Reply, Reply All, BCC: Be Careful Before You Send

BlogHer Original Post

Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, had one of those amazing, "I can't even make this shit up," moments with incoming email last week. It involved the Reply All button. Yeah, I bet you've got your own story about that.

Before we get into The Bloggess' story, let's enjoy a musical interlude and important lesson from singer Carrie Newcomer.

The Bloggess was on the receiving end of an email that should never have been sent – one of those Reply All errors. Jenny's story started with an inappropriately aimed PR pitch, to which she made her standard reply. They shot back with a you are not nice answer. In And then the PR guy called me “a fucking bitch”. I can’t even make this shit up, Jenny explains what happened next.

That sort of email might be threatening to a blogger who makes a living by getting advertisers who go through PR companies, but I’m not, and (as far as I know) neither are most people. For the most part, my blog is supported by people. People who are bloggers. This becomes relevant soon.

I wasn’t going to respond, as she did have a point, but then a VP of the company (Jose) hit “reply all”. With me on the reply-all.

Jose: ”What a fucking bitch!”

Wow. I sort of felt bad for the guy (as I’ve accidentally fallen victim to the reply-all trap as well) and I considered just cowing down and remaining quietly chastened by this man, but then I remembered that this isn’t the 18th century and that I’ve never taken a high road in my entire life.

I have to admire Jenny for making a professional response to this. You can read the end of the tale for yourself, but I'll summarize by saying the company involved got even worse before they suddenly realized the power of what social media was capable of doing to them and tried to make amends.

Some Email Tips for the Rest of Us

My problem is more often clicking Reply when I really need to click Reply All. Only when I've already pushed Send do I realize that I need to repeat the process so that the rest of the people I should be telling my nugget of wisdom to get the message as well. Of course, that means the person who got the original reply will get two replies and be annoyed by me.

The point is: I should have been paying attention! My muscle memory (a very powerful source of behavior on a computer) is apparently for Reply. Yours might be for Reply All. Whatever the case, there needs to be a moment before the Send is clicked when you go through a routine: check the addressing, check the spelling, proofread for clarity, check the addressing one more time – NOW you Send.

Mac Mail has a feature that can help you with mail that should stay internal to your company. Thanks to Elisa Camahort Page for telling me about this. It's in the Composing category of Mail Preferences.

mark addresses

By selecting "Mark Addresses not ending with" and filling in your particular company domain, any address outside that domain will show up in your address bar in red. That can be a helpful reminder to anyone who isn't colorblind that you are not keeping your reply internal.

I'm told Outlook Express has a similar feature. If you are Windows users and know how to make this happen, a comment from you with instructions would be most appreciated.

The non-BCC Disaster

The ability to use BCC to send mail to dozens of people and not have their email addresses visible to any of the recipients is a real boon. Newsletters and other types of mail use this.

However, there are times when an email is sent to a large group using the CC address line. This means every recipient's email address is visible to all the recipients. Depending on the circumstances this might be a very bad thing. A Reply All in such a situation means that the reply goes to everyone in the CC list. (Think of Jose here.) Here's another example of when it's good to form a habit or routine before replying: check addressing, check spelling, proofread, check the addressing one more time – now Send.

What's your secret for not creating unintended consequences with Reply, Reply All, and other email dangers?

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher


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