BCC: Learn It, Use It, Love It/Reply-all: Skip It

Well, I simply hate it when I get an email from someone who hasn’t bothered to learn what the BCC field is because you can get spammed or caught in a reply-all vortex.

For those who don’t know, BCC is short for “blind carbon copy”. CC is short for “carbon copy”.  You remember carbon paper right?  It’s from the dinosaur age of office work.  Basically, a sheet made of carbon, so you could make a copy of the original documents.  Copy machines pretty much did away with carbon paper, but you still see it from time to time in specialized professions and job tasks.  As you can see, the terminology has stuck around.

In the context of email, it’s great for when you’re sending a message to a big group of people.  I’m always really conscious of spamming people.  Also, just because someone shared their email with you doesn’t mean they want you to share it with everyone on their list.  This happened to me recently.

A women whose radio show I was on earlier this year sent out an email about the one-year anniversary of her show.  She didn’t use the BCC field.  Instead, everyone’s emails were out there in the wide open Internet wilderness.  Sure enough, someone thought it would be a good idea to take all of those emails and start sending people messages about their Atlanta-based events.  This woman is in Atlanta.  However, I’ve not been in Atlanta in years, and I  didn’t care to get notifications about these events.

I figured out it was someone off of her email list because of the Atlanta association.  I just searched for the domain in my email.  I was right. The address or domain came up as someone on that big list of emails she’d used.  I emailed her and asked her to tell her friend to stop spamming people.  She apologized and said it was an error on her part.  Cool, no worries. I also used the good old fashioned “unsubscribe” field, but I wanted the person(s) to know that it wasn’t that hard to figure out how they’d gotten my email.

Now to a similar story.  It looks like Brody PR is trying to get press for someone’s social media book.  Yes, another one.  They did the same thing.  They sent out an email hawking this book and didn’t BCC the people on the list.  What made it worse?  All of these “social media experts” decided to reply all when asking to be removed!  WTH?

The Wrong Way to Jump Start Social Media

Posted by Ken Wheaton on 08.19.09 @ 12:40 PM

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What’s worse than being spammed by Brody PR with a pitch for a social-media book that likely didn’t need to be written? Being spammed by a PR firm that didn’t use the BCC field. What’s worse than that? That a good 90% of people on the list feel some weird need to reply-to-all when asking to be removed from the list, thus continuing the foolishness ALL DAY LONG.

I don’t know what’s more surprising, the number of people who are replying to all or the names of some of those people who should damn well know better. Is it that hard to determine the original source of an e-mail and just yell at that person?

Then again, some of them are “social-media experts” and we all know that’s a pretty low bar.

Full disclosure: I replied to all to threaten the next people to reply to all that I’d mention them by name. But since I’m left wondering if there’s a time delay or a bot involved, I’m not going to make good on that threat.

I’m not going to pound Brody PR as there’s already a bit of Twitter wildfire about this topic and I’ve already been e-mailed by a number of journalists on the list. So damage done.

Instead of adding further shame and outrage here, let me just point out a few of the people who DIDN’T reply to all and who have e-mailed me separately, expressing anger and shame and apologizing for all involved: David Spark of Spark Media Solutions; Maria Aspan, a reporter for American Banker; Allison Mooney of Mobile Behavior; Amanda Gravel; Joseph Jaffe of Crayon; Michael Driehorst; Chris Abraham; Niala Boodhoo of The Miami Herald; Peter Shankman; Ann Handley of Marketing Profs; and Barbara Kiviat of Time magazine.

I salute you all.

And thanks to all the many others who remained silent throughout this ordeal.

UPDATE: Someone from Brody PR posted the following in the comment section yesterday:

An apology from Brody PR – I created a list of social media experts who might be interested in reviewing a new guide to social media for small biz. I inadvertently put the list name in the cc: box, rather than the bcc: box. A few folks must have hit the “reply all” button, rather than clicking on the “unsubscribe link” at the bottom, which started a stream of spam. Please accept my personal apology, albeit a little late in the day, since I was trying to remove everyone who wanted to be unsubscribed from the list immediately. Beth Brody also e-mailed a personal apology. Also, to be clear, I understand that accidents happen on e-mail. What I DON’T understand, though, were all the people who should have known better hitting the reply-to-all button.

Also, as he says, it’s not so much that Brody PR made an error.   Errors happen and we all make them, so it’s good to be understanding.  In fact, she started a blog to talk about this and to apologize.  As the blog is named Lessons Learned, I’m assuming she’ll be consistent and follow up with more lessons in the future. So, good on her for not getting defensive and understanding what the problem was.

The problem isn’t just the BCC. It’s that people don’t seem to understand that reply-all should be used with care.

A lot of people don’t understand that.  Here is a problem I had with it recently regarding an email that got sent to me.  Basically, this is a woman who discovered me from the blog I started writing when I lived abroad.  She’s really great with distributing information and, for that, I’m happy to get emails from her.  However, before I moved to NYC, I was staying with a friend in suburban Philadelphia.

People who read my blog knew this.  There is a group who gets together occasionally in Washington, D.C. to network and socialize. She thought it would be a good thing for me to do.  It wasn’t.  I wasn’t interested in trekking down to D.C. to meet up with a group of strangers.  Maybe now that I’m more settled, but not when I was smack in the middle of a transition.  The problem?  Instead of using a site like Evites or some other opt-in service, people were using reply-all to plan this out.

I asked nicely using reply-all if they could shift the conversation to someplace else what wouldn’t clog up my email inbox and my Blackberry.

Is it possible to keep messages on a message board? Maybe send one initial notice out and then people can go to that web location to continue the conversation if they’re interested? I’m not really thrilled about getting reply after reply about something I won’t be participating in. There are tons of social networking options like Facebook or Yahoo! Groups where people can communicate virtually instantaneously and limit it to those who chose to be in the conversation.

Having to clear out my inbox and my Blackberry every few hours is tedious…

I didn’t think that was bad at all.  I understand that there are varying levels of Internet skill.  There are varying levels of comfort.  I understand that a lot of people don’t have smart phones either.  Also, the fact is, people just have their own routines.  But I did get an email that seemed to completely miss my point from someone with an AOL.com email. Sorry, I see AOL.com on someone’s email and I think “Internet dinosaur”.

I prefer the email. People can opt out by not being on the rsvp list. I am not a blackberry person and am not that into facebook, etc. I prefer my aol account. I like to see what everyone is thinking even if I don’t comment on everything.

I nearly lost it because that’s the problem with mass emails. I DIDN’T OPT-IN and you can’t opt-out of a reply-all vortex; all you can do is delete the emails as they come in. I kept my cool and emailed the women in charge asking her to explain this to the Internet relic. Like I said, the woman who had included me had the best of intentions, so I wasn’t upset with her. I was, however, irritated because I was looking for work. Every email that came up, I was hoping was from a recruiter or HR person. Instead, it was about restaurant choices in D.C.

Not cool.

Conclusion: Just DON’T include people on email lists without asking them. Also, realize there are really efficient ways to distribute information and mass email lists are pretty much at the bottom.  Email lists usually end up turning into reply-all fests or someone cannibalizes all the email addresses and starts spamming people.  Neither one is my idea of fun.

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