Should We Use Emoticons?

This post was first published by Joanna DiTrapano on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense.

I’m a girl who grew up surrounded by unicorns. Seriously – my mom empowered me with choosing my own bedroom wallpaper when I was eight years old, and it just so happens I was slightly fond of (read: obsessed with) unicorns. So, I grew up with these majestic creatures prancing around me, basically until I moved out of the house. Now, however, I like to keep it real. And for my daily dose of reality I usually stream NPR through my computer in the morning (read: I don’t have a television or radio).

Anyway, there was a recent segment on NPR that discussed the use of emoticons in social media.  This seemed particularly relevant for the PR industry where most of our communicating is done remotely and the true meaning of a message can often get lost in translation. The segment featured a discussion with Baratunde Thurston, former digital director at The Onion, and Deanna Zandt, author of “Share This: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking”.

Thurston essentially believes that society is forcing people to become writers, stripping away our other forms of regular communication that include social cues like facial expressions and tone of voice, thus making it harder to communicate. He notes, however, that not everyone is a writer and perhaps this is where emoticons really have value. Zandt takes a different spin on this, asserting that we need to be more thoughtful about what we say, as we’re relying too much on tools to do the work for us.  Ultimately, she’s calling for more articulation coupled with more thoughtfulness.

Both make valid points, in my opinion. Yes, it’s harder to communicate without social cues – even talking on the phone can present problems with the absence of body language. And while emoticons can help to clarify messages, perhaps there needs to be more thought put into the way things are worded – or maybe there needs to be more thought on the other end, when reading a message… or both. For instance, if someone were to blog about unicorns, how could you tell if that person were serious or just joking? The bottom line is that our way of communicating is largely virtual now and I think we’re still trying to figure out a happy medium between convenience and reality: it’s convenient to email, but what are you really trying to say? 😉

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