Email Etiquette: How to Use Bcc

Posted By on Jul 19, 2013 | 2 comments


Etiquette rules aren’t just about holding the door, using the correct fork, and all the other exciting things we learned at middle school cotillion; they also extend to email. Proper email etiquette increases productivity because it eliminates the hurt feelings or “drama” that can result when something is misread or taken in the wrong context.

Everybody has their pet peeves, so here’s an excuse to voice them: “what bugs you about the way people use email?” Big thanks to Brooks for starting us out.

Email Etiquette: How to use Bcc

Bcc stands for Blind Carbon Copy, “blind” meaning Bcc recipients are hidden from view and “carbon” being a throwback to the olden days when people made copies by writing things on carbon paper. To break it down:

  • To: these are the people you’re directly addressing in your message

  • CC: these are the people you’re publicly informing of the message

  • BCC: these are the people you’re privately informing of the message

Neither CC nor BCC recipients are expected to respond, so the only difference between the two is that CC allows the primary recipient(s) to see who is sent a copy of the email, whereas Bcc keeps this information hidden. So if you’ve been Bcc’d on an message, NEVER reply-all. Everyone will find out that you were secretly included, which can be embarrassing and unproductive for those involved.

While useful, the problem with Bcc is that it skates a fine line between being private and being sneaky (the same characteristic that might make you irrationally suspicious of your significant other’s phone/email/Facebook/Snapchat). To avoid offense, follow these guidelines on Bcc etiquette:

Use Bcc for:

  • Introductions: When Susan introduces you to Jack, hit reply all and move Susan to Bcc. She’ll know know that her introduction has been acted on, but won’t have to endure the massive email thread between you and Jack that is likely to follow. After all, the best way to thank Susan for a great intro is to spare her a cluttered inbox.

  • Mass emails: Mass emails are usually informational and span a wide range of contacts (not everyone on the mailing list knows each other) so it’s unlikely that Bcc will offend anyone. As a basic rule, Bcc if the number of recipients exceeds 30, saving everyone the pain of scrolling through a million addresses. To do so, enter your own address in the “To:” field so it’s the only one shown.

  • Protecting privacy: Do you have really cool friends? Cool as in,“including Kanye West on your bachelor party mailing list”? If so, he and other VIPs are probably uncomfortable with their personal information being displayed to commoners, so Bcc’ing his address to protect his privacy is considered good etiquette.

 Avoid Bcc for:

  • Work correspondence: Because transparency is crucial for productive communication, using Bcc in work correspondence comes off as shady and degrades trust in the confidentiality of email (if you still have any). If you need to copy someone, use the Cc function and include a brief explanation in the body of the email: “Joe, I’d like the project to be finished by Friday. I’ve Cc’d our Community Manager, Heather, so she is aware of the deadline and can have the user email ready to go.”

  • Snitching: Regardless of whether you consider Snowden a “whistleblower” or a “traitor,” emailing a colleague,“I hope you don’t get caught for going to the beach when you called in sick” and Bcc’ing your boss is just plain petty (snitches get stitches). If you have a serious issue with a colleague, email your boss directly.

  • Group emails: Group emails are different from mass emails because they usually include personal information and span a smaller range of contacts (most people on the list know each other). If you Bcc guests on an email announcing your engagement, your group will see that it’s also to “undisclosed recipients,” putting a damper on the warm, fuzzy feeling they got from being included.

  • Party invitations:  Bcc’ing only a select few friends on an intimate party invitation can be insulting because it gives the impression that you’re ashamed to be inviting them. Plus, being transparent with your guest list has the added bonus of preventing your recipients from asking acquaintances if they were invited, which is awkward for everyone if they weren’t. If you’re hosting a massive party with lots of guests, a party invitation tool like Punchbowl, Evite, or even a good ‘ol Facebook event might be a better alternative to email.

Agree or disagree with a tip? Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to submit your own email etiquette topics on Facebook or Twitter.


Edit: We published a full article on email etiquette since posting this. Check it out!

2 Comments

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