Cultural experts warn the rise of emojis should be a concern for global business

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alyssa bantle
Alyssa Bantle

Emojis are making big news following the release of The Emoji Movie but cultural experts are warning they do not translate well in global business.

Emoticons were once tipped to provide the world with a global language – one capable of crossing cultural borders.

Even the most familiar emoji of a grinning face, which might appear universal, can look very different on different devices or operating systems and be interpreted in different ways by a variety of cultures.

Alyssa Bantle, intercultural expert and professional business coach at Crown World Mobility said: “It’s clear that emojis are becoming more popular in everyday life but the advice of intercultural and language experts is for them to be used sparingly and with care in business communication. In fact, it would be useful for businesses to have some rules around them.

“Studies have shown that we do not have a universal, even amongst friends, understanding of what exactly many emoji mean. It is very easy for them to be misinterpreted. Only 4.5% of emoji symbols had consistently low variance in their sentiment interpretations.”

One group of researchers for GroupLens, a research lab at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota in the United States, has already published research on the subject.

They found that the ‘tears of joy’ emoji was interpreted positively by some people and negatively by others. Additionally, a toothy grin on Windows was rated as emotionally positive while the same symbol on Apple looked like more like a grimace to some respondents.

Language experts suggest that before using an emoji, whether in an email, IM or text, the writer should ask themselves if there is a way to communicate this feeling or intention using words.

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