Are You :-) or :-( with all those Emoticons at Work?

Are emoticons making social media communicating easier or easier to avoid real emotions?

How do you feel about emoticons?
Well, maybe I should first ask, did you now that those punctuation marks that look like faces on their sides actually had a name? And that they have different names for the style type depending upon the expression orientation and where in the world they were developed or what software you're using? There's even documentation on the first known use of the original smiley-face emoticon and a kickstarter for an emoji keyboard. But like casual Fridays and Holiday parties, those collection of silly faces have become an accepted part of business communications despite their non-business like nature.

It seems that emotion icons, (better known by the portmanteau emoticon), and their pictograph close cousin emoji are part of every communication, built into email clients, Facebook, and many other platforms. Some applications will even turn your emoticons into emoji automatically like a picture auto-correct. And when dictating a message, my mobile phone will turn the words "smiley-face" first into an emoticon then into an emoji when I hit send. Like it or not.

Of course like many things in pop culture, the business world has embraced the practice and I see social media hieroglyphs on everything from elevators to smart phones. Emoticons are world-business friendly, right? -- or is it just cheaper to print a universal icon than in multiple languages? And in correspondence, emoticons humanize and add personality, right?  -- particularly when the sender doesn't possess much of any.

Some admonish the emoticon craze as another dumbing down of society: by lessening the need to read or write. I use emoticons because in this world of 140 characters or less, every space counts. "Thanks," "I agree," "I received your message and I understand" can all be replaced with a smiley face. I use them in my personal correspondence. I admit I've even found myself guilty of emoji envy: "Damn! Were did they find a wedding cake emoji?" What can I say? Let he who does not find those dog viral videos cute cast the first stone, I say.

What bothers me about pictographs replacing words is that it's often an emotional avoidance or even a passive-aggressive use that the emoticon replaces. Rather than convey feelings, people will express frustration, sadness, remorse and even anger through a small yellow or blue icon. Non-confrontational management types can now not only replace face-to-face employee meetings and phone calls with emails, they can avoid repercussions and consequence by sending reprimands and warnings by ending them with a wink! 
Uhm, no.
So to answer the question the headline poses, I haven't decided whether I'm happy or sad about the prevalence of emoticons, or in other words... :-/

Follow Frank Bocchino, a digital marketing consultant who helps brands exceed their business goals using the latest tools for marketing automation, SEO, and social media.

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