Emojis haven’t really reshaped communication. I mean, they’re symbols meant to convey a message, and humans have been communicating through symbols for millennia. In fact, in 2017, a group of archaeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old pot buried near the Turkey-Syria border that bore the first smiley face, which roughly resembles the ones we send across the world. ether now. The emoji is therefore not a modern invention; it is a cultural artifact. You would think that by now we would have figured out how to incorporate emojis into communication in a generally accepted way, but that is not the case.
Smiley faces are one thing, but now emojis can wink and send kisses, represent religious symbols, or cake, or little piles of poo. It is only natural that this visual language has migrated from our personal communication to our business communication . The problem is that emojis are subject to interpretation and the context in which they are used is important.
Words have consequences. The same goes for the symbols that represent them.
The issue isn’t really professionalism, as different companies, teams, and industries have very different ideas of professionalism. Communication is still evolving, and unless you belong to an organization that still thinks twitching is going to destroy language and the world as we know it, you’re probably already using emojis in your workplace .
In fact, there are real benefits to using emojis in business communications; I’ll come back to that in a minute. But there are also real dangers.
Emojis have inspired lawsuits and even criminal charges because of the way people have interpreted them. In a situation in Israel , a landlord won a lawsuit against a few potential tenants who indicated via text message that they were very interested in a property and wanted to meet to work out the details. The text included a series of celebratory emojis. As a result, the owner stopped advertising the property, but the tenants disappeared. The landlord was able to sue potential tenants for the losses he suffered in taking the property off the market.
So, is a smiley face or a thumbs up a binding agreement? It may depend on the judge, but in this case the answer is yes.
Open to interpretation
You might be someone who really enjoys winking faces, heart eyes, and kisses as a fun way to express your appreciation, but when sent to your team, these seemingly harmless emojis run the risk of be interpreted as “evidence” of sexual harassment. Don’t even get me started on the emoji high heels, lips, dresses, and figure () who may or may not be a salsa dancer.
Each new emoji carries as much risk of sending unintended messages as reward. So remember that every time you use an emoji, you are potentially playing with it.
Even the skin tone you choose could be seen as racist or ethnic misappropriation. Clorox got into trouble for using emojis depicting white skin in its ad, implying that darker – ecru – skin tones are less clean. So even if you try to be inclusive by using a particular skin tone for a thumbs-up, there’s no way of knowing how the receiver will take it.
New emojis enter the visual lexicon every day. We’re up to around 3,000 so far, and many apps, like Slack, let you create and add your own custom emojis. Each new emoji carries as much risk of sending unintended messages as reward. So remember that every time you use an emoji, you are potentially playing with it .
Give a face to your emotions
That’s the bad news of emojis. The good news is that they are useful for conveying emotions. Much of our personal and professional communication happens via email or text, and it’s really hard to interpret the tone. With a lack of words, in a cut off conversation or casual shorthand, we can also misunderstand someone’s intent. Emojis help. If you tell your boss or teammate that you’re going to be a little behind on a deadline, they might respond with a short “OK,” leaving you wondering if you’re about to receive an improvement plan. performs. Whereas an “OK” indicates they get it, and that’s not the end of the world.
“Studies have shown that emotion is an important part of team building and employee engagement”.
Emojis can also help create positive emotional associations between teammates. While historically the workplace was meant to be an “emotionless” zone, that has never really been the case . Now we know that “emotionless” is actually bad for business. Studies have shown that emotion is an important part of team building and employee engagement. A survey of emails between team members showed that top performing teams use emotion in their written communication. The study also found that a person whose communication had a reduced level of emotion inadvertently signaled their intention to quit.
Beyond that, emojis can be powerful in marketing. People mentally react the same to an emoji as they do to a human face , and adding a smile to the end of a post can boost responses by up to nearly 50% on Instagram. Some big brands, including Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs, Chevrolet, Starbucks and Disney, have started using emojis in their social media and ads, presumably to reach younger customers.
Likewise, when it comes to customer service, adding a smile to the end of a message can be a very effective way to ensure that the interaction is positive for the customer.
Write an emoji policy using words
Instead of just viewing emojis as unprofessional or dangerous, it’s time to be smart about how we use them. We need emoji policies. Organizations need to think about things like:
- Which emojis will we use in business communication and which are prohibited?
- Which forms of communication are good for emojis and which should be emoji-free? Contracts, for example, can be an emoji-free zone, while marketing materials remain emoji-friendly.
- Who is responsible for the use of emojis on social networks, what emojis will they use and for what type of posts?
- When is an emoji an acceptable substitute for a word, and when is it not? Consider creating a glossary or cheat sheet to get everyone on the same page.
- When should customer service integrate emojis and through which channels? Here, in particular, you need clear guidelines to assuage potential customer concerns and to hold your front-line agents accountable .
Once you have a policy in place, it needs to be out there and something that everyone sticks to.
Emojis are here to stay
Emojis are part of our communication as people and more and more of our communication in business. But as with other types of communication – verbal, written, through body language – we must use them with caution and discretion. And, when a message needs to be exact, it’s always safer to fall back on the old parenting adage: use your words .