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CC vs BCC in Email: We Explain the Difference

CC vs BCC – Email may not be the latest or trendiest way to communicate, but it continues to dominate business communication. In 2019, 3.9 billion people around the world used email. By 2024, the number could hit 4.48 billion. And even as social media marketing thrives, the benefits of email marketing remain. It’s low cost, easy to measure, and enables you to deliver targeted messages. Email marketing also excels at customer retention and revenue, primarily when you use best practices for email marketing.

Understanding email etiquette — and avoiding embarrassing email blunders — is essential. When you send an email with your email marketing software, CC and BCC appear below or alongside the “To” field and are used to include additional recipients. This guide explains the difference between CC and BCC when sending an Email.

The CC and BCC fields when sending emails work in the same way. CC stands for “carbon copy,” while BCC stands for “blind carbon copy.” Though these terms may have been immediately obvious when email was invented, they’re antiquated today.

CC and BCC are both ways of sending copies of an email to additional people. However, you can also send copies of an email to additional people by specifying multiple addresses in the To field.

Carbon Copying Explained

The abbreviation CC comes from “carbon copy.” By placing a sheet of carbon paper between two pieces of paper, the pressure from writing on the first piece of paper will push the ink from the carbon paper down onto the second piece of paper, producing an additional copy of the document.

Like a physical carbon copy, a CC is a way of sending additional copies of an email to other people. Some people refer to CC as “courtesy copy,” which better describes what a CC actually is. CC is often used as a verb, as in “I CC’d him on the email.”

CC vs BCC

When you CC people on an email, the CC list is visible to all other recipients. For example, if you CC bob@example.com and jake@example.com on an email, Bob and Jake will both know that the other received the email, as well.

BCC stands for “blind carbon copy.” Unlike with CC, no one but the sender can see the list of BCC recipients. For example, if you have bob@example.com and jake@example.com in the BCC list, neither Bob nor Jake will know that the other received the email.

Someone on the BCC list can see everything else, including the CC list and the contents of the email. However, the BCC list is secret—no one can see this list except the sender. If a person is on the BCC list, they’ll see only their own email on the BCC list.

When to Use CC and BCC

CC is Useful When:

  • Keeping stakeholders in the loop: Use CC to keep management and other involved parties updated on the status of projects.
  • Communicating urgency: Include higher-ups in the company in the “CC” field to indicate that the content of an email is important and time-sensitive. You don’t always need to do this right away, but it’s a helpful strategy if you’ve made a request several times.
  • Introducing contacts: Use the CC field to “e-introduce” two contacts to one another. This way, they can see each other’s email addresses. You can also accomplish this by including both recipients in the “To” field, but either approach is appropriate.

BCC is Useful When:

  • Using a mailing list: Any time you’re sending an email to many recipients who don’t know each other, it’s crucial to use BCC. When you’re launching an email campaign, the last thing you want to do is offend your targets by invading their privacy.
  • Sending a newsletter: Similarly, you should use BCC when sending a company newsletter to avoid exposing subscribers’ names and email addresses to each other without their consent. If too many people are upset by your emails and unsubscribe, you can end up on a blacklist, which can mark your emails as spam.
  • When you don’t want the main recipient to know: In rare cases, you can use BCC when you don’t want the primary email recipient to know that you’ve included someone else on the email. Examples include providing evidence of bad behavior to HR or looping your boss in on an issue you’re having with a client. A word of caution: Discuss this strategy with the BCC recipient first. If they “Reply All,” individuals in the “To” or “CC” fields will know that you’ve blind copied someone.

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BCC, Replies, and Email Threads

Have it in mind that BCC doesn’t function like CC when it comes to email threads. For example, if you send an email to bob@example.com and BCC jake@example.com , Jake will receive the original email you send.

However, if Bob replies, Jake won’t get a copy of Bob’s reply. Bob’s email program can’t see that Jake ever received the email, so it doesn’t send him a copy of the reply.

Of course, you can continue to BCC Jake on future emails or forward him a copy of the reply. It’s also possible that Bob could erase Jake’s email from the CC field and reply directly to you if you CC’d Jake instead.

However, people are much more likely to receive all replies in an email thread if you CC them. You’ll have to keep them in the loop if you’re BCC’ing them.

In practice, a lot of this can come down to email etiquette and different people will use these fields differently—particularly the To and CC fields. Don’t be surprised if you see them used differently.

What does CC Mean When Sending an Email?

The CC abbreviation stands for “carbon copy.” CC recipients receive an exact copy of the email and any further “Reply All” responses in the thread. All recipients of the email will also see who has been CC’d.

CC functions exactly like the “To” field. However, email etiquette dictates that only the main recipients of the email appear in the “To” field. Primary recipients are more directly affected by the email and are typically expected to respond or take action.

For CC recipients, on the other hand, responding and acting are generally optional. The key purpose of the CC field is to simply keep someone in the loop. It’s often called a “courtesy copy” for this reason.

For instance, if you ask your copywriter to make a decision that will influence your graphic designer, it would be appropriate to CC the designer in the email.

What does BCC Mean When Sending an Email?

The BCC abbreviation stands for “blind carbon copy.” BCC recipients also receive an exact copy of the email. However, they do not see further responses in the thread, and other recipients of the email will not see who is BCC’d.

BCC is most commonly used for mass emails and messages to email subscribers. It protects recipients’ privacy by hiding their email addresses from other recipients whom they do not know. Additionally, the email has a cleaner and more personal look without a long list of recipients.

CC vs BCC: Examples of When to Use Each

CC vs BCC – Let’s say you’re working on a product launch that involves a copywriter, designer, web administrator, and various members of the marketing and product development teams.

You need to send an important update to the designer. The update could potentially impact the project timeline, thus affecting the other people involved. Put your designer in the “To” field, then CC other interested parties, including management.

If your boss asks you to accomplish a task such as obtaining information from a partner organization, you can CC your boss in the email. This way, your boss sees that you’ve done what was asked, and they can stay in the loop on further communication with the partner.

Now, let’s say you need to send an email conveying important information about an event such as check-in times and materials to bring. The email will go to a list that includes all event attendees. In this case, you should use BCC to protect the privacy of your attendees.

Or, perhaps a client has been harassing you. You tell your boss about the situation, and they ask you to BCC them on future communication so they can observe your interactions with the client.

A similar scenario could happen if a coworker is behaving inappropriately. Most of the time, however, it’s best to avoid BCC on emails with coworkers. It can seem shady and potentially lead to workplace tension.

Self-assuredly Using CC and BCC in Your Future Emails

CC makes your email list visible to all recipients and loops everyone into an ongoing thread. BCC recipients, meanwhile, are invisible to each other and won’t be included in email responses. CC is best for keeping stakeholders informed, while BCC is best for mass emails and email lists.

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