To emoticon or not to emoticon – that is the question.

EmoticonYesterday I came home, checked my mail and was jazzed to see my March copy of Inc. Magazine in the mailbox. On the last page was the section of The Office by Leigh Buchanan where she expressed her extreme displeasure in the use of emoticons in business correspondence.

I’m guessing that my March issue is so hot-off-the-press and that’s why I have yet to find the link to the article from Inc’s website. Once it’s up, I’ll link it here.

So what is the role of emoticons? I agree, in a business correspondence it’s an understudy at best. Yet, I find that in the absence of any other form of expression with someone who you have had a long standing relationship with, a simple smiley can be good.

I’m thinking specifically of a client that I’ve had for about 6 months. We are in completely different time zones – she’s in California, I’m on the East Coast near Washington DC. 99% of our correspondence is via e-mail. When I submit an idea, her emoticon at the end of the “looks great” makes a big difference. It actually reminds me that I am dealing with a human who has feelings and it helps me picture her on the other end of cyberspace and the emotions she’s expressing. To me, this is important, because I can gauge whether or not a project is on the right track.

Ms. Buchanan also suggests the complete eradication of emoticons – and puts the idea to her readers that they replace the simple ๐Ÿ™‚ with a long, drawn-out description such as:

“Picture if you will a colon: one tiny, perfect dot poised above its brother. Now imagine that colon transformed into a pair of eyes, bright and sparkling with mischief. From between those dots extends a hyphen. Yet screw up your eyes and…do you see it? A nose! Yes, a nose! Patrician in its straightness it dips toward the generous curve of a closing parenthesis. That parenthesis is a mouth, corners up-tilted in mirth. Viewed in a sum, these marks compose a face whose expression of gentle amusement suggests the good humor intended in the previous remark”

Are you serious!?

I’m all for literary masterpieces, yet if you don’t have time for a ๐Ÿ™‚ how the heck do you have time for THAT?

I find this as a classic symptom of the literary superiority syndrome. There are just some cases where a simple graphic can capture the feelings that are too complex for words (remember “a picture is worth a thousand words”) Finding the balance between graphics and words is the real aim of the game.

I wonder if people had the same reaction when contractions entered the picture? I think emoticons will eventually fall into the same category as donโ€™t, wonโ€™t, etc.

You wonโ€™t use them in business correspondence, but they do have their place.



Andrea Morris is a marketing coach who specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit

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