Two cents blog

The humble emoji: a powerful communication tool

by Danika Neldner on 19 July 2017

We’re all familiar with emojis. They’re the cute little icons that most of us use on a daily basis, and every year the catalogue grows a little bigger.

World Emoji Day has just passed (yep, it’s really a thing) and to celebrate, Apple released a sneak peek of some new emojis that will be coming to iOS later this year. The new series includes a Zombie, Elf, Genie and Vampire, which hardly seem relevant to everyday life, but phone users around the world are nonetheless excited.

Many people are quick to label emoji culture as a result of Generation Y being “lazy communicators”, but emoji usage is not confined to one age bracket. Nor is the use of emojis confined to a particular device or even a language – it is entirely universal.

As more conversations are becoming digital, emoji’s importance in communication only increases. In our online and text-based communication culture, emojis substitute the absence of facial expression, tone of voice and body language. They simply reduce the probability of misinterpreting a message and could mean the difference between a funny joke or an offensive comment.

And what about using emojis in the workplace? Not too long ago, emojis would have been inappropriate to use at work, but now they seem to be relatively accepted because they are useful tools. This is especially the case when you want to write an email that’s a little bit awkward and maybe slightly demeaning, so the recipient doesn’t take it the wrong way. In these instances, the happy emoji (for example) can add inflection, reduce the opportunity for people to perceive a negative tone, and therefore maintain the working relationship.

A Scandinavian study on email in the workplace found that emojis in the workplace were not used so much to convey emotion, but rather to signal how the information should be interpreted. The study found three primary uses of the humble emoji: to express good vibes, to signal a joke, and to strengthen or soften statements that could be misread as reprimanding. If you’re an emoji-user at work, you’ve probably sneaked in a smiley face for all three reasons.

This doesn’t mean you should email clients or prospective employers with a string of emojis, but in the right situations, they can be a powerful tool for expressing tone in an increasingly online world. Of course, physical presence is optimal for truly understanding a communicated message, but emojis accommodate to the reality that we can’t, and won’t, always be present.

Personally, I’m an incessant emoji user. I like to brighten up my messages with a relevant (and sometimes not so relevant) icon to keep things interesting. My personal favourites are the hands raised 🙌, upside down smiley 🙃 and no mouth 😶 emojis. What are yours?

 

Danika Neldner is a Social Media Coordinator at BCM

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