Most of us are becoming accustomed to seeing both emoticons and emoji’s in our online and text messages. Emoji’s are picture characters, emoticons are faces that show a specific emotion created with just text-based symbols :). But I started thinking about why I use them; which made me wonder if they have any impact on the message receiver?
Why I use them
I typically use different emojis/emoticons to add a message or tone to a message that is more difficult to convey with words alone. For example, if I intend for my message to be taken as sarcastic I will include something along the lines of ;). I will also use these images to convey that I agree or have “heard” what someone else says without having to create a complete response. I think, when used this way, they serve the purpose of non-verbal communication that I would use if I was face-to-face with the person I am communicating with.
Using these symbols I can convey, in a much more concise format, my emotional response to something, the hidden tone of voice of my message, or even an inside joke or understanding with a friend.
What impact do they have?
Churches et al (2014) found that we do respond to emoticons as we would to faces. This means that we read them similar to how we read faces. Hopefully then, when we use these emoticons to convey our emotions about something that message is being received.
Qiu et al (2016) took this a step further to investigate whether emoticons had any impact on the receiver’s empathy, and they did. Increased empathy led to increased perceived trustworthiness and increased perceived quality of the message.
So by using emoticons we encourage our receiver to relate to us, trust us, and trust our message. I personally find this fascinating because they come across as being casual and even unprofessional. But this seems to imply that they have some significant benefits for communication. Does that mean that we should start using emoticons in our business communication? I don’t think we are there yet, but we have started seeing emoticons/emoji’s in more advertising, and it is possible as more and more users of these symbols are in professional settings that they may become more common.
Churches, O., Nicholls, M., Thiessen, M., & Keage, H. (2014). Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study. Social Neuroscience, 9(2), 196-202.
Qiu, L., Wang, W., Pang, J., & Jiang, Z. (2016). The persuasive impact of emoticons in online word-of-mouth communication. PACIS 2016 Proceedings. Paper 122. http://aisel.aisnet.org/pacis2016/122