By now, you've probably taken a side on this existential crisis gone viral that started over the weekend on Twitter. If you're just catching up, media analyst Thomas Baekdal called out Google for its rogue hamburger emoji not conforming to the standard prototype of other burger emojis, like Apple's.   

While I'll leave the definitive answer on the proper placement of your cheese to culinary experts, note that Google CEO Sundar Pichai (who is, by the way, a vegetarian) joined in on the fun.   

We'll ignore the fact that Mr. Pichai was probably too busy to find the extra 3.5 seconds to insert the proper smiley emoji after "Monday."  

All kidding aside, I find this playful blunder the proper backdrop to bring another more important discussion into the light -- the use of emojis. 

Burger emojis notwithstanding, we all use them daily, but do smiley faces, hand signals, hearts, and travel icons really belong in the visual vernacular of business and professional settings?

Experts seem to think so.

Increasing your "emoji competence."

In The Semiotics of Emoji, University of Toronto professor Marcel Danesi, an internationally-known expert in semiotics and youth culture, states that emojis have become the world's fastest-growing form of communication.

He asserts in the Wall Street Journal piece that having a type of digital emotional intelligence he coins as "emoji competence" -- what he calls the ability "to intersperse emoji images into a written text in order to imprint a positive emotional tone into it" -- plays a huge role in how we digitally interact and communicate.

Quite simply, emojis help us steer clear of conflict, and add a dash of humor and color to our increasingly short and abrupt style of communicating digitally at work.

In The Emoji Code, professor Vyvyan Evans, an expert on language and communication, says around 92 percent of internet users regularly send emojis and over 5 billion emojis are sent on a daily basis. Here's Evans in a recent interview countering the prejudice against emoji usage:

Many otherwise educated and liberal commentators often seem to view Emoji as a joke, the communicative equivalent to an adolescent grunt. But this amounts to prejudiced cultural elitism, and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of communication. Emoji is more than a mere splash of juvenile color. The fact that Emoji can and will be used in a court of law against you is testament to that.

But the better question is how do we appropriately use emojis to reap its benefits without sacrificing face-to-face communication?

Use emojis to clarify what you mean in digital textspeak.

Professor Evans says that in our everyday face-to-face spoken interactions, as much as 70 percent of our emotional expression may come from non-verbal cues. Things like tone, pitch, rate of speed, etc. give us important information that compliment and even change the meaning of our words. In similar fashion, Evans says emojis serve a "paralinguistic" function in digital textspeak. Here's Evans expanding further:

Emojis helps nuance and complement the meaning of our otherwise, seemingly emotionally arid abbreviated digital messages. They help add tone of voice, and better enable us to nuance what our texted words actually mean. For instance, a text message that reads "Hey, so I tripped and banged my head on the kitchen cupboard", becomes a plea for sympathy if followed by a crying face emoji. But with a laughing face, we are inviting our addressee to acknowledge our clumsy buffoonery. Either way, the emoji helps clarify what we mean by the words, much as tone of voice does in face-to-face interaction.

Use emojis for efficiency.

The beauty of digital communication is that it offers a means to be more efficient. By conveying emotions with emojis instead of words when we're in a rush, in a meeting, or . otherwise unavailable to type out long messages, we can use symbols to multitask. It can be especially valuable for expressing things like excitement, gratitude, recognition, or teamwork in a quick and personal manner.

Avoid emojis in e-mails

In a research study 549 participants from 29 different countries, it was found that using emojis in work-related e-mails may not create a positive impression and could actually portray low competence.

Ella Glikson, a post doctorate fellow at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel, says "Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence. In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile."

"We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing," Glikson said.

Final plea by academics.

So far academics are quite optimistic about the use and effect of emojis to enhance digital communication. In particular, professor Evans seems the biggest supporter and advocate for boosting your digital EQ. He makes the plea for digital communicators to fully embrace the use of emojis moving forward:

Facial expressions and gestures are what make us who we are: let's see it, and not be afraid of seeing it, in Emoji! But whatever the next stage in the evolution of Emoji, the driver is, ultimately, the cooperative intelligence that makes us the embodied communicators we are. And in this regard, Emoji makes us more effective communication in our 21st century world of communication.

Published on: Nov 2, 2017