When should you use BCC in an email?
Do you work in a business where you spend more time sorting through your email Inbox than any other task you could possibly have at hand? If so, then there's no doubt that your inbox has become one big mess! We've all been guilty of this before - either deleting emails because we didn't want to CC anyone or sending out mass-emails with everyone on the list included. But neither option really helps us manage our workload effectively.
Today I'm going to talk about what BCC stands for (which means "blind carbon copy"), why we shouldn't automatically BCC people without thinking first, when to use BCC correctly and how to avoid clogging up your inbox further by including unnecessary information in every single message.
In short...why you need to know when to use BCC properly.
Why we should not use BCC?
Before we begin let me explain some background info which will help you understand my argument better. When most of us were growing up, it was common practise to include multiple copies of an important document as part of the distribution process. This was done so that a number of people would receive their own version of the same file. However, nowadays many businesses still send out files via regular mail rather than over computer networks like FTP or eMail. The reason behind this is simple - it takes longer to post something physical compared to electronic media. So here's my question: Why does it take longer to post something physically than electronically?
The answer lies within the speed capabilities of the postal services in comparison to those of Internet providers. Nowadays, depending on which country you live in, the difference can be huge. For example, if I write an email to someone in Australia and another person living in England sends back his response almost instantly, but it takes 3 days to reach me from New Zealand due to slower postal service delays, who is to blame? Is it because I wasn't quick enough? Or maybe it's just too slow? It definitely isn't both parties' fault equally. And don't even get me started on international phone calls...
This brings me onto the next point: spamming. If you're constantly bombarding your friends with links to crappy websites or ads trying to sell them stuff, chances are they aren't going to click on anything, ever again! You'll find yourself blocked by countless filters and blacklisted for life. There are plenty of ways to advertise products online without resorting to such tactics, so please consider these alternatives before deciding whether or not to add advertising to your website.
So, now you may think that since a lot of companies still manually distribute documents via snailmail, therefore BCC is still relevant today. Unfortunately, although it might save you precious seconds per piece of paper sent out, it doesn't provide much value once you start working in larger teams or bigger organizations. Let me give you two recent examples.
Last year, I received an invitation to attend a conference. As long as I knew the date and location, I figured I'd only need to CC myself and perhaps a couple colleagues. After seeing the size of the event though, I realized that I wouldn't be able to fit in all the sessions comfortably unless I added several others to the list. Luckily, the organizer had already thought of this issue and decided to allow participants to choose additional attendees themselves. A week later, I got an email stating exactly which names had been chosen. By doing things this way, everybody attending the conference ended up receiving less junk mail and getting far more attention from the organizers.
Another instance occurred last month when I joined a new gym and signed up for personal training. One thing led to another and after a few weeks I found myself spending hours each day browsing for classes based on my interests. Eventually, I settled on a class called 'Lose Weight Without Dieting', run by a qualified nutritionist. I emailed the instructor asking her whether she offered group fitness classes and whether or not I would be welcome to join her upcoming session. She replied saying yes to both questions, but also included herself as a fourth choice. That's right, instead of CCing me, she chose to BCC me! Although I appreciated her honesty and willingness to share her knowledge with me, I couldn't believe it took her until the second paragraph to mention it. Once again, nobody wants to receive unwanted messages in their mailbox.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while reading this article:
If possible, try to avoid BCC altogether. Email threads often end up becoming very difficult to follow when recipients are copied numerous times. Use CC whenever necessary.
Keep your BCC lists small. Don't fill up the entire page with dozens of recipients. Limit it to around 10-15 people maximum.
Avoid adding non-essential details to every email. Keep things brief and concise.
Always remember that there are thousands of people who can read your email, whilst only a handful of people will decide whether or not to act upon its contents.
CC vs. BCC explained
There are three main types of address formats available for email addresses. These determine who receives an incoming email notification:
To -- Those whose addresses you've entered directly under Addresses & Contact Details.
BCC -- Those whom you haven't assigned an individual email address to yet.
All -- Everyone else.
Now, you might ask why you'd want to send a message straight to the Recipient List itself. Aren't there easier methods of filtering your email? Yes, there are, but sometimes having access to the full list of members is beneficial. Think about it like this: say you wanted to inform your whole team about a forthcoming company meeting. Instead of sending separate emails to everybody individually, it's quicker to simply CC everybody on your internal mailing list. Then, all you'd need to worry about is making sure the subject line matches the agenda.
