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BCC etiquette: know when to use it--and when to scrap the approach altogether

Growing up, I learned early on about the acronyms A.D. and B.C.

Along the way since then, all of the other 22 letters have come into the picture, too, whether it's the major news networks to some of the more recent alphabet-soup concoctions, like ROTFL ("rolling on the floor laughing") in this texting-saturated era.

Somewhere in my email education, "bcc" entered the scene. That stands for "blind carbon copy," in case you missed the memo. And it's a handy tool to employ in certain communications. Failure to take some basic steps of etiquette, particularly if you are in the public relations and marketing field, sends a negative signal about your level of professionalism and savvy.

Broadly speaking, here are two scenarios when you may want to consider using the "bcc" function:

When you want to keep one or more people in the loop on a communication without drawing distracting attention to them.

This isn't some clandestine operation--at least not in the instances when I have used it.

Rather, it's to keep an individual or set of individuals abreast of a dialogue, while preserving the focus of your communication. For instance, I might "bcc" a business associate so he or she is aware that I have touched base with someone on a particular topic--and to prevent the associate from going to the redundant effort of doing so later.

Particularly if the direct recipient of my email has never communicated with someone I want to copy on an email, and there's no value in making an introduction in that moment, I tend to deploy "bcc."

When you want to reach many people with the same message, but those people have no known prior relationship with one another

First, let me note that I rarely take this approach--it devalues my relationship with each of the individuals within the "bcc."

The tack that I prefer to take is to create the bulk of a correspondence, and then tailor it with a personalized greeting and send it, one by one, to individuals. At most, this takes 30 seconds per email--time that I view as a good investment. Doing so communicates to each person that I don't regard them as part of some amorphous mass of humanity, but as a distinctive individual worth the whopping half-minute that I just invested.

It's about adopting a calm, collected marathon mentality rather than resorting to a frantic style as if your hair is on fire. When you treat people like so many numbers--or, more pointedly, as if they have a dollar sign affixed to their foreheads--then over time, they are bound to start picking up on that mercenary vibe. As a result, for all of your activity, you are setting the stage for less productivity.

The contrast is an approach practiced and taught by the likes of Ron Puryear, Amway Founders Crown and World Wide Group founder: when you invest that precious commodity known as time into others, then you will reap stronger relationships that endure over the long haul.

In business, the obvious added benefit is more productivity and profitability, although the positives can run the gamut from deeper connections to loyalty and support when you encounter times of need.

All of that being stated, for those who choose the path of mass e-mailing, I recommend that you do so for pedestrian announcements, such as a heads-up that you have a new phone number or a change of address. By using "bcc," too, you are protecting each individual's privacy, especially if he or she does not know some of the others you are contacting.

Any correspondence that is more intimate, such as a plea for fundraising support on a cause that you are championing, is better served by a one-on-one appeal.

General rule of thumb: if you are ever in a position to send an e-mail to a large group of people who are not connected to one another (beyond their presence in your e-mail address book), then go with "bcc." Just make sure that whatever it is you are conveying is unquestionably worth taking that short-cutting, impersonal route.

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