Emoji’s are here to stay. It’s hard to remember that even 10 years ago, we were hardly using them. 20 years ago we wouldn’t have understood most of them. And now they have become an essential part of our online communication. So, this blog is about how to use emojis in Business English. Where did they come from? How do they work? How can you use them? And how should you  use them?

Where did they come from?

The first emoji on a phone was invented in Japan. Emoji means e – picture, moji – character. The first phone to have emoji’s was in 1997, which had a  set of 90. In 1999 Shigetaku Kurita came up with a set of 176 icons. He noticed that sales went down for a pager, when the heart emoji was removed.

how to use emojis in business english
The first emojis

But the history of emoji’s is even older. They were originally invented in the Edo era (1603 – 1868) and used to instruct people who couldn’t read.

We also know other communications systems, which work with pictures, such as hieroglyphics. Even hieroglyphics though, use pictures to represent letters. So, emojis are something unique – a pictorial language.

how to use emojis in business english
Anybody else noticed that there is always a bird in hieroglyphics?

How do emoji’s work?

Ever realised that you smile at your phone when someone sends you a smiley emoji? Our brain interprets a smiley as someone real smiling at you. So, you smile back.

Our phones mirror our emotions

One of the ways that human beings communicate is by mirroring what the other person is doing. We do this in actions, as well as in emotions. So, when someone smiles at us, they are signalling at a very basic level, that they can be trusted, that they will do you no harm. So, in evolutionary terms, the best thing you can do is to smile back, so the other person knows the same about you. Or send them back a smiley!       

If you want to connect, then using emojis is a great way to do this. This is one way how to use emojis in Business English. There are more listed later on.

When the very first emojis were being sent in the West, they often had to be explained. We didn’t understand what ; ) meant or : P. You had to work out that you had to turn your head to the right to see a face.

(Another interesting fact. Try writing an emoji the other way round     (-: It’s not right, is it?)

The face emoji is called an emoticon, the best known being the smiley.  

Are emoji’s universal?

I don’t know about you, but there are some emoji’s that I just don’t get and I don’t know how to use. Anyone else have recognise this?

Just as with human speech, you also get to know each other’s quirks. Some people love particular emojis and if you know them well, you’ll know exactly what they mean. Like the friend you sends you the eyes wide open smiley and you know they mean they are impressed. Instead of surprised or horrified.

There are also cultural emojis, like the ones you end up sending on people’s birthdays. I always end up sending happy looking Japanese things, even though I have absolutely no idea what they mean.

how to use emojis in business english
I never knew what I was sending, so I finally decided to check it out

It turns out they’re wind bells (furin).

Emojis to be careful of

There are also some emojis which are used for particular meanings. The aubergine/egg plant is one of them, as is the peach. I wouldn’t recommend using these in your marketing messages, unless you are absolutely sure they are what you need. If, you need to use them to represent an aubergine or a peach and you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this clip!

The left hand emoji on this picture is also the one that is being used as a bullet in Facebook ads.

How to use emojis in Business English

You can emoji’s to:

  • Add colour/emotion to your texts
  • Grab attention
  • Make clear what you are trying to say (as long as you know that the other person will understand what you are trying to say)
  • Make yourself appear more approachable and more personal
  • Add humour
  • Say things in a completely different way than with words

I did some research into how to use emojis in Business English.

How are emojis used in Facebook ads

As the Facebook feed fills up, it’s becoming increasingly important to stand out. One of the ways companies are doing this, is using emojis. So, I decided to find out how emojis are being used in Facebook ads.  

I checked 25 English language Facebook ads on my feed. There were 16 B2B adverts, 5 B2C and 4 mixed. I noted the basic structure of the ad, as well as the likes, comments and shares.

