Smileys Have No Place in Business Communication

Smileys Have No Place in Business Communication

Popular with teenage IM users, emoticons or smileys (visual shorthand used to convey emotions) do not belong in business communications. While just about every reader is likely to recognize : ) as a smile and : ( as a frown, it’s unlikely that the average business reader will know, for instance, that ;-) is the symbol for winking.

Aside from confusing readers, the use of smileys in business instant messages will likely peg you as unprofessional and may cause your reader (perhaps a client, prospect, or the boss) to dismiss your message as unimportant and unworthy of the time it would take to read it and respond.

Do yourself and your readers a favor. Leave the ‘‘have a nice day’’ smileys where they belong—on the screens of teenagers.

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Sample Content Statement

Employees must abide by the Company’s IM content and language guidelines. Using language that is obscene, vulgar, abusive, harassing, profane, suggestive, intimidating, misleading, defamatory, or otherwise offensive is a violation of the Company’s instant messaging policy and can lead to disciplinary action or termination. Jokes or inappropriate commentary related to ethnicity, race, color, religion, sex, age, disabilities, physique, or sexual preference are also prohibited.

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Recap and IM Action Plan

  1. One of the simplest, most effective ways to control IM risk is to control written content.

  2. Use your IM policy to ban language that is racist, sexist, obscene, menacing, harassing, discriminatory, vulgar, abusive, misleading, or in any way objectionable, inappropriate, or offensive.

  3. Update your organization’s sexual harassment policies simultaneous to the development of your IM management program.

  4. If employees need a refresher course on sexual harassment risks and rules, incorporate it into your IM policy training program.

  5. Support your written IM policy with content-filtering software.

Part Five: Establishing an Instant Messaging Retention and Deletion Strategy

Chapter List

Chapter 11: Retaining Instant Messaging Business Records Is a Legal Necessity—and a Business Challenge
Chapter 12: How to Manage Instant Messaging Business Record Retention
Chapter 13: Instant Messaging Discovery: Locating Evidence—For or Against You
Chapter 14: Beware the Destruction of Instant Messaging Evidence

Chapter 11: Retaining Instant Messaging Business Records Is a Legal Necessity—and a Business Challenge


‘‘At some point, a party and/or its attorneys must be held responsible for knowing what documents are discoverable and where to find them.’’ [1]

Where does your organization stand on the matter of electronic evidence? Do you know the difference between a business record and an insignificant electronic message? Do you understand what type of instant messages, e-mail correspondence, and other electronic documents are likely to be subpoenaed as evidence in the course of a workplace lawsuit or regulatory investigation? Would you be able to locate and retrieve subpoenaed instant messages and e-mail quickly and responsively if ordered to do so by a court or regulatory body?

If your organization is like the 66 percent of U.S. businesses surveyed by American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, it does not yet have a written e-mail retention and deletion policy in place. [2] Perhaps you are retaining everything. Possibly you are saving nothing. Maybe your retention and deletion ‘‘ schedule’’ is a hit or miss proposition.

One fact is clear, however. If your organization is still struggling to manage e-mail retention in a systematic fashion, it is unlikely that you have addressed the very real need to properly retain IM business records and appropriately delete personal and otherwise insignificant instant messages.

[1]Danis v. USN Communications, 2000WL 1694325 (N.D. IL, Oct 23, 2000). See also Michele Schroeder, ‘‘Emerging Law: State & Federal Statutes Address E-Discovery,’’ Digital Discovery & E-Evidence, January 2002,

[2]‘‘2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey,’’ conducted by American Management Association, The ePolicy Institute, and Clearswift. Survey findings available online at