E-mail pitfalls: CCing your company’s image

By Scott Stratten
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/14/2002

Forwarding interesting or funny e-mails is nothing new. Since the dawn of this great medium, people have been reading something humourous, touching or bizarre and sending it off to their lists of friends. However, when the e-mail addresses contain your company’s name, it associates your firm with the content of the message.

Recently, I received an adult-themed joke/picture in my e-mail box from someone I know. Opening it, I noticed it contained all the forwarded addresses up until it was sent to me, filled with “>” and certain comments attached. After taking out all of the Yahoo or Hotmail addresses, as well as ISPs, I came up with a list of 47 companies that were identified within the body of the e-mail. The majority of them were large, multi-national corporations where perception of their brand is very important. There was a trail of who sent it to whom, along with some nicknames people had given each other (Rob “The Tongue” from a large pharmaceutical corporation and Greg “Who’s Your Daddy” from a prominent food manufacturer).

Not only does this put a company in the wrong light and potentially harm its image, it also gives the chance for a spammer to harvest the addresses and sell them. That one e-mail had more than 200 e-mail addresses I could have sold.

How do you stop this from happening? Other than enforcing a business use only e-mail policy, urge employees to use the “BCC” (Blind Carbon Copy) function when sending e-mails to multiple addresses. That way, recipients only see their own names, and if forwarded it will not contain a distribution list.

However, what if it’s not a joke or personal issue? What if it has to do with confidential information, such as your company’s client list?

Recently, a friend of mine received an e-mail from a large newspaper, inquiring about his company, a large insurance firm, placing an ad in an upcoming feature. The e-mail was sent out to multiple clients and everyone’s address was in the “To:” line for all to see. It can reflect an image of your company that you don’t hold your clients in a high regard. Not only do you run into the issue of a spammer using these, but since this was a group of clients, how much do you think it would be worth to this newspaper’s competitor to have direct e-mail access to the buyers of ad space at large corporations?

Once you’ve mastered the art of blind copying people on e-mails, you also have to look at the validity of the messages you send. The forwarding of hoaxes, both about mythical viruses and amazing wealth, are rampant in any e-mail system. Recently, a virus warning I received from numerous sources pleaded with me to search my hard drive for a file entitled “sulfnbk.exe.” This is part of the message:

“A VIRUS could be in your computer files now, dormant but will become active on June 1. Try not to USE your Computer on June 1st. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS BELOW TO CHECK IF YOU HAVE IT AND TO REMOVE IT NOW. No Virus software can detect it. It will become active on June 1, 2001. It might be too late by then. It wipes out all files and folders on the hard drive. This virus travels thru E-mail and migrates to the ‘C:\windows\command’ folder. To find it and get rid of it off of your computer, do the following:”

I searched for the evil file, and sure enough, I had it. So, I highlighted the file and was ready to select delete, when I thought I would check it out first. I dropped by Snopes.com, a site dedicated to debunking rumours of all kinds, and looked it up. It was a hoax. The sulfnbk.exe program is part of the Windows system and is used to recognize long file names. I was a second away from deleting a system file that my computer needed because an e-mail “told me so.” Take this one step further. You get this message and send it out to all of your customers, being a hero and saving them all from this impending virus. After a while you find out it’s a hoax. Now you and your company are associated with not only being foolish, but getting people to remove system files from their operating systems. Not the vision with which I want my company to be aligned.

The same goes for the e-mails that say something like “if you forward this to five people you will receive money from Bill Gates or free pants from the GAP,” because you are helping test their e-mail tracking system. The only problem with that is there’s no such thing. No one is sending you free pants, no monkey will dance across your screen and you will not find true love if you forward something within two minutes of receiving it.

A simple use of the BCC function and a little investigation will not only save face, but could very well save your job.

Scott Stratten is a speaker/coach and creator of www.WorkYourLife.com, a site that deals with removing negativity from everyday life. He also publishes the “Stop Thinking & Start Doing” business ezine. You can subscribe by e-mailing startdoing@workyourlife.com.

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