To Smiley Or Not To Smiley: Email Etiquette For Gen-Y
Generation-Y has grown up in an ever-changing world, with the Internet and all of its corollaries permanently integrated into our lives.
As we enter into the business world, we’re forced to learn, like generations before us, the protocol and etiquette that comes with it. However, what is different with Gen-Y is that there are now seemingly endless Internet or computer-based situations that come into question. What should you post on social media? Can your resume be a Google Doc? Etc.
For people in the modern professional world, one of the most perplexing of all the virtual dos and don'ts has to be email etiquette. Gen-Y grew up in the world of AIM & MySpace, where Internet slang became our second language. LOL, BRB, TTYL, HAHA are just some examples of the common vernacular that has taken over technology and pop culture. The word “emoticon” is so commonplace that Microsoft Word didn’t even put a red squiggle line underneath it when I typed it. These components of the technology driven world we live in help us to integrate human expression and emotion into an intrinsically inanimate medium.
So what is the proper protocol when using them professionally? While we want to remain appropriate when corresponding with potential clients, coworkers and customers, we don’t want to seem cold or rude either. Words can be easily misconstrued through emails and texts because of the aforementioned lack of emotional context in these media. So the concern as to whether or not we should use the Internet slang and emoticons necessarily arises.
My opinion is that like many problems that face us in life, it is situational. Are you emailing a potential boss? Probably not the best situation for an LOL. Are you emailing a new client? While you might want to convey a friendly nature and demonstrate your customer service -- it might not be the best idea. It is a tricky situation, because while putting a smiley face into your email might show that you’re friendly, depending on who the recipient is, he or she may not take you as seriously for doing so.
However, I don’t think that it’s the end of the world to use slang or smiley faces in certain situations. For instance, if you’re a few emails deep with a certain person and the context is friendly and lighthearted, there is really no harm in sending a smiley face. Or if someone sends you the first “LOL” or “Haha,” it's okay to reciprocate it…it may flat out be rude not to. I also think it's important to keep your audience in mind. If you are emailing with a person much older than you, then the use of slang or emoticons might not go over so well. If you are emailing with a fellow Gen-Yer, then I’d say probably anything goes as we are all so inundated with this bullsh*t that we aren’t going to judge you for it.
I wouldn’t use any profanity-slang (STFU, OMFG, FML) in an email unless you are writing to a friend or co-worker. Even with a co-worker though, you have to be careful nowadays, as certain companies can filter through emails and penalize you for it. Chances are if it's #NSFW, it's probably just that.
I recently saw someone tweet, “The number of exclamation points in someone's email is inversely proportional to how seriously I take them.” Well, I take issue with that and I’ll let my friend Ralph Waldo Emerson explain why: “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.”
Exclamation points are basically the only non-emoticon/slang way to show enthusiasm within an email. Without the use of them, emails can sound cold, hard and robotic. Why hate on someone’s enthusiasm? Exclamations are a sign that the sender really wants to impress and/or show you that they are excited about communicating with you. I take the stand that they are perfectly acceptable in emails, as many times as you’d like to use them.
At the end of the day, it’s really a personal decision, do you want to err on the side of caution, but potentially come off as cold and impersonal? Or would you rather take a chance and send a smiley, but potentially come off as unprofessional? It comes down to establishing your own personal "email personality" that's consistent with your real life one, and that will allow people to recognize, connect with you and allow for positive, productive communication.