Emoji etiquette

Emoji etiquette

There’s no doubt that emojis have become a common feature of our everyday lives. Most people use them, and even if we don’t use them ourselves we come across them on a daily basis. We use them to abbreviate text – as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words – and also to improve communication by giving a better idea of what the writer is trying to say. But does that mean that we can and should always use emojis, in all types of texts and for all audiences?

Published 7/18/2016

Common sense

Of course, there are no set rules for using emojis in the same way as for written communication in general (not yet, in any case!) – we’re still at the stage of experimenting to find out how they work. More and more standards will probably appear, but in the meantime the best thing to do is to use your common sense and think about what you want to communicate and to whom.


One thing that can complicate the use of emojis is that although the symbols are available worldwide, there are no cast iron definitions of what they mean – there’s no universal emoji dictionary to say that a symbol means exactly this and nothing else. Emojis may be interpreted differently in different countries or by different groups of people. Let me give a few examples.

  • A study carried out at Lund University showed that the same sentence with an emoji in it was perceived differently by each interviewee. The sentence was:
    See you later, then? Really looking forward to our plans for this evening! 1-1.png
    which was interpreted as follows by the interviewees:
    • The sender’s plans are slightly different.
    • It feels a bit like the opposite, that it won’t be good to meet up.
    • It’s a guaranteed invitation. Those are bedroom eyes.
    • The symbol shows that it’ll be a party.
  • For many people, this symbol 2.jpg means customer service, while for others it signifies fluffing one’s hair up. The emoji 3.jpg is usually interpreted in the West as prayer, or sometimes as high five, while in Japan it represents a gesture of politeness or thank you.
  • Emojis can also look very different depending on which brand of phone you use.

It’s hardly surprising that this can lead to misunderstandings.

Etiquette tips

Here are some tips about using emojis and things to bear in mind.

  1. Think about your target group. Do the people you’re writing to use emojis themselves?
    For example, a British survey revealed that 80% of those aged 18-25 think that emojis make things easier to understand, while 54% of over 40s think that emojis make things more confusing. This might not be directly applicable in other countries, but it’s still worth thinking about your target audience.
  2. Choosing an appropriate stylistic level according to the recipient and the occasion applies here just as with any other form of communication. You might not want to write to your employer using only emojis, but it might work with your close colleagues.
  3. Think about where you place your emoji and which one you use. The emojis you choose ties in with point 1 above. In purely tactical terms, it’s more embarrassing to send a poor choice of emoji to a potential date than to your mother.
  4. In terms of positioning, the emoji often comes after the sentence or the word that you want to emphasise or clarify. Hi handsome! Kiss.png… is more common than… HiKiss.pnghandsome!
  5. We often use emojis to convey a feeling that fits with what we’re writing, so using too many of them can sometimes feel trivial – it simply lessens the impression you’re trying to get across. On the other hand, you can sometimes use two or more of the same emoji for emphasis. Just as with anything else, it’s a matter of striking the right balance.

Helpful in the right situation with the right recipient

And finally, most things can be communicated to the right target group using emojis, and when used together with regular text, emojis can help to introduce nuances in a highly effective and practical way.

Synnöve MT.
Synnöve MT. Former Services Specialist

Having spent almost all her professional life within language services, she has been involved in most aspects of the industry. She has worked as a specialist for translation services.