The world today has never been more connected thanks to technology. Every business, organisation and individual now have an avenue to communicate like never before. Daily thousands of organisations comment and debate on a wide range of issues on a wide variety of platforms including websites blogs and most social media platforms. The pace of this digital age can be quite overwhelming and not everyone has caught out.

SmileySmilies, winkies, emojis or to give them their proper name - ‘emoticons’- are icons or symbols put together using punctuation marks to vaguely form a face. I’ve noticed a number of organisations using emoticons on their social channels and can’t help but facepalm myself.
(-_Q)

The emoticon first sprung onto the online world almost 20 years ago with the rise of MSN Messenger.  This usage evolved to be incorporated into text messages and instant messengers. The use of emoticons has rapidly increased and evolved over recent years, so much so that they’ve even got their own social network which only allows you to communicate using them and no other characters!

The main reason we use emoticons is down to one simple thing - poor written communication. Most of us 

communicate best orally. We can apply different emotions to what we say by changing the tone of our voice, the volume we speak in and we can complement this with the body language that accompanies the dialogue.

With written communication it is harder to convey our feelings (although anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a sarcastic email for me written in bright purple Comic Sans text may beg to differ). American Social-Neuroscientist Dr Daniel Goleman printed a paper in 2011 in which he argued that when we communicate orally we made an invisible connection to the person or people with whom we are communicating. The written text is quite different. Dr Goleman found that there is a phenomenon of negativity bias within the written word. Whilst this is generally mitigated for people we know, if written content is communicated is coming from a stranger or someone we haven’t connected with, a sender's neutral message is more likely to be interpreted by the receiver as negative. Cue the emoticon - by inserting this icon into the communication, you can influence the perception. However, this is a very lazy technique that could leave you being perceived as unprofessional or even juvenile.  

  • If you feel the urge to use a smiley, stop for a second and think about the words you’ve written. Could you use different words to convey what you mean and better flavour the intended meaning?
  • Consider your brand guidelines - how does this fit in with your organisation’s use of language? If you don’t have brand guidelines, our digital content marketers would be delighted to help create them

That said, apart from instant messengers, there is one platform that comes complete with a get out of jail card - Twitter. Due to the 140 character limit, it can be very hard to convey a complete message in one tweet and frequently words are abbreviated and emoticons employed to rapidly express meaning in a light-hearted environment. 

There are numerous debates online discussing the pros and cons of the emoticon, however, given the controversial nature of these devices, they’re probably best left out of the office!