Using Emoticons in Business Communications


It started a few years back, and now I’m emotionally attached to using them: emoticons – especially the smiley/frowning/winking ones – in business communications. To me, they’re like a visual alternative to the exclamation mark, underscoring a point, a feeling, an excuse, bad news, an apology.

So when PR Daily ran a piece this week called Does the Smiley Face Have a Place in the PR Workplace?, it caught my attention. The article, by Arik Hanson, notes that it was only recently that emoticons were reserved for online chats or text messages, but they soon started showing up in Tweets and Facebook posts by businesses. Now, they’re a staple in many business emails.

Mr. Hanson takes an “it depends” approach on their use. If writing to the CEO of a key client, an emoticon is unacceptable. If it’s to a client you’ve known for years, one who’s also a friend and the note is more lighthearted in nature, then yes, it’s perfectly ok.

“I probably err on the side of being extra chummy with many of my business contacts,” Mr. Hanson admits. “In some cases, people might say I lack professionalism. But I would say I’m building relationships.” He adds, “As a consultant, I know clients want to work with people they like. It’s hard to do that if people see me as a robot who’s incapable of having fun or showing personality. So I see the smiley face as a way to lighten up business conversations from time to time.”

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,” wrote Terri Lee Ryan, Claudette Roper and Jonathan Lehrer. Elaine Soloway agreed, adding, “And I don’t like any of those abbreviations like LOL.” Hedy Ratner was more direct: “I hate the little icons for business communication. Childish. Not serious.”

The exception was social media expert Mana Ionescu, who responded: “I think the smiley emoticon is ok 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. However, I would only use LOL sparingly, if at all.”

So I’m going to commit “emoticon-ocide,” starting today. I will not haphazardly use emoticons or abbreviations in business communications again. Nor will I substitute them with an exclamation mark. There’s one exception. Tony, I’m not quitting “GTG.”

What do you think? Doemoticons and abbreviations ever have a place in workplace communications?


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."