Emojis… they’ve come from seemingly nowhere, to become one of the world’s fastest growing forms of communication, used in billions of messages every day.

They have a truly global reach, cutting across language barriers, and they’ve been both praised for bringing new dimension to digital communication, and demonised for derailing the evolution of language.

But how can using emojis help your business communication – and how could they harm it?

Amplify your language

Perhaps unsurprisingly, using emojis can prove a mixed blessing. The good news is that the mere presence of one won’t send your email to a junk folder – but spamming your subject line with hearts (or worse) won’t win over a reader on its own, either.

Writing for econsultancy, Perry Malm – whose company Phrasee analysed hundreds of thousands of email subject lines – found that they tend to have a polarising effect. In effect, introducing an emoji can supercharge a great email subject, drawing people in, while it can prove an immediate turn-off in a bad one.

So, if you are using an emoji in a purely attention-seeking way, it probably isn’t going to go down well. If you start off with a spammy line, offering little value or targeted appeal to your reader, then you are only going to further highlight this.

On the other hand, if you have honed your message, and if what you are communicating is of value, then drawing a reader’s attention this is likely no bad thing. This could mean cheekily underscoring a good offer with a visual reference to it. Or it could be nothing more sophisticated than bookending the useful part – such as a code – with a special character, according to email marketing agency AlchemyWorx.

So, a little emoji punctuation to illustrate your point may go some way to providing the extra push to get reader to click through to your message. It all comes down to fitting your emoji into the flow of the sentence to enhance your message – not just liberally scattering hearts and stars across the screen. ‘Focus on meaning and context,’ AlchemyWorx advises.

OK, but does using emojis make me look like a teenager?

Critics have been quick to highlight the subtlety and power of the English language – and lament that introducing shorthand images into daily communication will dilute its power of expression.

After all, the Greek literary tradition flourished, forming the backbone of Western culture, while the ancient Egyptians and their hieroglyphs stagnated into tourist curiosities. There are limits to what you can say with pictures, and getting hooked on using them limits your thinking, the argument goes.

This could be seen as a downside, for sure. But in our increasingly rapidfire – and often ambiguous communication – they can be an essential tool to give clarity. Think about how an email can lack nuance. But used in context, an emoji can illuminate or soften a message that might otherwise sound unintentionally brusque, or just downright confusing.

Writing in Psychology Today, Vyv Evans argues that, far from reducing our emotional intelligence, emojis can actually add to an email “in the way that body language and gesture can in face-to-face communication… they fulfil a similar function in digital communication, to gesture, body language and intonation, in spoken language.”

So when should I use an emoji?

Next time you are about to fire off that difficult email in a pressurised five minutes between meetings, consider how it might come across – and whether you might add an emoji for clarity.

There’s four key ways using an emoji can help, according to Alizah K. Lowell:

  • Lightening the mood with humour
  • Softening the blow of a tricky message
  • Helping express an uncomfortable (or just intimate) emotion
  • Communicating… when words simply fail us

And remember, it all comes down to context; are you adding to the meaning and readability with an emoji, or are you just drawing attention to an offhand and random message 🙂