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Email Productivity: The Psychology of BCC

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We all want to increase our email productivity. One area where we tend to create headaches for ourselves is in the use of blind carbon copy (BCC).

Considering how much time we spend each day in front of our computers, email productivity is crucially important. Let’s start with a quick refresher on the technology. BCC stands for “blind carbon copy.” It’s a system by which you can send a message to multiple people, while keeping the identities of these recipients under wraps. It’s just like the regular carbon copy (CC), except usually it appears below that box.

consulting on blind carbon copy

There are two common reasons to use BCC instead of CC. Both are ways to increase email productivity, but with different angles:

  • Protect Privacy – This is the typical rationale behind using this feature. You BCC people so that they don’t see each other’s contact information. The failure to do this correctly has caused many a minor PR disasters that negatively impact workplace productivity.
  • Proof of Correspondence – The other reason to bring out BCC is to show a third-party that a conversation happened. You might BCC your boss on a sensitive message to a customer, just to prove that you actually did it. Or, you might BCC someone to quietly keep them in the loop.
consultants discuss email

© Flickr user 3RadioA2_Wies_van_Erp

Again, both of these techniques are intended to improve email productivity. You could send multiples of individual emails, but this feature saves time. You could use regular carbon copy, but this way you don’t have to ensure that every party doesn’t mind having their name shared with the other parties.

In reality however, this isn’t so much about email productivity as it is about corporate productivity and secrecy. You are able to control who has access to information. Any time we are actively trying to keep data confidential, we run the risk of an unintentional leak.

That’s one of the reasons it’s often better to use an email marketing service than it is to dump all of your addresses on to the CC line. And if you want to increase email productivity where you would normally use BCC, try a different approach. Instead of covertly including a third-party in the blind carbon copy box, just forward the sent copy of the message. That way, you can add context and reduce the risk of muddying the conversation.

Ultimately, the practice of using blind carbon copy is like the practice of reading your employees email, which never helps employee satisfaction. At first it might seem like a way to get ahead but it doesn’t actually increase email productivity. Instead it reduces the degree to which email is an intentional medium. We probably shouldn’t use BCC for anything. We should focus on coordinating with people who know they are part of the conversation.

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