Emoticons are taking over the world. They have winked and smiled their way into our correspondence, from the classic semicolon-parenthesis in our inboxes ; ) to the cartoonish faces that regularly punctuate our IM chats. This summer, they even get a vehicle film with The Emoji Movie. And while there’s no denying their popularity, I often wonder about their propriety in the context of a professional email. They certainly add personality to an otherwise dry form of communication, but that personality is childish, lazy, and affectedly cute.
Anti-emojites would argue that if you want someone to think you’re just kidding, use your words to express that fact. Putting a cartoonish wink at the end of your sentence undermines your credibility and communicates that you were too lazy to explain your intentions.
Pro-emojites would argue that written communication is prone to tonal misinterpretation, and the occasional emoticon helps to provide, well, emotion. Also, emojis imply a familiarity that can warm up a correspondence and encourage a friendlier dynamic.
The challenge is that both camps have a point, which means it’s up to each of us to decide on our individual best practices. As you do so, consider the most important factor in your communication protocol: your audience. If your persona is friendly, casual, even playful, you may feel that emoticons reinforce the “user-friendly” tone you seek to imbue into your emails. But don’t forget that your communications should always be calibrated to your industry. Most service professionals travel in corporate-minded circles that expect a high degree of professionalism. Also, consider generational expectations. In her professional etiquette book, "Don't Burp in the Boardroom," Rosalinda Oropeza Randall points out that older generations prefer a more traditional tone. (After all, they were corresponding just fine before the emoji keyboard appeared on our smart phones.)
Oh, and one final warning: many email platforms automatically convert a traditional smiley : ) into a toothy, saccharine animation . Like I said, emojis are taking over. It’s up to us to fight back… or at least discern whether the other party will appreciate the grin.