Most people would agree that drinking in public, legalising prostitution and violence against animals would pass for unacceptable social behaviour. In the same way, using caps and excessive exclamation marks are considered unacceptable online social behaviour. The one thing that is still sitting in that fuzzy grey area is the use of “smileys”.
I cannot understand why people tend to think they can slate your thoughts, views, opinions and sometimes even your beliefs by crafting a diplomatic e-mail (or apology) and inserting a smiling face as the cherry on top, assuming it will fix everything bad that happened or that was said.
Using a smiley in the business environment is worse. When dealing with difficult conversations (or people for that matter), it has become acceptable to share your thoughts on the matter and then insert an emoticon to show the person that you are not completely unreasonable. If you mess up, do not ever insert a smiley in an apologetic letter. How can you expect someone to take you seriously? State the facts as is without trying to smother it with visual emotion. Better yet, rather make that phone call (as unpleasant as it seems), you will build personal brand cred that way.
So in short, if you think it’s ok to use smileys in business, it’s not. Giving feedback and asking for forgiveness of any kind should be done professionally. By adding a smiley you are just hiding behind the facts.
I believe that the smiley is over used and downright abused. In any context, we need to think when it’s the appropriate time to use, as we would with the words we choose. Rather leave excessive use of emoticons to teenagers who have better things to do than care about language and grammar anyway.