15 Oct 2021

Using smileys and emojis in business emails: yes or no?

Smileys, emojis or gifs have become an integral part of our everyday private communication and these “visual aids” of written expression constitute a language of its own. But is it appropriate to use smileys or emojis in professional communication, even more so in business emails?

Emoji, stickers and gifs in eM Client

Emoticons, smileys, emojis, stickers, GIFs – what’s the difference?

Let’s clear up the terminology first:

Emoticons (or emotes in short) are sequences of ASCII characters. These are created by simply using and combining different punctuation marks, letters, or numbers, to create a simple representation of an emotion. The most well-known emoticons are of course the :-) and :-( faces, first used in 1982 – which means emoticons are about to celebrate their 40th anniversary!

Sometimes though, these character-based emoticons are automatically converted by apps to a more appealing in-line visual representation, such as 😊 ☹ – these yellow faces that better convey moods such as anger, fear or joy are smileys. And unlike most emoticons, they’re not sideways.

eM Client: Smileys and emoji

Emoji is originally a Japanese invention as well as a Japanese term (e, “picture,” and moji, “character”). It’s, so to speak, a further development or next generation of emoticons, popularized mainly through iPhone users. Compared to emoticons and smileys, emojis represent a whole range of object or concepts and are not based on keyboard characters. Still, emojis are standardized and need assets for each icon from a set.

That’s where stickers come in, that simply work as images, can be unique for each app and depict basically any concept.

eM Client: Beautiful custom stickers

And eventually, GIF (Graphical Interchange Format), first used in 1987, is a short soundless video sequence or series of images that endlessly run in a loop and can show anything from movie scenes to random animations.

eM Client: Gifs powered by Giphy

Why are smileys and emojis so popular?

Indeed, smileys lighten up written communication, clarify information and convey emotions, which is even more important if there’s a lack of actual face-to-face conversation – something that has been increasingly common, mainly since 2020.

Smileys and emojis, as well as stickers and GIFs, can make up for missing gestures, tone of voice and other elements of communication we use to rely on when speaking to someone in person. Also, they can significantly speed up communication for both the sender and the recipient, as long as the two share the same frame of reference and feel comfortable enough to reduce the exactness of their messages.

Do smileys in business emails cross the line?

As everything depends on context, there is no clear answer to whether using smileys in business emails is appropriate or not, but there are some ground rules to consider.

A formality of the message, for example, is a good indicator – if you write an email that you would have sent as a printed letter in the past, it’s definitely more in line to omit anything as informal as smileys. Invoices, quotations, official announcements or applications would all fall into this category.

The relationship to the recipient is the crucial aspect. If the sender and recipient have never met, moreover if a cultural barrier exists between the two, smileys can come across as forced or incompetent. If you've known a business partner or customer for a while and are familiar with each other, using smileys doesn’t hurt, but you should still do so somewhat sparingly. Among familiar colleagues, on the other hand, the use of smileys is completely unproblematic.

Do smileys diffuse tension in business communication?

Critical emails in particular can be positively influenced with a well-picked smiley. A laughing or winking smiley can weaken negative feelings in the recipient and reduce the risk that they will take a criticism personally.

It’s always good to be conscious about using smileys and emojis and always consider beforehand exactly what effect the chosen smiley is likely to have on the recipient. To be more flexible, it is of course very advantageous to use an email app that technically supports smileys and thinks of different cultural context, such as eM Client 😊

How to reply to a business email that uses smileys?

If your "counterpart" uses smileys in email communication, it doesn't mean you have to do the same so as not to appear rude. Instead, it’s better to develop a communication style of your own, that may (or may not) also include some smileys. Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't adapt your style to different recipients at all. What always remains decisive anyway is the eventual tone and language of your email.

Should business emails use emojis in subject lines?

A short answer is: no. Subject lines should remain clear instead of being stuffed with small icons. Many email clients may have issues recognizing the emojis anyway, and only turn these subject lines into cryptic mess. Also, emails containing special characters such as smileys and emojis (either in subject line or in body text) easily end up in spam – especially in the business environment.

How to use smileys and emojis in eM Client?

Luckily, eM Client has an extensive support for hundreds of emojis (all standard ones, including skin color selection and categorization), a beautiful custom-made set of stickers, and there's also the entire Giphy database for you to use.

New to eM Client?

Try it out! It's free and fabulous.

If you’re ready for more, buy the PRO license and enjoy:

  • unlimited email accounts

  • unlimited commercial use

  • professional VIP support

  • Notes and Attachments sections

  • Snooze Email

  • Mass Mail

  • Send Email Later

  • Watch for Replies
    and more.

And in the meantime, check out our YouTube channel for how-to videos.