Beware the blind copy… and other dreaded email fails

Safety and insurance

25 February 2016

From 'replying all' in error to using 'Cc' instead of 'Bcc', most of us – whether we’ve initiated it or been on the receiving end – have experienced an email fail.

Here are five of the most dreaded email disasters.

When blind copy backfires

Need to send an email to tens, possibly hundreds, of contacts, but want it to look like it’s being sent to just one person? Whether you’re protecting the privacy of recipients or don’t want to give too much away, the obvious solution is the ‘blind copy’ function.

But what happens if you accidentally paste all those email addresses in the ‘To’ or ‘Cc’ fields, rather than ‘Bcc’? Well, aside from being left red-faced, you could breach the privacy of your contacts by exposing their details to strangers. You could even risk making them vulnerable to viruses.

If you're regularly sending mail to large groups of recipients, it could be safer to use a specialist subscriber management system – like MailChimp, for example – to avoid this danger altogether.

Hitting 'reply all' by mistake

If a consultant spends, say, six months at an organisation, chances are they’ll be added to that organisation’s email database. And when mass company emails are sent, it’s not unheard of for recipients to accidentally reply all – inevitably with something hugely embarrassing.

So what can you do when this happens? Depending on the content of the email, it's best to admit you’ve made an error and apologise – there’s not much else you can do, apart from ensuring you never make the same mistake again. And don’t just take our word for it – this is the course of action recommended by the Harvard Business Review.

Hitting 'reply all' in sensitive circumstances

Consider this: a manager sends an email to their team regarding a client project – and copies in the client. No-one in the team notices, so when someone hits 'reply all', their message is relayed directly to the client.

If they’ve said something disparaging, the client isn’t going to be happy. It might be better, then, to just stop replying all completely. Instead, hit reply and copy in the people you definitely know need to see the email in question. Crisis averted.

So if you’ve ever sent a sensitive email to the wrong person, you’re not alone…

Sending an email about a client… to the client!

This one’s particularly painful when you realise what’s happened. You might be emailing yourself tomorrow’s to-do list, and much of tomorrow will involve making sure a designer, developer or copywriter, for example, gets their work done on time.

You have your doubts that they’ll be able to meet their deadline, so you use words to that effect on your to-do list. But because the person is – in these moments, at least – occupying your thoughts so much, you email them your list instead. So now they know exactly what you think of them. Oops?

It’s a common mistake, so to make sure your opinions are kept private always double check before hitting ‘send’.

Emailing the wrong recipient

Say you’re emailing an Emma, a John, a Sarah or a Steve – when you type in the first letters of their name in the ‘To’ field, it will more than likely autocomplete with a few contacts of the same name. Choose the wrong one and your email will end up with the wrong recipient.

This isn’t good news if you’re sending sensitive information, so always check the recipient’s last name. And if you're attaching important documents, consider password protecting them.

Although these examples may seem obvious, they can happen to even the best of us – and if, as a freelance professional, an error like this causes real issues for your client, it could see you liable for hefty legal and compensation claims.

*10% of professional customers paid this or less for business insurance between August 2015 and January 2016