It’s known among performers that on-stage gestures and emotions need to be bigger and broader than those in filmed performances. Because a stage performer’s face cannot be seen as closely as a film actor’s can, bigger gestures help convey emotions which may be lost with subtle gestures. On film (and television) performances, viewers generally have a close view of a performer’s face in order to interpret the many emotional cues faces convey. If you buy the concept that less visibility to a performer’s face necessitates broader gestures to properly convey emotion, what does that say about communication and social networking when it comes to emotions?

In social networking, we’re usually presented static, small facial images (or in many cases, not even faces, but brand logos or obscure pictures). Given limitations in being able to see facial emotions at all through social networks, how broad should social media “gestures” be to properly communicate emotion?

The answer – PRETTY BROAD!

That’s probably why emoticons (and short-hands such as LOL) emerged as a means through typed characters to depict the unseen emotions on a communicator’s face. Emoticons can be subject to misinterpretation too, however, so they’re hardly foolproof.

The implication for social network communicators is to approximate “broad” online gestures to communicate the emotion behind what’s being said as best as possible. Beyond emoticons and LOLs, how do you do that? Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • Try to be largely consistent in your emotional state – If you’re usually upbeat, try and stay with that emotion in your online communication. If you’re typically in rant mode, rant away with persistence. It’s when you attempt to make sudden dramatic switches in emotion (i.e., a ranter suddenly becomes serious and reflective) that confusion occurs.
  • Avoid subtle emotions whenever possible – Sarcasm and irony both depend on subtlety for effectiveness. Twitter doesn’t do subtlety well, however, so use sarcasm, irony, and other less obvious tones VERY carefully and sparingly. They may play much better in a blog post than in a 140 character tweet.
  • Don’t get locked into one medium – Short-form social media channels are rarely appropriate or effective for difficult conversations. Despite this, I’ve witnessed people use Twitter to publicly end romantic relationships, verbally attack one another, and question another’s ethics or morals. In each case, participants would have been so much wiser to drop it, get on the phone, or meet in person to hash these issues out.

These three practices can help, but there aren’t necessarily pat answers when it comes to humor, even for professional communicators. Want proof? Ask comedian Gilbert Gottfried, whose attempts at humor after the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami, although completely consistent with his not very subtle sense of humor, got him fired as the voice of the Aflac duck. If you read the tweets and “heard” Gilbert Gottfried’s voice in your mind, there was probably a different reaction than from simply reading the words contained in the tweets. But you can’t depend on your audience to “hear” how you meant a tweet. So yes, even professionals blow it.

What are your thoughts about communicating emotions through social network channels? What do you do or have you seen done to try to more accurately communicate emotions? Or do you avoid sharing more emotional content because of the limitations? – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help enhance your marketing strategy and implementation efforts.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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7 Responses to “Communication and Social Networking – 3 Ways to Convey Emotions Clearly”

  1. Jim Joseph says:

    Love this post, Mike. It touches on personal branding and how our behaviors online influence how people perceive us. We need to be consistent to manage our own brand. Jim.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s definitely a personal branding issue, Jim. And when people don’t have
      personal relationships in place, there isn’t a lot to go on to help create a
      perception of yourself other than 140 characters. That’s placing a lot of
      importance in very few words!

  2. So true! There I just used it, my favorite punctuation mark. People use Twitter for many different things. But I find that for the most part, people are looking for upbeat, positive remarks, information sources or tweets to make them smile. Yet we continue to see users on Twitter being rude, cussing, making comments about people that would make Larry Flynt blush (he originally started publishing in Ohio that’s how I know of him), yell (the capital letter tweets) and reveal much more about their personal lives than they probably should. But then too it may be MY emotional response toward each of those things that cause the negative to stand out from amongst the positive. As IRL, we each need to find and operate within our unique emotional comfort zone.

    • Anonymous says:

      One way to help address these situations Cheri is to unfollow people who are acting in an objectionable way. I’ve done that a few times, but I’ll admit, I’m still following the two people who broke up online, plus the new person in one of the relationships. And I do track the negative conversations that go back and forth with one individual who always seems to get into firestorms. I guess you could say it makes for interesting tweeting amid a sea of thousands of year old quotes and get rich tweets!

  3. josuediaz says:

    Great post. It’s a real shame that so many people confuse the ease in which communication can occur with having no regard for how they may be perceived in that communication. Grant it, one cannot control how a person will perceive EVERYTHING, but there are certainly nuances within the written word that one would be wise to adhere to or face the consequences…

    • Anonymous says:

      True, you can’t anticipate how everything will be taken – nor should you, because nothing would ever get communicated. The communication conventions of one medium don’t always translate to another. That’s something strong communicators have to understand and adapt to in social channels particularly.


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