What I noticed about Facebook ads and emojis

  • B2C ads use more emojis than B2B
  • Male entrepreneurs generally use less emojis than female entrepreneurs!
  • B2B ads sometimes use no emoji’s at all:
    • Adverts by well-known names (T. Harv Eker,  Amy Porterfield, Jeff Walker for example). Not so much of a male/female difference in this category. To me this suggests that using no emojis can signal leadership in your field (=you don’t need to use things to scream for attention). There were also fewer videos in these ads.
    • Sometimes emoji-less ads they use other effects to get noticed, such as disturbing photos and insults (Sam Ovens)
    • The only B2C advert that didn’t use emojis was Mindvalley
  • If emojis are used, it’s usually a mix of smileys and other emojis
  • Emojis are sometimes used in a row (all hearts, all fires) to grab attention to a particular section of text. In fact, they often surround important text, one row above and one row below

What to watch out for if you’re using emojis in Facebook ads

  • The male/female divide may well be worth watching out for. If this works in the same as smiling and making jokes does (high status for men, low status for women), we girls need to be very careful how we use these things.
  • Emojis for bullet points seem to be becoming popular. I’ve seen arrows, ticks, stars, hearts and pointing fingers.
  • You can seriously overdo the emojis. I even found 1 advert with 32 emojis, including 2 smileys, where there were almost more smileys than words. The ad had 1 like from a friend of hers. I rest my case.
  • You can also overdo the emojis by using lots of different ones. Make sure you use them wisely. If you use them, they should add to your message, not detract from it.
  • The way you use emojis can lead to negative comments
Sometimes emojis don’t work as you’d like them to

Emojis in Instagram ads

Looking at Instagram ads, you see the same trends as on Facebook ads. This is not exactly a surprise, as we often use the same ads or variations on the same ads on both media.  

Emojis in LinkedIn

Some of you are probably already laughing at the very idea of using emojis on LinkedIn. I started scrolling through my feed to check if my idea about LinkedIn and emojis was correct. After 5 minutes I hadn’t seen a single one. So, it’s probably best to avoid emojis in your LinkedIn feed.

However, in LinkedIn messages they do get used. That’s the difference between formal and informal media. Formal media – avoid emojis, informal media – it’s okay to use them with people you know well.   

How should you use emojis?

I don’t believe in general ‘shoulds’ for language. The only should I believe in, is writing in the best possible way for your (future) customers. The best possible way is the way that works best. So write for your tribe and keep trying things out until they work.

Reasons not to use emojis in Business English:

How formal are your clients? How formal is the situation? If it’s formal, don’t use emojis.

How high status do you want to be/appear? Think twice about emojis in this case.

What (social) media are you using? WhatsApp messages need emojis, written folders almost certainly not. Email is in between. I see more and more emojis in emails, especially marketing emails and in emails to clients you know very well (who are crossing over the divide to become friends)        

Things to think about if you do want to use emojis

How do your clients communicate with you? You can reflect this style back to them. This is mirroring too, like smiling at your phone, when you see a smiley emoticon.

Which emojis best fit what you want to say and how you want to say it? Think about this in detail, what do you want to communicate? What are trying to achieve (in terms of feelings)? What are you trying to avoid? (Be careful about triggering someone in a negative way, I would, for example, never open some adverts, even though I have definitely noticed them)

When should you be really careful with using emojis?

Are the emojis you want to use clear for your clients? No, then choose something else or a different method to get noticed.

Are these emojis free from double meanings? No, then choose something else or a different method to get noticed.

how to use emojis in Business English

Are you communicating with people from different cultures? Then you need to take extra care, as cultural differences can come into play. This is especially true, if you are using humour. Humour can really backfire in different cultures.

More information about emoji’s

Information about the first emojis


to find out more about different emoji’s:


This is a useful list of face emoji’s with the differences between the platforms (Apple, Google, Facebook etc:


A list of Japanese emoji’s, explaining what they mean:


Analysis of which types of emojis work and which don’t. Hubspot analysed what they see as working. A lot of the points are similar to what I outlined above, but they have some great tips for extra links and which emojis you could use when.


Join the conversation. What do you think about using emojis?

Are you a heavy emoji user? Or do you hate them?  Do you vary what you do over different media? How do you decide which emojis to use in Business English?

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