The Real Power of Emoticons for Communication

How many times have you failed in searching for the right symbol to convey your thoughts in a blog post, email, Facebook comment, or in a Tweet…? I sometimes am not sure if I am able to find the right emoticon; maybe because it does not exist or because I am not sure about what […]

How many times have you failed in searching for the right symbol to convey your thoughts in a blog post, email, Facebook comment, or in a Tweet…? I sometimes am not sure if I am able to find the right emoticon; maybe because it does not exist or because I am not sure about what […]

How many times have you failed in searching for the right symbol to convey your thoughts in a blog post, email, Facebook comment, or in a Tweet…? I sometimes am not sure if I am able to find the right emoticon; maybe because it does not exist or because I am not sure about what I feel and want to share. According to historians, the first modern emoticons was used by Abraham Lincoln in a speech held in 1862. Although someone in the past suggested Lincoln simply did a typo instead of using a proper symbol to express his emotions ;)

For the goal we are used to use them today – dialing letters in our keyboards – emoticons were created a kind of 35 years ago (remarkable! Isn’t it?)  and the first one, as many know, was the smile. The original “yellow smiley” was  actually designed  50 years ago in Worcester, Massachusetts by  Harvey Ross Ball, an American graphic artist. Ball came up with the image in 1963 when he was commissioned to create a graphic to raise morale among the employees of an insurance company after a series of difficult mergers and acquisitions. Ball finished the design in less than 10 minutes and was paid $45 for his work.

Who knows whether it worked among the insurance employees… but I am sure it works nowadays! The importance of nonverbal language only confirms this.

Just to give you a more significant picture: last year, Facebook commissioned a research study to be performed by a psychologist who studies emotions.  This research studied people who asked their friends to remove photos from Facebook; if the message asking for the removal included an emoticon, the friend is more likely to comply or respond, rather than simply ignoring the message.

It is clear that emoticons are able to make people more polite when they ask something that is upsetting someone else or communicate something that others do not like. And at some point, emoticons create better conditions to make people taking actions.

Because emoticons are such a powerful communication tools we rely on today (often without realizing their power and potential!), I wonder if emoticons can be a better way to represent our thoughts instead of handling with words to describe traditionally what we are thinking about. Maybe…both is fine. It may depend on the channel we are using and the target we are approaching. So, to say, are you talking with your son through Instant Messaging? Then, make way for emoticon! Are you addressing your message to a client at a very serious B2B company? (Yes, I am talking of banking ones, Italian friends! ;)  Then, work on the most formal, professional sentences!

Although it’s been a while since we have been using emoticons, and considering they are so powerful, should we use them even more?  What do you think the future will hold for emoticons?  Will the progression of non-verbal expressions stay as they are or will they progress into new forms or symbols?  Share with us how you use emoticons and your most preferred ones :)

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Picture Credit: Kerolic

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