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Emoticons and Emoji: Do They Have a Place in Business?
Posted by Cameron Francis on September 25, 2015 in Business

Why Emoticons and Emoji Have a Place in Business

Experts call them new languages that connect people around the world. Most of us think they are fun characters that take the monotony out of emails. But in recent years, both Emoticons and Emoji have crept stealthily into business communication.

Emoji especially has been embraced by the marketing set as the newest and coolest branding tool.

There is no doubt about the popularity both enjoy in social media, but opinion remains divided over their suitability in business communication. And yet, that has not stopped marketing departments from embracing Emoji and colleagues from using Emoticons in work emails.

So, why has this language revolution happened? And how effective can they be in business?

Emoticons and Emoji: The Difference

Firstly, you should know there is a difference between an Emoticon and an Emoji.

The former is a typographic display of a facial presentation, the most common being the smiley face comprised of a colon and right parenthesis – 🙂 Introduced to the internet in 1982 by computer scientist Scott Fahlman (they were actually used 100 years earlier), the name is a portmanteau of “emotion icon”.

Emoji were created almost 17 years later by Shigetaka Kurita, and introduced to the world by Japanese communications firm, NTT DoCoMo. Their name literally translates from Japanese to “pictograph”. The key difference is that Emoji are proper pictures, and are not created through a particular formation of keyboard characters. As a result, the range of emotions they depict is almost unlimited.

In fact, according to Emojipedia, there are currently 845 Emoji characters supported by a number of platforms.

Why Emoticons and Emoji Work

1. Reflects Power and Influence

This may seem like a strange point, but research has shown strong social media influencers make good use of Emoticons. In an analysis of 31 million tweets and 500,000 Facebook posts, researchers discovered that positive emoticons have become a status marker in social media and that “emoticon features achieved high performance… Powerful users tend to use emoticons often and high Klout is strongly associated with positive emoticons”.

2. Helps Overcome Communication Problems

Business emails can be easily misinterpreted, with simple corrections picked up as criticisms and recommendations taken as orders. The problem is the absence of tone, that element easily applied in verbal communication that adds greater understanding.

Take for example, if we offer a critique to a colleague whose work is not quite right. Our replay is:

“You could have avoided the problem if you had run this by John first.”

When speaking, our tone can be tweaked to show we are supportive and simply advising on the best way to have handled the matter. When the words are read straightforwardly, however, the message can come across as critical and disapproving.

But add an Emoticon, and the harshness is softened considerably.

“You could have avoided the problem if you had run this by John first :)”

A Scandinavian study published in 2014 held that Emoticons were not just to help a writer express emotion, but was a valuable business communication tool to help readers understand how to interpret the information they are reading. They could be used to identify humour, to indicate positivity (e.g., constructive criticism), or to soften statements otherwise considered reprimanding.

3. Strengthens Interpersonal Relationships

Every business person will tell you that business is about people. So, developing and maintaining relationships is important. In a study carried out by the University of Missouri-St. Louis tested the reactions participants had to work emails featuring smiley faces. Researchers sent one flirtatious message and a job interview request, and added emoticons to only some of each. The results showed that regardless of the message type, the recipients had a more positive reaction to those with smiley faces, even feeling that the sender liked them. The study concluded that “where impersonal, cold, and unsociable features of computer-mediated communication” are preferred to promote professionalism, using emoticons can “create a positive expectancy violation by being friendly, emotional, and personal”.

4. Speaks To The Youth

Marketing has always been quick to adapt to the latest trends. As a new language, it can hardly be a surprise that Emoji are now being used to communicate with markets, especially the youth. Coca-Cola in Puerto Rico has used a yellow face within their EmotiCoke URL address using the .ws domain suffix. The reason? “Since emojis have become a kind of second language for Coke’s younger consumers, we felt this was a great opportunity to connect on a deeper level with our most important demographic” Coke explained.

In December 2014, General Electric promoted an Emoji Science initiative, where it collected characters from consumers in return for videos of science experiments. The whole idea was to build public interest in science. Meanwhile Taco Bell’s petition to the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organisation that regulates computer coding, to have its very own emoji was victorious, with nearly 33,000 supporters.

Even the Pope has gotten in on the act, with the Vatican releasing a special range of Popemoji ahead of his visit to the USA, September this year.

A place in Business? Yes

It’s pretty clear that both Emoji and Emoticons have a place in business communication, whether as part of a marketing campaign or in general inter-departmental communiqués. There may still be those unwilling to abandon the formal voice that more traditional business styles have. But a new business generation sees no problem in adapting these new languages.

You may not be sure, but you can always ask online marketing experts about how they can benefit your business.

You can always call us too, on 1300-887-151, if you have questions.

For more reading on the subject, check out:

Marketing With Emojis on Clickz.com
Essential Emoji Translation Guide on HubSport.com
List of Emoticons on Wikipedia
Why Emoji Are Suddenly Acceptable at Work on TheAtlantic.com

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Cameron Francis

Co-Founder

Cameron Francis is the CoFounder & Managing Director of ETRAFFIC, Melbourne's #1 Creative & Digital Marketing Agency. For over a decade Cameron has been providing growth marketing and digital strategies for over 2,000 small businesses, start-ups & entrepreneurs around the country.
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