Already ubiquitous in online forums, emoji have spread into employee communications this year. With in-person contact either severely limited or completely eliminated, employees found connecting with colleagues extremely challenging during Covid-19 shut-downs. While employee communications became more important, management, HR and internal communications teams found it difficult to keep tabs on employees’ well-being. Many found that emoji offer a solution, writes Inc. editor-at-large Burt Helm. Business historians and linguists may pinpoint 2020 as the year the emoji became a serious part of everyday work, Helm states.
A Powerful Form of Communication
“Surface level, it feels cheesy, like something that only people who are dating do,” Luke Thomas, head of Friday, an app for managing remote employees, told Inc. “But then you start using emojis, and you realize they’re actually a very powerful form of communication.” Thomas incorporated them into the communications app.
Emoji differ from emoticons. Emoji are digital icons of facial expressions. Emoticons are produced by keyboard characters.
More companies find that emoji improve internal corporate communications. They convey intent and context that a text-only message may lack. A certain symbol can summarize a message that all employees understand. For instance, at enterprise cloud software company CircleCI, a bear symbol on Slack indicates a meeting summary, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Research Reveals Emoji Popularity
Recent research from Customer Thermometer reveals that:
- Over one in five (22.5%) of Americans regularly add emoji to their business emails.
- Women especially appreciate receiving an emoji in a work email as they deem them friendlier (87.7% vs. 73% of men).
- More than half of Americans (55%) believe emoji help avoid conflict or misunderstandings because they convey a tone.
- More than a third (35%) say it’s much quicker to reply with emoji, especially when they’re on the move.
“Far from being a formality-fail, emoji represent the biggest advancement in the human language since the written word,” says Customer Thermometer CEO Lindsay Willott. “They are enriching communications by adding imagery, tone and feeling. It’s time we embrace how workers want to communicate, across email and collaboration tools like Slack and Teams, and also consider that the brevity and humanity benefits of emoji usage can also be extended into customer engagement as well.”
Risks of Emoji Use in Business Communications
There’s a risk to corporate use of emoji: A symbol can lead to misunderstanding if there is no universal agreement on what it means.
“Individuals bring their own personal experience to how they interpret an emoji, so although you might use an emoji with streaming tears after something you found incredibly funny, someone else might wonder why you’re upset,” Andrea Lehr, brand relationship strategist at Fractl, told business.com.
Be sure to double-check an emoji’s meaning on Google or a free online emoji resource – like Emojipedia, if you are not completely sure of their meaning, recommends Alexander Porter at Paperclip Digital.
The risk is higher for organizations with employees and contractors in different countries, as different cultures may interpret an emoji differently. It may be prudent to check with country managers before using a specific emoji in international markets.
Some people – especially senior managers – may consider emoji unprofessional. Communicators may wish to be cautious about sending emoji to people they don’t know well and those outside their teams.
“Mirroring is a proven strategy for in-person communication, and I believe the same is true online,” PR manager Hillary Hafke, told business.com. “Emojis are appropriate for some business emails in the same way that jokes are OK in some job interviews. You simply need to know your audience.”
Bottom Line: More companies are including emoji in their internal communications. The symbols have helped ease communications and improve morale during mandatory office closures, they believe. However, not everyone is ready to fill corporate emails and other employee communications with the symbols just yet.
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Michael Kling is manager of public relations, marketing and social media at Glean.info, a media monitoring and measurement service that provides customized media monitoring and PR analytics solutions.