Using Emoticons in Business Communications

ID-10050948 emoticon by digitalart, freedigitalphotosdotnet

My ‘addiction’ started a few years back and accelerated over time: using emoticons in business emails. I considered them a visual alternative to the exclamation mark to underscore a point, an excuse, good news, bad news, an apology. Then a PR Daily blog caught my attention. The author, Arik Hanson, gave a brief history (emoticons were originally used for text messages – who knew?), then they started showing up in Tweets and Facebook posts. Now they’re a staple in many business communications.

In an updated post, Hanson still takes an ‘it depends’ approach to their use. In writing to a CEO, for example, an emoticon is unacceptable. If it’s to a client you’ve known for years, one who’s also a friend, and the general message is more lighthearted, then it’s okay.

I surveyed my Facebook friends on the matter. Most felt emoticons had no place in business communications. “Business emails should be precise. Avoid emoticons and abbreviations,” a few wrote in response. A client/friend was more direct: “I hate those little icons for business communication. Childish. Not serious.”

The exception was social media expert Mana Ionescu, who responded: “I think the smiley emoticon is okay in moderation – when it’s important to get across a friendly tone, in customer service emails or when in doubt about how a message would be interpreted.”

For a while, I committed ‘emoticon-ocide.’ No haphazard use of smiley faces, winks, frowns or even abbreviations (GTG, LOL). I even resisted exclamation marks. Slowly, though, they crept back in. The emoticon, I finally decided, keeps some messages from seeming too robotic, and they’re a way to show some personality. I’m hooked.

Image courtesy of digitalart at


About Chris Ruys

Chris Ruys is founder and president of Chris Ruys Communications, Inc., a marketing/public relations firm that specializes in high visibility campaigns using both traditional and social media strategies. Her blog, originally called "Getting Social," was launched in October 2010 as a way to share her progress as a "student" of social media. While she's still learning, Ms. Ruys has broadened the scope to include other aspects of marketing communications and PR, including blogging, email, traditional media and advertising in the blog she now calls "Proactive PR."