To Emoji or Not to Emoji?

Do you love emoji?

iPhone users were elated when they could download a brand new set of emoji through Apple’s iOS update in April, 2015.

One month later, Instagram published research on emoji usage, sparking a string of thought pieces. One New York Times writer even declared that emoji had become “a language of their own.”

But should you use emoji on social media if you’re a B2B salesperson? Let’s take a look at what the research has to say.

The Research: Are Emoji Good for Business?

To be clear, emoticons are not the same as emoji. An emoticon uses letters and punctuation to form faces. For example, 🙂 Emoji, on the other hand, are graphic representations – like this one:

Much of the smiley face research focuses on emoticons, as emoji are a newer phenomenon. But in many ways, emoji serve the same linguistic purpose as emoticons. So, take that into consideration as you read the following research.

Finding No. 1: Say No to Unclear Writing!

When we communicate in face-to-face contexts, we are able to draw on physical cues like body language and facial expressions. But when we communicate in a virtual world, those visual cues disappear.

As a result, many of us overestimate our abilities to communicate in the online world. When we write an e-mail or publish a tweet, we tend to see our words from our own perspective. We fail to think about how someone else’s unique perspective might color our ideas.

Because we are focused on our own perceptions, miscommunication can arise. But believe it or not, emoticons can help us reduce the level of ambiguity in our online communications. That is, they help us state our ideas clearer.

Finding No. 2: Triggering Others’ Emotions.

To feel close to someone, you need more than facts. You must share your feelings and emotions with that person.

Emoticons can help with that. Research has shown that emoticons create emotional bonds between people. In fact, as we use more emoticons, we feel closer to the other person.

In a strange twist of fate, our mood changes when see certain emoticons. We can’t help it. Our faces contort to match the emotion of the emoticon.

Research suggests that emoji serve to intensify the feeling of emotional intimacy. With emoji, our brains don’t have to process the typographic characters, as the graphic representation looks even more like a human face.

Finding No. 3: Keeping Things Professional.

Most people are wary of using emoticons and emoji in professional settings. But perhaps you’ve noticed that more and more smiley faces are creeping into professional writing, and the research seems to suggest that smiley faces are okay.

Researchers at the University of Missouri – St. Louis studied the question of professionalism and emoticons. They found that, in e-mail, emoticon use made the recipient like the sender more. Furthermore, the recipient thought that the sender liked him or her more.

All in all, the emoticons came across as friendly, emotional, and personable.

The Bottom Line: Ask Yourself These Questions

As we have seen, the research supports the idea that you should use emoji and emoticons in B2B social selling:

  • Graphic representations can help you clarify your virtual messages.
  • They can help you build an emotional bond with your buyer.
  • And they do not hurt your professional representation.

That said, maybe you’re still reluctant to use smiley faces. I understand that. I’m a late adopter of emoji and emoticons, and I try to minimize my use of them.

Here are a few questions you can use to determine whether emoji are righ for you:

1. How do my buyers communicate?

Watch how your buyers communicate. If you notice that a lot of them use emoji and emoticons, follow their lead when you strike up a conversation.

Or perhaps you notice that their style of writing is more informal. Maybe they use contractions or acronyms. Then, you might consider using smiley faces.

But if you’re in conversation with someone who speaks formally, in a serious tone, skip the emoji. Your more formal buyers might not take you seriously if you use emoji.

2. Does this symbol help me communicate my idea better?

Word economy is important on social media. On Twitter, you have only 140 characters, and on LinkedIn, you don’t want to drone on.

So, if using an emoticon or emoji will help you communicate your idea, then, consider using one. If not, don’t use an emoji. Plain and simple.

3. Will my audience understand this particular emoji?

Much of the emoticon research focuses on smiley faces. However, if you’ve ventured down the emoji rabbit hole, you’ll notice that you have options that aren’t smiley faces.

Note that some of the non-smiley-face emoji are not universally understood. For example, this emoji:

Is that a girl flipping her hair? Is she “raising the roof”?

This emoji was originally an “I’m here to help” graphic. But many Twitter users think that the young woman is flipping her hair. As a result, the image has been repurposed to signify sassiness or cheekiness.

4. Which social network am I using?

Users’ expectations are not the same across social networks. Facebook and Twitter are more emoji-friendly. LinkedIn is more buttoned-up, but it’s changing. Just this morning I saw someone tag a colleague in a LinkedIn post with the okay sign.

5. Does my company have its own emoji?

If your company offers branded emoji, why not use them?

You might think that emoji are just for B2C marketers, but B2B companies like GE have embraced these little images, as well.

What are your thoughts on emoji?

Have you used them in your B2B social selling? Leave a comment below. You get bonus points if you write your entire comment using emoji and emoticons. 🙂


Want more social selling tips?

Check out these resources:

Image Credit: Fred Benenson

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