To BCC or Not to BCC
At some point in history, paper memorandums were circulated around offices and included "carbon copy" (CC) at the bottom for someone who received the actual carbon copy of the information. For a larger audience—and when copiers were invented—the CC field could include a number of names. The recipient of the memo knew who else had received the memo. It kept the information flow streamlined as there was no guesswork of who had received or not received the memo.
In email, the CC field is still used for that purpose. If I receive an email with coworkers, customers or suppliers copied, I know they are in the loop and there is a reason they need to see this information—or see that I received it. While there might be times when those carbon-copied really didn’t need to be, there is a common understanding created that could be helpful to all.
The cousin of the CC is blind carbon copy (BCC), which is one of those cousins that you’re never quite sure about. Sometimes they are helpful in solving a problem; other times they are out behind the barn smoking an illegal substance. They can provide privacy to a number of recipients in a mass email, or can be a weapon that can wreck havoc with peers.
The good side of BCC: If you are sending an email where you want to protect the email address of all recipients, it works very well. This is perfect when sending an informational email to a list of your customers or suppliers. It also works very well when you want to send a mass email and limit the "reply to all" syndrome (when a dozen people of the hundreds emailed are compelled to say "I’ll be there!" in response to all). When all recipients are blind copied, if they reply to all, you are still the only one who will see the response. Perfect!
The dark side of BCC: It’s a great spying device. Want to burn someone? BCC their boss when you point out that they didn’t finish a project. Want to spread animosity amongst a group? BCC most of the group when you point out the shortcomings of one. Don’t trust someone to do what they committed to doing? BCC the others who will "watch" and make sure it gets done. Plus, it’s one-sided! The recipient has no say in the group discussion, and if he or she replies back, those blind copied don’t see that response.
In looking online to see what many organizations do, there are a number of websites that publish email etiquette as it pertains to blind copying. Some organizations totally remove the option from email, because it can be so destructive (they have learned from experience). It’s the equivalent of a kid telling their friend to hide in the bushes while they confront another "friend." It makes for great drama afterward. Where’s the popcorn?
Misuse of BCC truly works against trust between two (or among more) people. Trust is the cornerstone of the culture in any organization or group. Bridges can be burned if someone learns that emails to them have been shared, unknowingly, with others. Even if they don’t learn of it when one of the BCC recipients accidentally replies to all (Hmm how did they get in this email?), eventually it will come out. The sniff test? If using BCC gives you a feeling of triumph, satisfaction, or “Ha! Take that,” you’re lighting a match too near the bridge, and pulling others into it as well.