:) :( :P Do you know what any of these symbols mean? You probably do—they’re emoticons, the tool we use to show emotions online. The first modern emoticon was proposed by Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon in 1982 as a “Character sequence for joke markers.” Fahlman was used to posting online and was disheartened when his sarcastic comments were taken seriously.
Since Falhman’s first emoticons in 1982, things have gotten a little out of control. Various online chat services, even Facebook Chat, turn emoticons into picture. Anything from a simple smiley face to Abraham Lincoln.
Sure, they’re cute, but why do we need emoticons at all? Fahlman notes, “When using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone.” It makes sense. You can’t necessarily read sarcasm, but if you add in a smiley face, people know what you’re talking about.
Emoticons are a stand in. They get the job done, but they’re not always the best way to get your point across. I’ve read some blogs that are blatantly funny, even without the occasional smiley. But for those of us who are less linguistically adept, the emoticon is actually a crutch. Technology has come a long way since 1982. By now, there has to be a better way to show emotion online.
Of course, there is a better way: Audio. Nearly every computer, cell phone, or other mobile device now comes equipped with a built in microphone. A few years ago, it might have been difficult to record audio for use online, but today, it’s simple. Even if (like me) you don’t like the idea of recording your own voice, you can have the audio professionally produced and recorded by a voice over talent. The talent you choose will use their trained vocal cords to help you deliver marketing messages.
Why type your Facebook posts when you can quickly record them and post audio on your wall? Why should your tweets be confined to 140 characters when attaching an audio file is an easy option? In social media applications, audio accomplishes something text can’t: it captures real, human emotion. The cues, like tone of voice, that Fahlman found online communication to be missing.
On a website, audio lets you show and tell. It can guide visitors to areas of interest, like testimonials or contact pages. It helps to make your website more “sticky”, keeping people on pages longer. It can be combined with an avatar to give your site an even more personal feel.
The emoticon is great, but its overuse can be detrimental to your online communication. It’s time to spice up the internet by including more than visual information.
(By the way, did you know that World Smile Day is October 7? It's easy to celebrate, just "Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile"!)