Emojis in business comms — to smile or not to smile
More than just a trend, emojis are a powerful means of visual communication with real-world benefits in business, but we must use them carefully
How do people feel about the use of emojis in corporate communications?
To answer this, I polled my LinkedIn and Twitter followers a couple of weeks back. Of 150 respondents across both platforms, 25% say they love the use of emojis in corporate comms, 46% believe only limited use is fine, 16% feel they should appear in internal comms only, and 13% hate them altogether.
Yes to emojis
Together, the largest groups of respondents agree with either liberal or limited use of emojis in corporate comms. The common feeling seems to be that these fun, colourful symbols are an efficient way for people to express the tone and meaning behind their digital communications with colleagues, customers and clients.
Some folks are outright fans. Take Strategy, Innovation & Change Leader Elizabeth Real, who says: “We should use every tool we can to connect as human beings, both with our users and our colleagues — If emojis help break down the artificial barriers in business, great”.
Others, while also appreciating the value of emojis in crafting richer, emotions-led comms, lean toward moderation. Research & Advisory Specialist Isabelle Stark is one of them. She prefers “judicious use” of emojis and thinks the relationship between user and recipient should be a crucial factor in deciding if they’re appropriate in any given context. Providing one example of misuse, she argues: “An emoticon can detract from some authority when a top down request is being made”.
Stanley Antonio Braganza, a Senior Managing Consultant in Data & Analytics at EY, appears to agree that some degree of caution is required. Alongside an aptly positioned smiley face, he reveals that he uses emojis “mostly with other millennials”. Perhaps this is because Stanley is aware the intergenerational use of emojis leaves room for misinterpretation.
What seems innocent to an older employee, such as an efficient thumbs-up or happy smiley face, may be taken as patronising or passive-aggressive by a younger coworker. On the flipside, that younger person might find something like the poop emoji funny while their older colleague sees it as disgusting.
A study by video messaging platform Loom found that 91% of workers say their messages have been misunderstood or misinterpreted, so it’s important to ‘read the room’, as it were. Other factors to consider when choosing emojis are the recipient’s gender identity, sexuality and cultural background.
Isabelle Stark feels that emojis are especially helpful today with more people working from home. People used to rely on physical cues like body language and facial expressions in their business interactions, but in the days of remote working, meaning and emotion unfortunately often get lost. Corporate comms is far from immutable, a point made by Business Strategist Simon Wharton: “We often forget that the nature of business comms changes over time”. It’s crucial that we don’t.
A smaller group of respondents believe that emojis are fit for internal communications only. Lorna Culpin, an Assistant Director at our UK Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence (NCoE), is among them. She likes the use of emojis internally but would probably question if she saw them externally. “I think they can help add an extra clarification to what you are saying, when tone doesn’t come across as well in email”.
I guess Lorna means that emojis can come across as unprofessional, and I get why someone might think in this way. But as Rebecca Hirst, our UK Chief Marketing Officer, says in her latest blog, more and more organisations are starting to break the rules in corporate comms, especially marketing.
“There’s a misnomer that B2B marketing needs to be logical, rational, a bit sensible”, she writes. “I disagree wholeheartedly. Humans are humans, and we don’t make decisions differently based on whether we’re at work or not. We tune into emotions before we listen to logic.
No to emojis
The smallest group of respondents feel that emojis have no place in corporate comms at all. To these individuals, the emoji is as unfavourable as punctuation like the em-dash or exclamation mark, especially when used excessively. As Isabelle Stark points out, one of Terry Pratchett’s characters once said: “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind”.
Sam Tuckey, a Senior Manager at our UK NCoE, is a little more forgiving. Although not big on using emojis himself, he doesn’t mind when others do. Mirroring EY’s appreciation of diversity in all its flavours, Sam adds another layer to the debate when he notes: “We all talk in different accents and use words unique to our own circles”. Well said. Emojis are simply a new language that we don’t all speak.
Most respondents support the use of emojis in corporate comms. So do I, as long as they’re appropriate for the individual recipient or group of recipients, as long as they’re consistent with an organisation’s brand and culture, and as long as there’s no overkill. Though, what amounts to overkill varies depending on the platform or method of communication and the length of the text.
My best advice?
On social media, no more than a few emojis unless the post is really long. In that case, additional icons can help further break up the text and make it easier to read. Choices have to make sense too — EY commonly uses a trophy for awards, eyes or an ear to indicate there’s something to read of listen to, arrows to direct attention to links or key takeaways, a planet for messages around sustainability, and so on.
In emails and texts, I’d avoid emojis or keep them to a minimum unless the sender has a friendly, chatty relationship with the recipient. Again, read the room — it’s never a bad idea to assess what the other person is doing and match it.
Ultimately, there’s no blanket approach. What feels right in one instance will feel wrong in another, so it’s a good idea to look over any corporate comms with a critical eye before they go anywhere. And if there’s an issue, how about we work on the assumption that intentions are good? Unless someone has a track record of poor behaviour, they’re probably well-meaning.