Finally, I want to touch briefly on the term blind carbon copying. The name comes from the fact that the recipient cannot tell who else gets a copy of an email besides themselves. In contrast, normal carbon copying includes the sender's address along with the intended receiver(s). Normal carbon copying looks similar to this:
Recipients Name #1 Recipient Name#2 etc.
But BCC allows you to hide certain parts of your identity. Here's an example:
Recipient 1 Recipient 2 Recipient n
Can you guess who the third recipient is? Of course, it's the BCC recipient himself/herself. What's great about this approach is that anybody viewing the thread won't see any identifying information regarding who originally wrote the email and who received it.
When should BCC be used?
As mentioned earlier, BCC can come in handy for smaller groups. However, the majority of cases where BCC is needed involve large corporations. With hundreds of employees, the amount of emails flying between departments becomes overwhelming pretty quickly. Using BCC prevents endless chains of responses and makes it easy to filter out noise.
Consider this scenario: An employee needs approval from HR to approve overtime requests made by staff. They CC Human Resources hoping for confirmation of receipt. Meanwhile, managers receive an email from production telling them that overtime is approved. Production CCs mangers hoping for updates on the status of their request. Managers respond to production letting them know their request has been processed. Problem solved.
It's extremely rare that a manager would need to reply to every member of staff in order to convey a particular message. The exception to this rule usually occurs when managers must clarify specific points related to different subjects. For example, a salesperson might need to contact a client with regards to a sale he's negotiating. He would write an email to his boss outlining the terms of the deal, but wait for permission before forwarding the email to the client. His supervisor would then forward the email to the client.
For situations like these, BCC offers a good balance between efficiency and privacy. Notifying every recipient of a given topic ensures that nothing goes unnoticed. On the flip side, hiding sensitive information protects the privacy of individuals involved.
When you BCC somebody what do they see?
That depends entirely on the settings you set for your email program. Some programs require you to tick a box confirming that you wish to view BCC content. Others don't show it at all. Whichever method you choose, here's how the final result appears:
Viewed Recipients View Unviewed Recipients
Sometimes BCC recipients feel offended if they receive an email containing information pertaining to someone who hasn't explicitly asked to review it. Personally, I never bother changing this setting and continue to treat BCC recipients just like ordinary subscribers. Sometimes, however, the default behaviour can cause conflicts. Imagine this situation: John Doe, Manager, wishes to notify Mary Smith, Employee, that their yearly bonus has been calculated. Before doing so, he writes an update to his assistant Bill Jones explaining exactly how the figures came together. Bill forwards the email to Mary. Mary opens it expecting to learn about John's promotion, but instead finds out that she's not eligible for a raise this year. Despite John informing him beforehand, Bill decides to withhold this crucial information from Mary.
Do you work in a business where you spend more time sorting through your email Inbox than you do on the actual production of good work? If so, you're not alone - we all have that friend who emails us with every single piece of gossip from their office or the latest 'hot lead' they've found for some reason (usually because said hot lead turns out to be completely useless). Well today I'm going to talk about one way to help you deal with these annoying people without having to get involved yourself.
By now you may know how important it can be to keep track of exactly who you send an email message too. This means keeping Track Of Who You Are Sending The Message Too. Using BCC lets you avoid spamming everyone by sending out identical messages to multiple people at once. It also allows you to ensure only those particular folks will receive the information within your own organisation. But there's another very useful feature of BCC which many of us don't really think about until we need it...and even then sometimes it's still easy to overlook. That would be BCCing yourself.
I'll explain why this might come in handy later but first let's look at what To, CC & BCC actually mean and best practice when using them.
Is it sneaky to use BCC?
If you ask 10 different people, "what does BCC stand for?" 9 of them will say "blind carbon copy" but 1 person will tell you that its short form stands for "beyond the carbon". Yes it's true, BCC was originally created as a way to allow writers to write something to just themselves while simultaneously including others like editors or secretaries. Nowadays however, most companies simply use BCC primarily as a way to prevent the distribution of sensitive data or material that shouldn't end up in anyone else's hands.
So yes, technically speaking, it IS possible to sneakily add extra people to a group email via BCC. However unless you're trying to hide illegal activity such as drug dealing or the sale of stolen goods, chances are you won't run afoul of any laws this way. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for adding people via BCC though, and here are 3 common ones.
