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20 Nov 2015

Emojis: A new language for internal communications?

Posted on November 20, 2015 by

emojis

This week The Oxford Dictionary announced its Word of the Year is, wait for it, not actually a word.  This year’s Word of the Year has, in fact, been selected as the “tears of joy” emoji.

My reaction was mixed. On the one hand, I feel a little fooled that The Oxford Dictionary, of all organisations, has selected a word that’s NOT A WORD.

On the other hand, I’m a big fan of emojis and quite like that The Oxford Dictionary did something a little different.  Granted, it’s not a word, but for me and the millions of others using them, emojis sum up a state of emotion or a reaction in a way that words can’t always achieve. In that sense, they are absolutely enhancing language.

So if The Oxford Dictionary has accepted the emoji as a valid alternative for words, should more organisations and brands be embracing the cute little icons as a form of corporate language too?

The stats suggest they should. The Guardian reports that 76% of the UK adult population owns a smartphone and, of those, between 80% and 90% use emojis. Worldwide, six billion are sent daily. The “face with tears of joy” is the most used, representing 20% of all UK emoji use.

Emojis have certainly started to gain traction in external communciations between brands and consumers. Coca Cola was the first brand to launch a bespoke emoji, for its #shareacoke Twitter campaign.  And other big brands such as Ikea, Domino’s and McDonalds have also incorporated emojis into marketing campaigns and got it right.

This demonstrates the potential emojis present to connect with an audience, but it can’t work for every brand. Emojis work so brilliantly because of the sarcastic and ironic way we can use them – something that only a few companies, like Domino’s, can get away with.

And the same goes for internal communications.  Whilst they won’t suit every organisational culture or workforce, providing employees with the option and the tools (emoji keyboard in this case) to use pictograms, could enhance internal communications for some companies.

For organisations adopting a creative or collaborative culture, where leaders are often viewed as innovators, facilitators or visionaries, and structures are generally flatter, emojis could work really well in enhancing ‘two-way’ communications and connecting people with the brand and company ethos in a more meaningful way.

And that’s what collaborative organisations are working to achieve, to capture not just feedback but a sense of feeling and sentiment amongst employees. Feeling about the company or brand they represent, their workplace environment, the people they work with, the direction the company is moving in or the job they are doing. This is where emojis can come in, particularly amongst ‘creatives’, who are naturally more visual, and as younger generations enter the workplace and the demographics of organisations change.

Of course, I’m not suggesting emoticons should replace words, but the option to use them as an additional form of expression could add another level of insight for a company.

For example, if internal comms teams can start to attach meaning and sentiment to the emojis their people are using, it could provide greater measures and analysis of how teams feel.emoji keyThe meaning of emojis isn’t black and white and would require us to take into account the context and tone that emojis are used in.  We can’t assume a “thumbs up” is positive if it’s used ironically. However, it’s about adding some form of emotive expression to communications in the workplace.

Like with any means of communication, it could also be argued that emojis have the potential to be misconstrued, but in many ways they also bridge the issue of reading between the lines. Where words carry hundreds of different connotations, emojis can offer a pragmatic function.

That’s also not to say emojis should start popping up in all communications. More and more people are already sneaking emojis into emails – the smiley face being king – and, in the email sense, icons can be used to soften or illustrate words to facilitate conversation and working relationships.

They might not be beneficial to communications which are sensitive or designed to ‘inform’ rather than ‘discuss’. However, the cheeky little characters lend themselves to enterprise social networks – it’s here that companies encourage staff to be open and honest, after all.

Of course, introducing any new form of corporate language has to be carefully planned.  There’s the need to educate people internally on how they can use emojis and what’s expected in the working environment – where and how they should be used.

For example, if a collaborative discussion is taking place, which requires expert employee input, there’s the argument that using emojis might be counter-productive in getting in-depth opinion and could close conversation down if used without words.  However, in a discussion designed to collect feedback and thoughts on an idea, emojis could work well to quickly gauge internal reaction.

Ultimately, it’s about empowering and trusting employees to use emojis, and all language for that matter, responsibly and tactfully; understanding there’s a time and a place for the “smiley poo emoji” and that’s probably not at work.

But by helping employees bring their words to life in a more meaningful, human way, organisations can start to understand their people better than ever before and, as a result, further connect employees with the business’ brand and ethos.

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