Service with a smiley face: Emojional contagion in digitally mediated relationships

Abstract: The lack of typical nonverbal cues in digitally mediated marketing communication (e.g., text messages, social media etc.) creates special challenges for marketers desiring to manage customer relationships. To overcome these limitations, marketers have turned to emojis to convey subtle meaning regarding the message sender (often a service provider) and to elicit positive emotion in the message recipient. Relying on theories of emotion as social information and emotional contagion, we present three studies that provide initial evidence of a positive conscious and unconscious affective response to smiley-face emojis that mediates relational outcomes when relationships are communal in nature, but not when relationships are based on simple exchange. We also make a methodological contribution by employing biometric measurement of smiling in order to capture unconscious affect and to demonstrate novel emotional contagion effects in a customer service message. We close with a discussion of the average emoji effect observed across reported and unreported studies, which is modest but reliable, as well as discussion of future research opportunities and managerial implications.

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