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Emoticons for brands: New trend or too spammy?


Are you a serial emoticon-er?

I’ll be honest, I’ve been known to include a smiley face or two in my tweets and Facebook posts. It’s a sign of humor. A signal to my recipient(s) that I may be stating something a little tongue in cheek.


Emoticons have become part of the universal lexicon online. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, blogs, you name it, emoticons show up in some way shape or form. Heck, Facebook’s embraced them so much they even have a XXXXX.

But, as more people have used emoticons online (and in texting, where this all started), that has started to spill over into business communications.

We’ve all seen it. An email or note from a colleague with a smiley face at the end. Heck, I’m guilty of it–in spots.

But, does that mean it’s accepted?

Better question: SHOULD it be accepted?

My thought: It depends.

Let me lay out a few scenarios and when I think it is–and isn’t–appropriate in business.

Appropriate uses:

Scenario #1–I’m sending a private message on Facebook to a partner I work closely with on a project. I want to share a funny anecdote as part of the note and include a smiley face at the end of the note.

Scenario #2–I write a tweet that’s light-hearted and poking fun at a mainstream trend for a client I work with (which has a fun and playful personality) that includes a smiley face with a wink at the end.

Scenario #3–I’m sending a text to a business colleague I know well asking him about a potential partner I’m considering. I add a quick joke at the tail-end of the note with a smiley face.

In my view appropriate uses fall into two big camps: 1) When you’re emailing/texting/private messaging someone you know very well in business, or 2) When it makes sense for a brand/company you represent (which has the personality that reflects it).

Inappropriate uses:

Scenario #1: You’re sending an email to your manager discussing client work and you throw a smiley face in as you make a joke about the client.

Scenario #2: You’re writing a short article for your company’s intranet and you decide to insert a smiley face in the post to convey some humor, even though it’s a fairly series topic.

Scenario #3: You’re penning a short email to your client wishing them a great Memorial Day weekend, and you add a smiley face to the end simply out of habit.

In general, I would probably refrain from using the emoticons anytime you’re: 1) Communicating with your manager or boss, 2) Communicating with your client (unless you know them very well), and 3) Communicating with a mass audience–internally or externally–around a serious topic (or communicating in general for brands that are more conservative and serious).

So what do you think? When is it appropriate and inappropriate to use emoticons in the workplace? SHOULD we even be using them in business communication?

Note: Photo courtesy of Christine SugarCravings via FlickR Creative Commons.



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