1) When working on projects with several members of staff, sometimes it helps to share drafts back-to-back whilst allowing others to offer feedback and suggestions before finalising things. For example, if you're writing a report for senior management, you could include your boss along with the rest of your team, giving them all access to the same draft. Then after making changes based on their input, you'd go over things again with your manager, ensuring both parties were happy with the finished product.
2) Email threads can become unwieldy if sent directly to specific individuals, especially if lots of people jump in mid conversation. By CCing yourself, instead of getting bogged down reading long paragraphs from dozens of colleagues, you can easily scroll through and pick out key points that pertain specifically to you.
3) Sometimes when setting deadlines for tasks it's helpful to give yourself enough leeway to take care of certain administrative matters. Instead of asking everyone to meet a strict deadline, you can set aside 2 days to finish off a project and BCC yourself, meaning you can concentrate solely on completing things.
Of course, there are times when BCCing yourself isn't appropriate. It depends entirely on the situation and context, so always remember that context is king.
Can recipients in BCC see each other?
One thing you mustn't forget is that recipients in BCC cannot see each other - they can see whatever text appears in the body of the mail itself. What this means is that you can safely place sensitive information in the BCC field without worrying about whether other people can read it. As mentioned above, this is commonly used to protect confidential company documents or information that needs special attention.
The flipside of this coin is that if you want to mention names in the main part of your email, you can either put the whole list in the CC field OR leave the name space empty. Either option works fine.
Another case where you wouldn't normally BCC yourself is if you wanted to discuss something privately between two employees. Obviously if you were CCing your colleague, whoever made the initial point gets the full weight of responsibility for resolving the issue. So consider whether you need to be included or not. Again, it comes down to context.
Finally, please note that although it seems strange, it is perfectly OK to BCC people outside your immediate department. Just bear in mind that this is probably a temporary measure, since you aren't likely to have frequent interactions with people in other departments. And if you ever need to communicate across divisions/departments, you can always forward on your email to relevant contacts.
What do recipients of BCC see?
As mentioned earlier, recipients in BCC can only see the contents of your email. They can't see the formatting or layout, nor can they view attachments. Also, they CANNOT click links contained in your email. Only viewers viewing the original document can interact with external resources.
For instance, let's suppose you're writing a sales letter and you'd like to refer readers to a web page containing more details about a new service. Normally you would link to that resource from inside your email, thus causing the browser window to open automatically. With BCCed copies, users will only see the words "Click Here", effectively preventing them from clicking anything. This prevents automated programs and scripts from opening windows or loading pages behind the scenes. Thus, it keeps your computer safe from malicious software.
This also applies to attachments. Let's imagine you had a huge file attached to an email you sent to your entire sales team. Without BCC, if someone received a large attachment they couldn't download right away. With BCC, however, the recipient will only see the following instructions: "Please save the attached Excel spreadsheet." Even if someone has slow internet speeds, they can still quickly follow directions and grab the file immediately.
In conclusion, BCCs are great tools for protecting privacy and security. Keep in mind that the safest method is to never use BCCs for sensitive content. Always aim to use as few BCCs as necessary whenever possible.
What happens when someone replies to a BCC?
It goes without saying that when you reply to a BCC, your response will appear on ALL copied addresses. Whether or not this bothers you personally is totally dependent upon your circumstances and outlook. Personally, I find nothing wrong with receiving notifications that my co-workers are replying to my email. Afterall, I signed up to hear about updates anyway.
Here's one last tip that will hopefully settle any lingering BCC confusion. Whenever you create a new message in Outlook 2007+ or 2010+, a small yellow icon displays next to the subject box showing the number of current recipients. Clicking this icon reveals the exact status of each address. Simply hover over the icon for an instant summary of your pending responses. Makes life easier doesn't it?!
In this article we're going to look at some of the most common questions people ask us around BCC emails and how they can help improve productivity at work. If you want to know more about why you might need to use BCC in an email or have any other queries relating to this topic, please contact us via the form below.
We'll start with one of the biggest questions that comes up quite often...
What's BCC stand for?
BCC stands for blind carbon copy meaning "blind" because no-one else will see the recipients who receive this message. It also means that the person sending the email cannot choose which users get included in their list as part of the distribution list.
This is useful when someone needs to send out information to everyone on a particular group but doesn't necessarily want all those people to read each others' content. This could relate to something like an announcement of new jobs within a company, or even just a simple request for feedback from colleagues.
There are two main reasons to use BCC instead of plain text (or Cc). The first reason is security - by default there is always a record kept of every recipient so if the contents of the email were sent accidentally then anyone who received it along with the sender would know instantly. With BCC however, only people who wish to receive the mail will do so unless they specifically open it up themselves.
