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Why your communications need more emojis… yes, really

It might be hard to remember a time before emojis. Dubbed the ‘world’s fastest growing language,’ emojis have integrated themselves into our daily communication at rapid speed.

Emojis, the term which combines the Japanese words for “picture” (e) and “character” (moji), have transformed the way we communicate digitally.

As of mid-2015, half of all comments on Instagram featured an emoji, with the popularity of complementing words with small pictures continuing to rise.

Midway through 2022, emojis are starting to be featured heavily in professional communications, raising questions around whether their use is appropriate.

New emojis arrive every year and many have evolved to have cheeky and sometimes vulgar connotations, so many are asking: ‘what is the appropriate time to deploy them in professional communication?’

History of emojis

Before emojis, emoticons were the first use of visual symbols in the digital age.

Original smiley

Emoticons – defined as a digital icon that conveys a human expression – were first used in 1982 after Professor Scott Fahlman developed the original smiley face.

Emojis were created in 1999 by Japanese artist, Shigetaka Kurita, who worked on a set of 176 12-by-12-pixel images that could be selected from a keyboard interface.

Mr Kurita designed emojis to create a short and sharp method for conveying information and messages.

The original emoji collection

Shigetaka Kurita’s original emoji collection

After emojis rapidly rose to prominence in Japan, the rest of the world started to ponder the commercial value of these icons.

Google and Apple led the charge for emojis to gain recognition by the Unicode Consortium – “a non-profit corporation devoted to developing, maintaining, and promoting software internationalization standards and data, particularly the Unicode Standard, which specifies the representation of text in all modern software products and standards.”

In 2010, emojis successfully entered the Unicode Standard – giving emojis the platform to be accessible everywhere.

The next year, Apple added an emoji keyboard to their iOS 5 update, with Android doing the same two years later.

This addition bought emojis to the immediate fingertips of the 25 million Apple users who were using the iOS 5 system by October 2011.

Over the next decade, emojis diversified to include multiple skin tones and offer representation for marginalised communities such as single parents and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Emojis – the numbers

Today, there are more than 3,600 emojis recognised in the Unicode Standard.

Social media has played a huge role in the dissemination of emojis. Over one in five tweets now include an emoji, while 5 billion emojis are sent daily on Facebook Messenger.

On the 17th of July last week, World Emoji Day was celebrated. It has become so popular that in 2020, the #WorldEmojiDay hashtag became the number 1 worldwide trend on Twitter.

Here are the top 10 used emojis in the world:

top 10 emojisWhen and where to use them

In professional work settings, emojis should be used in moderation. As much as they help convey tone and emotion, words still do the work in storytelling and message delivery.

Emojis can be used in a variety of ways. From providing additional emotional and situational information, changing conversational tones, hiding true feelings, and maintaining conversations and relationships with communication partners – emojis have a diverse role.

In your professional communications, here are the things to consider.

Personal LinkedIn

In the fast paced, cluttered environment of LinkedIn, emojis can be the thing that separates you from the pack. While still requiring professional consideration, the visually striking nature of emojis are very useful.

Research has shown that adding multiple emojis significantly increases your chances of getting large-scale reactions.

For longer posts, emojis can be useful as dot points to create a visual structure: ✅▶️♦️

Too many emojis can distract readers away from your content, which on LinkedIn, is an important part of building your professional brand.

At the same time, building your professional brand is about consistency. Having emojis you call on regularly creates a consistency within your profile, helping connections and followers recognise your content immediately.

If you’re looking at growing your reach on LinkedIn, consider drafting emojis into your content.

Business social media

Regardless of what kind of business you’re running, you should be using emojis on social media.

Building your brand can be difficult on social media – emojis can assist that. Similar to hashtags, emojis create brand recognition.

They are also helping brands stick out from the crowd. Here are some of the most interesting facts regarding businesses and emojis:

interesting facts about emojis statsWhen NOT to use them

Although 92% of the online population use emojis, it doesn’t mean they should appear everywhere. Emojis are still seen as a bit of fun, and potentially unprofessional if used in the wrong context in professional life.

Another thing to note is that emojis appear differently across different systems. You could send an emoji through your iPhone and your recipient could get a different emoji delivered on their non-Apple device. It’s important to ensure you consider how the emoji may be interpreted by the recipient – and how it could go wrong!

Client communications

Outside of a smiley face to conclude an email, emojis should be left out of any client communications – for now.

While we could see this change soon, emojis aren’t yet widely accepted as part of the professional landscape.

Compared to other settings, detail, language and structure is vitally important when communicating with clients – emojis shouldn’t be left to fill in the blanks.

Adding emojis to the wrong recipient can raise questions about your professionalism and competence, making it best to avoid them at the outset.

However, if you’re communicating with a client who is an avid emoji user, go ahead and add them into your communications. But keeping it professional and ensuring your emojis can’t be taken out of context is an important consideration.

Cross-cultural communications

If you work with international clients or are searching for networks across borders, be careful about using emojis.

Emoticons and emojis have relatively consistent interpretations within cultures. However, they can be completely different in different cultural contexts.

For example, the thumbs-up symbol may be a positive symbol in Western culture, in Greece and the Middle East it can be seen as vulgar and even offensive.

Without understanding the complexities of individual cultures, emojis are best avoided. You wouldn’t want to lose a professional relationship over the misuse of an emoji.

The future of emojis

As emojis grow and diversify, there’s no limit to where they can go in our communications.

However, there may be limits to how we can use them. The growth and diversification of emojis will only further confuse the cultural and technological interpretation from recipients.

There could be ways for you to get around this and create a safe path for emoji use in the workplace.

Consider creating a policy for emoji use in your business. Although it might seem a little ridiculous on first thought, it’s not too different to other workplace policies.

This policy takes away any possibility of unprofessional or cultural insensitive use of emojis.

It’s not there to discourage the use, just create guidelines to ensure this digital language is deployed in a professional manner.

Having this will ensure industries are getting the most out of their emoji use without damaging reputation or relationships.

As we move forward and millennials are in decision-making positions, emojis are likely to further ingrain themselves in professional communications.

Given emojis infancy as a language, there is no denying they leave much to personal interpretation. However, we could see more universal understanding regarding the meaning behind emojis – opening the door for wider adoption outside personal texts and social media.

As companies and their leaders continue to long for humanisation of their brands, emojis are only going to become a greater consideration given the affordance they provide in that space.

Regardless of the potential risks, emojis are here to stay. Is your brand going to innovate and take chances with emojis?

Or are you happy to see how things progress in your industry? Irrespective of your answer, you need to start considering them as part of your business strategy moving forward.