Using emojis in business: Is it a good :) or bad :( idea?

But if you are a serious business person, I caution you to refrain from talking in the thing – even if it is, according to some headlines, “the UK’s fastest growing language”.

There’s no denying that we’ve come a long way since our first attempts to add a bit of emotional depth into our character-based text messages. As this piece in The Guardian explains, emojis have quickly taken off and a lot of people, even oldies like you and me, do use them. 

That’s pretty astonishing, given that we only added the term “emoji” to the Oxford English Dictionary a couple of years ago (it comes from the Japanese words meaning picture and character).

It’s simple: AVOID EMOJIS AT WORK

Yet, while it may well be easier to communicate using smiley faces and icons of things like pooh than text, while this is fine and appropriate for social use, it really shouldn’t creep into your business communications, any time soon at least.

Why am I being such an old fogey here, I hear you gripe? We all know emojis are fun, convenient – and if a brand knows its demographic are fond of them, why not use the customer’s own language when talking to them?

The problem is what thinkers about language call a problem of “register”. Putting the linguistic theory aside for good now, that means it’s simply better for you as a brand to talk in a formal way with customers – especially if money is concerned. We feel more at ease as human beings when we recognise that we are in a formal, structured set of processes that will bring us to our desired resolution. 

In other words, we actually like and respond well to the constrained way dealing with a corporation can sometimes feel like, so long as it gives us confidence that the interlocutor (entity we’re speaking with) will deliver the goods.

Business language needs to be business-like

It’s true that some brands feel the need to be chattier, more personal, with customers in social media than they might be in, say, a written communication. But the evidence suggests that even if these companies want to be friendly, the language really needs to be more “smart casual” and chinos than “urban” and baggy jeans to really be effective.

Trying to be super-hip and down with the kids comes across as confusing and disrespectful if you’re a grown up, let alone a proper business, after all. 

And if you are a service organisation I rely on and we need to communicate with, like my gas company, bank or a GP, it would actually be concerning. After all, you want to get people to buy or pay for something, after all – not come online and play with you and the rest of the Massive on Xbox Gold Live. 

Something like “Cn u pay us soon, m8?” is going to get viewed as at best crass, at worst patronising, or even invasive. Certainly, unprofessional.

So, have fun with things emojis, by all means. But not in work hours – as I think we are unquestionably quite a while from such super-casual ways of communicating really part of the acceptable lexicon of business communication, no matter how quickly they may be “evolving”.

Mark Oppermann is director of sales at VoiceSage.

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