Translated by Núria Adell.
In many popular articles of psychology, entrepreneurship, and publicity, such as “The language everybody speaks“, it’s often said that non-verbal communication is much more important than the content of the words itself.
The importance of body language
Mehrabian’s “7% – 38% – 55%” rule is used to describe how an interaction impacts the receiver: 7% the literal meaning of the words, 38% the tone used, and 55% gestures or facial expressions.
This popular rule has its origin in the studies carried out by Mehrabian in 1972, when he was trying to demonstrate the importance of non-verbal communication when expressing feelings or attitudes. But as the author himself observes, in view of the erroneous dissemination of the rule in all fields, the results obtained are only applicable in the context of feelings and not in more general fields of communication. Additionally, the results of the study itself have also been much questioned in terms of the artificiality of how the study was done and the limitations of its applicability in real life. You can even find a website with a list of articles that question the veracity of this project.
Another interesting study in a more professional setting was the one carried out by Tricia Prickett and Neha Gada-Jain in 2000, two psychology students from the University of Toledo with the collaboration of Frank Bernieri:
In the present study, naive observers evaluated the initial greeting that took place within 59 employment interviews. Two trained interviewers conducted each employment interview, which was videotaped. After each twenty-minute interview, the two interviewers completed a post-interview questionnaire evaluating the candidates on their interview performance, behavior, rapport, and professional skills. These evaluations constituted the interview outcome criteria that we attempted to predict. Brief video clips were extracted from the recordings such that each began when the interviewee knocked on the door and ended five seconds after the interviewee sat down. Only the interviewee could be seen on the video. The video clips were shown to naïve observers who rated the interviewees on 12 interpersonal attributes, among these were hirable, competence, and warmth. These judgements were used to predict the outcome of the interview, operationalized as the mean of the two interviewers’ assessments. Naïve observer judgments based on the initial 20-seconds significantly predicted interviewers’ assessments who questioned the applicants for over 20 minutes. The present study showed that a personnel director’s assessment of an applicant’s skill, knowledge, and ability might be fixed as early as the initial greeting of the formal interview. (source: The importance of first impressions in a job)
Finally, to emphasize the importance of images and corporal expressions, a few years ago some professors of Harvard, Wharton, and MIT carried out a study in which:
We identify a profound and consistent gender gap in entrepreneurship, a central path to job creation, economic growth, and prosperity. Across a field setting (three entrepreneurial pitch competitions in the United States) and two controlled experiments, we find that investors prefer entrepreneurial pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches presented by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same. This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males are particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness does not matter among female entrepreneurs. These findings fundamentally advance the science related to gender, physical attractiveness, psychological persuasion, bias, role expectations, and entrepreneurship.(Source: Inverstors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men).
Although this seems a bit foolish to me (my assessment on most investors is that they’re very competent professionals), I’m not the appropriate person to question the validity of this research and similar studies that have been found in other areas. For example, in the process of selecting musicians for the 5 best symphony orchestras in the United States, introducing the concept of “blind auditions” in which the auditions played by musicians are evaluated without seeing them physically led to a considerable increase in the presence of women in orchestras, as Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse explain in “Orquestrating Impartiality: The Impact of Blind Auditions on Female Musicians”.
With no intention of going into shifting sands, surely you’ll agree that in the professional environment non-verbal communication has great relevance and impact. So, if facial and corporal expressions are so important in business, doesn’t it make sense to use this type of communication in the different types of media available to us?
In interviews and presentations it’s pretty clear, but what about online communication? What non-verbal mechanisms do we have? Two good alternatives are Emojis and GIFs.
Mobile devices and social networks, in which each character counts, are the ones causing the great explosion of the use of emojis that allow us to say a lot with very little. Up to 92% of online users use emojis, not only because they’re easy to write, but also because they can easily express an idea or feeling.
Therefore, since in principle emojis help us humanize communication (and we’ve already seen the importance of non-verbal communication), we should use emojis for everything! For example, we could go to the extreme of writing press releases exclusively in emojis, such as the launch of the new Chevrolet in June 2015:
I don’t know if you’ve got the ability to read an emoji press release without any text, but I think in this case they’ve gone a bit too far, don’t you think? In general, I’d advise to use common sense when using emojis. That is, if you work in a large financial corporation and you have a “boss, boss” who expects you to arrive at the office every day with a suit and maintain an exclusively formal and professional behavior, you won’t improve your reputation by sending emails with Emojis. So, don’t risk “being cool” if you’re unsure of how your interlocutor can take it.
So what about your readers or customers? Well, it depends on your target audience and the environment in which you write. Social networks, and especially Twitter, are the perfect context to include emojis. At the moment, I’d dare to say that not being able to include emojis in a Twitter account is either old fashioned or very boring.
But beware that there have also been instances of misuse of emojis with unwanted consequences:
Although there’s an Emojipedia that explains what each of the emoji means, not all users make an appropriate use of them. Plus each platform or device represents emojis differently.
This, of course, generates confusion when interpreted.
So my recommendation is to use emojis in your online communication but:
- Don’t abuse them and only use them in the right context.
- Know your audience and establish the type of relationship you want to have with them.
- Evaluate the situation well and avoid emojis in formal or serious discussions, as they can even be offensive.
- Know the emoji. Make sure you fully understand what they mean and think about whether your receiver will understand them in the same way. The last thing you want is an incorrect interpretation.
- Use words. If you hesitate to use an emoji, it’s best to make your points clear with words.
If emojis allow you to “humanize” digital communication, of course GIFs allow you to express feelings or situations in a more elaborate way than a simple reaction. For instance, many times I’m tempted to respond to the “lovely and positive” comments of my partners with some of the following emojis: 😑 😤 👿 🤦♀️ 😒 😡 😝. But clearly the infallible answer is this GIF:
Several studies show that laughter has the power to free the body of negative energy, and much progress has been made in the use of laughter as therapy in the last 30 years. So why not use it in your interactions with your readers and customers?
As Vilma Nuñez comments in the Guide to use GIFs in your content strategy (in Spanish, Guía para utilizar los GIFs en tu estrategia de contenidos), the reasons why you should use GIFs are the following:
Because they will help you connect with your audience in a closer and more direct way.
Because they will help you respond to messages without using words.
Because you can use existing GIFs or create your own.
Because they are ideal for creating a fun conversation between brands and followers.
Because your followers like this format, they use it and consume it constantly.
Because they are easy to create and even easier to share.
Because they serve to reinforce your call to action.
But beyond the proximity to your audience, there’s no doubt that a video is a much more descriptive way to show instructions, a process, or the feature of a product.
For example, in less than half a minute the previous video helps you get a quick idea of how Social Automations from Nelio Content generates social messages for you. And a GIF is still a shorter video that can be very useful in many situations. Here are some examples used on websites.
- Showing how-to in any process or activity (fitness, cooking, DIY, etc.):
- Graphically displaying volumetric projects:
- Narrating events occurring in a period of time:
Emojis and GIFs can be good tools to attract the reader’s attention, create a closer relationship with them, and, in the majority of cases, describe more easily situations, processes, feelings that aren’t easily expressed in a few words. In fact, they’re currently the most popular communication mechanism among young people. So if you don’t want to stay outdated, consider them as part of your communication strategy. Remember that we all need to add some humor (with common sense 🤔) to our day to day work to make it more bearable.