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Should You Use Emojis in Business Email?

Business email and using emojis.

So when flipping through the channels on T.V., I stopped on a discussion of emojis and email. While I’ve typed about this for years, the “study” that was referenced had a different angle—more along the lines of the differences in how men and women communicate. In business emails, professionalism is not affected by gender.

When I talk about emojis and business emails, I view this subject from a professional perception point of view. And the study did agree for the most part:

95% of respondents said they never used emojis in emails, which might be explained by the fact that emails are generally used for work-based communication, where relationships are likely to be professional as opposed to personal.

Exactly. But the bulk of this study is based on women vs. men and that they use and view emojis differently. I get that. Contrary to the latest trends, men and women are different. Including in the way they communicate.

Is there a place for emojis in business emails? This week several visitors asked for further clarification on business email and emoji use. I wonder if these requests correlate with this study and the conversations that have ensued.

One of the requests noted how many companies increasingly use emojis in their mailings. You may have noticed this in the Subject line of newsletters and promotional mailings, not the day-to-day business communications.

Stats reflect that newsletters or mailings that utilized emojis in the subject field gain more attention. A 29% increase in open rate. Because they catch your eye. Which makes sense if there’s an inbox chock full of emails that cause the user to scan.

Those subject fields will stand out. But in my opinion, overuse can cause your email to appear less serious or even spammy.

A Right or Wrong Way to Use Emojis

When it comes to daily business email communications, the basic guideline is to use emojis or emoticons sparingly and with discretion — if at all. However, some have argued that there is absolutely, under no conditions, a place to use emojis in a business email.

In some fields, professions, and communications, professionalism and formality rule the day, and there is no place for emojis. Cartoonish characters are just not acceptable.

With that said, each business and corporate culture is different. Therefore, not all the guidelines I discuss on this blog are hard and fast rules that every business must abide by.

Using Your Better Judgement

As with anything, using your better judgment is vital. Business Email Etiquette is a set of guidelines. These are not “set in stone” rules. Discretion is key.

In the case of emojis, I use just one, a winky, and sparingly in my business email. More on that later. Never have I used emojis during the first contact.

Nor do I use them with those that I prefer to maintain a strictly professional tone. I’m pretty easy going and “strictly professional” is the exception, not the rule.

Probably the fact I use them at all is a testament to always wanting to be approachable. While I believe in emailing with the appropriate formality at all times, I do not object to emojis being used or personality being shown as relationships grow.

Nor does it bother me when folks who email me use them. That is their choice, and in most cases, they use emojis to reflect positive emotions. So who could be upset with that?

Stick with Positivity

In the case of a frown emoji, I have never integrated that into a business email. Probably because that emoticon is rarely taken in the context, it is meant. It could be perceived as pouty or minimizing the topic that one is not happy about. (Plus, I don’t frown!)

When I receive an email containing comments I disagree with, I use my vocabulary to relay any disappointment or disagreement. But, come to think about it, I’ve never thought to resort to a frown emoji in email.

But I do use a winky-smiley ( 😉 ) here and there. Here’s why.

I may add a winky to reflect that I understand when a client is clearly frustrated. However, in most cases, I use a winky when I have to correct or coach those I work with about something they were not aware of.

By using a winky, I can “lighten” the correction. This also lets the recipient know that I am providing the information with the best intentions. Doing so softens my “advice.”

Softening Corrections or Advice

My main gig is being a consultant and coach; folks contact me about frustrating and intimate issues. When needed to soften a correction, mistake, or to relay that I understand their dilemma, using a winky in an email often results in the recipient being more open to the correction given.

For example:

Statement A — no winky:

If you do not take into consideration the basics of business email etiquette, the perception of your business’s credibility could be at stake. My intent is to make sure that you make a positive impression.

Statement B — including a winky:

If you do not take into consideration the basics of business email etiquette, the perception of your business’s credibility could be at stake. My intent is to make sure than you make a positive impression. 😉

See how those two extra keystrokes further help to intimate I have your best interest at heart?

When to use an Emoji?

Here are a few examples of when I will use an emoji/emoticon in my business email communications:

  • When congratulating a contact on an accomplishment or personal event, they have shared with me, including a smiley adds to the perception that I am truly happy for them by providing that little visual.
  • I want to make sure that the other side doesn’t take my last comment verbatim or personally. For example, when I coach clients on something they are doing improperly. I always soften the correction with a positive comment on the benefit the correction will bring, followed by a winky-smiley.
  • Sarcasm doesn’t relay at all in email. This is where having a winky-smiley after a sarcastic comment gives the other side a clear indication that you are kidding or poking fun. Without a winky-smiley — they may very well take that comment seriously.

These are just a couple of examples where adding a simple emoticon allows you to soften an email’s tone. For more information on emoticons history, check out the Emoticon Wiki page on the subject.

Do What Works for Your Business

And your market, business culture, and personality. Take into consideration how well you know the person you are communicating with. Understand the level of formality required.

If your business culture is more relaxed or you prefer to show some personality, use emojis when apropos. If you do not feel that emojis fit your business’s formality level, then do not use them.

There is a time and place for everything. Use your discretion based on what works best for your business.

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