — typographic representations of facial expressions such as :^) and :-O — and texting acronyms like LOL and OMG. Emoji etiquette, however, is even more complicated as the brightly colored pictographs are hard to ignore, easy to abuse and often subject to misinterpretation.

Emojis can be extremely useful for conveying thoughts and feelings, especially via mobile devices, which is where they were fir­st popularized. However, a recent survey by The Creative Group shows creative executives generally frown upon using emojis in a professional setting. Of the respondents, 78 percent said it’s not appropriate to include them when writing to customers or clients, and 75 percent believe emojis shouldn’t be used in communication with the boss.

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­Yet creative professionals can’t and shouldn’t discount emojis, especially when speaking and selling to Generation Z. Here are some do’s and don’ts of emoji etiquette:

Do follow the other person’s lead.

Mirroring is part of effective communication, which is a must-have soft skill in the workplace. By echoing the way others speak, you can establish greater trust and rapport. The ever-changing digital marketing landscape means emojis can be impactful. If, for example, a follower of your company’s Instagram account uses emojis in a comment, consider responding in kind. Otherwise, stick to traditional emoji-free messaging and email etiquette.

Don’t use emojis in place of words.

It’s tempting to rely on pictographs as shorthand, but good emoji etiquette requires placing them alongside words. Even seasoned emoji users can find the miniature symbols ambiguous at times, so don’t assume they’ll always be interpreted correctly. Remember, text provides context.

Further reading: An emoji’s arbitrariness is both its greatest asset and shortcoming. Zoe Mendelson discusses at PrintMag.com.

Do use emojis for a good reason.

The key to good communication is to use the right word — or the right emoji — at the right time. When tempted to insert an emoji when composing an email or text message, ask yourself whether it adds value. Sometimes the answer is yes, such as when you need a smiley face to indicate a humorous tone. But avoid using them thoughtlessly.

Don’t forget emojis could have unintended consequences.

Emojis are a living pictographic language and, as such, they are constantly evolving and gaining new meanings. In other words, many of them may have connotations you are unaware. For example, a winky face, intended to convey a joking tone, could be misconstrued as flirtation. Always tread carefully.

Ultimately, all conversations about emoji etiquette and general email etiquette boil down to the same basic rules: communicate clearly, concisely and in the manner best suited to the recipient. Stick to these best practices, and it should be all happy faces and thumbs up.


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