For some, it’s a nightmare as horrifying as going to class pantsless: the dreaded email thread faux pas.
When a student at NYU attempted to forward an email from the college bursar’s office to his mother, he instead hit “reply all” and exposed a bug in the school’s email system.
The result? He directly emailed almost 40,000 of his fellow students. When some of those students realized this bug in the email system was oh-so-exploitable, all hell broke loose. They began trading jokes, pictures of professional meme Nicolas Cage and –- in some cases –- pleas to end the madness. But for 24 hours, NYU endured what can only be called Replyallpocalypse.
Highly populated email threads are already notorious for spreading social anxiety. How long or short should a message be? What tone should you take? What if you inadvertently share email addresses you weren’t supposed to? What if you accidentally reply to only the last commenter, setting up an awkward exchange for the ages?
There are already a few simple rules of etiquette you should follow in any circumstance. And while the chances that you might accidentally spam 40,000 peers are probably pretty low, it’s good to keep a few more tips in mind to avoid your own personal Replyallpocalypse.
We’ve all been there. You send an email with utmost confidence, only to realize a moment later there’s a glaring typo or a factual inaccuracy. You sent it to the wrong person, or you said the wrong thing.
Gmail gives you the option to retract an email and avoid public shame, but you might not have the option turned on right now. Go to Labs under Settings and make sure the Undo Send option is enabled. After that, you’ll have the ability to snatch messages back immediately after you send them.
Always explain why you’re forwarding an email along. Be wary of using “FWD:” in the subject line –- some email services will throw you right in the spam folder for that misstep. And if you’re starting a thread you hope will garner multiple replies, make sure you mark it appropriately –- “RR” for response required, “NNTR” for no need to respond.
Before you press that send button, make sure your recipients are likely to have each other’s email addresses. If they don’t, get their permission to share, or use BCC.
BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) allows you to send emails to multiple recipients –- without them realizing there are multiple recipients. Dropping an address into the BCC field makes that person invisible to the rest of the thread, and vice versa. If you want to avoid reply all confusion for you and your contacts, BCC is your best bet. Repeat after me: BCC is your friend.
But don’t write too little, either. Emails should always be distilled down to the simplest form possible, because no one wants to scroll through half a novel before they get to the point. We deal with a lot of emails every day, and it can get trying. But if you’re responding to a group thread, make sure you have something to say when you post. Brief tidbits like “Great point!” or “Got it!” are good in theory, but really, they’re just a big waste of time.
Try to keep your emails focused, as well: If you have multiple requests, just send multiple emails. It’ll make it easier for your recipients to organize their tasks, and keep you in their good graces (at least until your next email).
Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, nicogenin