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To cc or bcc, that is the question…

January 13, 2011

Oh, email. Despite a world of social graphs and increasing reliance on networks to communicate, I for one am still someone who spends a significant amount of time navigating the world of email. Whether it’s sending business correspondence or passing along baby photos, there are some purposes where email, while perhaps not always the most efficient, is the most acceptable means of communication.

Email is the mature uncle to social networks like Facebook, and there are a number of authoritative guides to etiquette and how-tos. Despite all of the tips and tricks, however, I still occasionally find myself staring at an email to be sent – or worse yet, second guessing one already floating through the web. As someone who spends a fair amount of time on social networks I can’t help but see how the world of Facebook status updates and 140 character tweets impacts the way my email correspondence looks – some of it good, and some of it bad.

Fortunately, there’s a lot the world of social media can teach us about better email, and here are just a few tips to make your email and social networking correspondence better:

1. Keep it short. Okay, if you’ve ever received an e-mail from me you might argue if I’ve actually heeded this, but trust me, the world of Twitter has helped my brevity tremendously – and that’s a good thing. No one wants to read a 500 word email – let alone a 5,000 word one. If it takes that many words it probably deserves a phone call.

2. Keep it coherent. Here’s where social media hinders us but where both Facebook addicts and emailers alike could use a hand. Wherever you write, be it email or a social network, you should maintain some standards of spelling and grammar. Abbreviations are sometimes a necessity but whatever you write should still be discernible without a lot of effort.

3. Be personable but not too personal. You’re an individual. And whether it’s a business email or a note to your mom a bit of individuality sets you apart. That doesn’t mean you should sign emails to your boss with xoxoxo, but feel free to create a signature block that showcases your personality with something as basic as a unique font or color. And while I’m at it here’s a PSA regarding social networks: even if Facebook is for your friends, think about whether or not you really want to share certain things. The Internet age has certainly created ample opportunities for over sharing. You shouldn’t feel a need to be overly guarded on your web profiles but there’s also something to be said for leaving some details – whether it’s a fight with a spouse, a spat with a friend or any details that could be considered intimate – off of the web completely.

4. Know it’s not private. It’s always good to be reminded that if you wouldn’t want it published in a newspaper, you shouldn’t post it online – and that includes information that’s shared via email. As much as you might trust your email provider we all know of accounts being hacked, and it’s certainly quite possible for your inbox to become public information. Be able to stand by what you say and don’t put yourself in the position to regret something you’ve written.

5. Be intentional. Whether it’s an email or a status message what you write should have a purpose. There is plenty of white noise on the web. If you want your friends, your customers or your recipients to care about what you have to say, write with a purpose. Certainly you’re free to share the most mundane aspects of your life online, but stop to think if your friends will care or what you get out of sharing. In the world of email, be considerate about other people’s inbox, and avoid cc’ing individuals just for the heck of it – be deliberate in what you send, and who you send it to.

6. Know the terms. I always say in social media the difference between the pros and the rookies comes down to knowing the platform specific rules and terms. If you’re on Twitter, know how to properly retweet, when to direct message, and how to reply. For email, know when to cc and when to bcc (for the most part, it’s best to only use bcc for mass mailings, not to secretly share an email with someone).

As much as I may love social media, I’m not turning over my inbox anytime soon. But just like any communication medium it’s good to spend a few minutes thinking about what I’m doing there, why, and how to be better. I hope you take the time to do the same!

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