Posted 10 March 2007 - 01:48 PM
My initial thoughts, before any of these comments were posted, was that most people would say it's inappropriate for a first contact situation. I'm wondering if we're somehow a different breed from a lot of people in corporate business, who may not be on the Internet as much as us, are not used to seeing these symbols everyday and, as a result, are less liberal in their thinking.
I think it’s true that it may be more acceptable with small business to express more informality than larger ones (case in point, I noticed rynert just signed his correspondence "David."). But just how far can informality extend before becoming just outright unprofessional? It's a subjective and invisible line, I know.
I also think that when we write, we create a perception (as Tom mentioned) in the readers mind, like it or not. What do you want the reader of your e-mail (or business correspondence) to think of you? Competent, the consummate professional, reliable, the down-to-earth, let's have a beer type, wild and crazy? A whole plethora of things come to mind. Whatever they do think (good, bad or indifferent) will be created, in my view, by what you say, how you say it, grammar, punctuation, tone and vocabulary.
Personally, I think the use of smileys (when 'making' initial contact) shows an undue, and potentially unwelcome, familiarity, sort of like someone calling you "buddy" when you barely know them. That said, if I had made initial contact, and the recipient responded with a smiley, I'd have a someone different opinion; that the walls of unfamiliarity were at the beginning stages of breaking down and that they had some level of comfort in dealing with me.
It’s funny about perception. I sometimes do consulting work, and dress in a nice suit and tie. I find that when I dress this way, people (whom I do not know) respond to me much differently, than I had been wearing my typical shorts, t-shirt and tennis shoes. I seem to get more attention, better service at restaurants and stores, and more respect (some people call me 'sir', at which point I immediately turn around and look for my Dad!). Why the big difference? I believe it's perception and think the same holds true with how you write.
Thanks for all the comments, guys. More are welcome.