The second reason is visibility - by including only certain people in the distribution, you ensure that only the right people will ever find out. You may not want everyone in your team knowing that you've been given another job opportunity for example. Or maybe you don't want to broadcast news to the entire office until you have had chance to speak to your boss privately first. Using BCC ensures that only those who are interested can access these messages.
A good way to remember whether you should include someone in the BCC field is to think back to the last time you needed to send an important document to several different parties. Did you give copies of the same file to multiple people or did you simply distribute it amongst yourself?
If you opted for the latter approach, chances are you'd still end up CCing yourself too since both methods require you to inform the intended audience of changes made to the original document. But having said that, sometimes this isn't possible either due to various technical limitations such as email size limits or network traffic restrictions.
That's enough theory though. Let's now take a closer look at three real world scenarios where BCC proves its worth.
1) When you want to share confidential or sensitive information without affecting accessibility
As mentioned earlier, if you wanted to keep track of who was receiving a specific piece of information then you wouldn't use BCC. For instance if you were writing a report for your manager then you wouldn't add her name to the BCC list otherwise she would automatically become aware of who has seen it already. Instead you would use CC to tell her directly.
But suppose you didn't feel comfortable doing that for whatever reason? Then perhaps you should consider setting up a separate folder called Confidential Communications inside Email. Your manager could then view this folder whenever she wants to check for updates on reports and projects.
2) When you want to update many managers/supervisors on the progress of a project
Say you're working for a large organisation and you need to send out weekly status reports to dozens of managers across the whole enterprise. Rather than CCing every single one individually, you can set up a dedicated mailbox for this purpose.
You can then create a series of identical emails that go straight into this inbox rather than your personal account. These reports can contain general details such as figures achieved over the past week, upcoming deadlines etc., while individual sections such as client names, dates of meetings or tasks allocated for the following day can be added to relevant ones. So for instance Monday Status Report #4 could say "Client A updated me regarding the meeting scheduled for Thursday 25th July". Once the email goes live, the managers whose clients appear in the BCC box will be able to see exactly what's happening.
3) When you want to discuss a controversial issue with a number of people but you don't want to affect overall workflow
For example let's imagine you're heading up a department and you've noticed that your team members are getting increasingly upset with the amount of paperwork required to process orders. They claim that there should be a faster turnaround between placing an order and seeing it delivered but nothing seems to happen.
To sort things out, you decide to gather together a few key players in your office and meet them in a room down the corridor to talk things over. As soon as you enter the conference room, you realise that you've forgotten to exclude your own email address from the BCC list. Now everyone sees your private conversations before you've had the chance to explain anything properly.
Instead try creating a subfolder under Mailboxes called Important Conversations, and once the discussion starts copy & paste all pertinent documents into that folder. Everyone involved can then refer to them at their convenience without disrupting ongoing processing.
Next time you might want to avoid making that mistake again and opt for adding everyone to the CC section instead. That way nobody outside the conversation gets wind of what's really going on behind closed doors.
So that's BCC explained. Next question is when should you use BCC?
Now we move onto the next big question surrounding BCC emails, namely when should you use BCC? There are a couple of cases where BCC makes sense. One of these examples includes sharing files with multiple groups simultaneously. Another relates to sending newsletters to hundreds of subscribers. We'll cover these situations shortly.
One thing to note here is that if you're looking to save money, BCC is probably not your best option, especially if you plan to send lots of small emails. Why? Because if you send an email to 100 contacts you'll be charged £10 per email, whereas if you split them up into 10 smaller emails you'll pay £0.50 per email. This is known as the cost of bandwidth.
Also bear in mind that if you're planning to send bulk emails, there are plenty of tools available online that offer free services to handle this kind of task. Some of these include SendGrid, Amazon SES and MailChimp. You never need to worry about hosting costs or worrying about delivery rates anymore.
Another scenario where BCC can come in handy is during brainstorming sessions. Imagine you've got a bunch of ideas floating around and you want to gauge opinions, thoughts and suggestions. By splitting a long thread up into multiple threads, you allow participants to jump between discussions easily depending upon their interests.
Finally, if you're running a survey or asking for responses from employees, it's better to split up the mailing further to prevent spam complaints. After all, if you ask 500 people if they prefer chocolate cake or vanilla sponge pudding, I guarantee you won't receive 50 replies saying "vanilla"!