Emoticons and emojis: to use, or not to use, that’s the question

It’s wiser to keep in mind that this is a new trend. Before using them, some factors need to be taken into consideration

Tasneem HossainTasneem Hossain
Published : 4 Dec 2022, 10:09 PM
Updated : 4 Dec 2022, 10:09 PM

The digital age has changed many aspects of how we communicate. With the popularity and necessity of communication going viral, emoticons and emojis have become an integral part of online interactions. One of the biggest changes in the last few years has been the invasion of these sweet little characters taking over the internet.

Can you imagine over 900 million emojis are sent every day through Facebook Messenger alone?

These have become so widely used in digital communication that 17 July is celebrated as World Emoji Day.

One may ask, ‘What’s the difference between emoticons and emojis?’

Emoticons are the precursors of emojis. Emoticons are punctuation marks, letters, and numbers used with the keyboard to create pictorial icons that normally express a person’s feelings, reactions, moods and sentiments. The name is derived from ‘emotion’ and ‘icon.’

On the other hand, emojis are pictograms and ideograms of faces, objects and symbols implanted in electronic messages and web pages. The yellow cartoon human face with different expressions, flowers, sports gadgets, animals, food, objects and symbols that you see are all emojis. The word comes from the Japanese ‘e’ meaning picture and ‘moji’ character.

The internet has greatly changed the way we communicate. As our body language and verbal tone cannot be integrated into text messages or emails, emoticons and emojis have been incorporated as non-verbal symbols for emotions.

These are quite handy in personal texts and emails. When we are having a casual conversation with friends or family members, using these can add underlying emotions and enhance clarity.

Though, the addition of these is quite acceptable in personal interactions users have to be careful using these. If someone is discussing the death of a family member, it’s not at all appropriate to use a smiley face.

Unfortunately, people click on the emojis randomly. Observe closely. You will see that most people on Facebook select the ‘like’ symbol even when the news is about someone’s death or sickness. Can you imagine the idiosyncrasy?

One must use them wisely, even, in personal communications.

Though emoticons and emojis have invaded almost all our online interactions, the crucial question is should you use these in business communication?

You may send an email with a smiley face to a client. The client may find it unprofessional, resulting in a negative response. On the other hand, you might get a smiley in return and get your work done.

So, if you are wondering whether to use these in the workplace or not, then let’s delve a little deeper and find out.

For many years these were considered to be unprofessional and damaging to the business's credibility. Some people feel that the use of emojis is unprofessional and causes confusion for the recipients. Some organisations have even banned their use in emails to avoid potential miscommunications and to maintain professionalism.

However, it’s important to understand that business ideas are evolving and they are making their own place and getting accepted. With the increase in internet-based communication, some business houses have relaxed and started using these as a non-verbal way to express context, emotion and tone. This helps reinforce a written message.

You may notice smiling emoticons and emojis in emails, Slack, WhatsApp and Pumblemessages, particularly in tech-based companies. A recent survey shows that 61% of employees use emoticons and emojis at work. Even Linkedin, the world's largest professional network on the internet, has its own set of emojis.

Younger generations are entering the workforce. So these are becoming common in the 21st century.

But it’s wiser to keep in mind that this is a new trend. Before using them, some factors need to be taken into consideration.

First of all, consider your organisation’s culture and company policy. If the company policy clearly states that using these in the workplace is considered unprofessional then don’t use them.

Always keep your recipient(s) in mind.

If the relationship between coworkers is quite informal and friendly these can be helpful. It may build rapport and help in teamwork, especially in stressful situations.

When you are part of a remote team you don’t have the opportunity to develop personal relationships with team members. These can help develop a friendly relationship.

In terms of branding, you may give a character of your own. After all, smiley came into being as a campaign brand and it has created this revolutionary change in the world of communication.

Use these when you are having personal communication with colleagues on their getting married, having a baby or if it’s someone’s birthday.

Most messaging programmes, even ones for business, offer a set of emojis. Just because they’re available doesn’t mean you should use them.

Generally, using these in professional communications with first-time customers and prospective customers is unwise. Take care when messaging your superior, an elderly person and unfamiliar customers.

Moreover, not all industries are suitable for using these. These should be especially avoided in government and healthcare organisations; and law firms.

When the goal is to establish a new partnership, first impressions are crucial. Don’t take chances of your communication backfiring.

Though emails are considered a formal means of workplace communication, emojis have become acceptable to a certain degree. A good way to break the monotony of a business routine is to use emojis. Interestingly, research shows that an emoji in the subject line of an email increases the open rate to 29 percent!

However, you need to ensure that these are appropriate to the context and easily understood.

It’s important to avoid these in emails for a new client, a business client you haven’t met or an elderly recipient. Also, avoid very formal emails which deal with financial and legal subject matters.

But for younger colleagues, these may be more acceptable. So, think about your recipient, while using these, not because it’s a trend.

Fortunately, emails allow us to think before we write, so choosing the right audience, context and subject isn’t too difficult.

There’s a huge number of about 4,000 emojis. Some of the most common ones used are the smile, clap, raised hands, thumbs up and idea.

Emojis are supposed to make communication across cultures easier, but their interpretation differs in individual cases and across different cultures. The most commonly used emoji is the thumbs up which normally means something positive like, ‘OK,’ or ‘great job.’ However, in Bangladesh, it’s ‘Kochu,’ used negatively.

Thus meaning and usage may not always be universal for emojis.

The Pile of Poo is another example of cultural differences. Figuratively, in Western cultures, this character may be interpreted as the user having a terrible day. In Japan, however, this is a way to wish someone good luck. Interestingly, Canadians use the poop emoji more than any other country. Canadians also have the highest number of emoji categories.

But then some of the facial expressions of emotion like happiness, fear, anger, sadness, and distress are almost universal. A smile is a smile around the globe and helps spread positivity.

There’s no doubt that emoticons and emojis add extra tone to the text. Ensure that you don’t use more than two in a single message.

While these may be a fun way to enhance the meaning of your texts, use them sparingly and according to your recipient’s mindset, relationship, gender, culture, age, context, company policy and industry.

Remember less is more.

Have fun with these wonderful characters.

[Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, columnist, op-ed and fiction writer, translator and training consultant. She is the Director of the Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.]


1. 30 Emoji Statistics for Businesses, The Pipeline.

2. Canada loves poop emoji, America favours pizza, The Economic Times/Panache, April 29, 2015