According to the authors of SEND: Why People Email So Badly and How To Do It Better, 100 billion unsolicited commercial e-mail messages are sent everyday and the average North American white collar worker gets 50,000 to 100,000 e-mails per year. It's easy to point the finger at faceless spammers and naive do-gooders who pass on warnings about lurking viruses or poorly-written missives that we must "immediately share with ten friends in order for something good to happen".
But what about people we know? Friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances who share our e-mail addresses without our permission or include us in the To list of their group vacation updates so everyone else can see our personal or professional e-mail. I'm sure many of them don't mean to be rude, perhaps they don't even think about it but the fact is, it's not okay to share someone's e-mail address with another person without their permission, especially if, in doing so, you expose them to unsolicited, unwanted e-mails. Even worse, "friends" who share your e-mail address with people who have something to sell without your permission: "Hi Ann, I thought you'd like to meet my friend Steve. His company makes the most amazing widgets. Steve, feel free to e-mail your catalogue to Ann. "
I found myself in this situation recently. At a networking event, I met someone who expressed interest in partnering with a current client of mine. I took his card and when I returned to the office, I called the client and asked if he would be interested in an e-mail introduction. He said "yes" so I called the gentleman I had met, confirmed his interest and asked if it would be okay to include his contact information in an introductory e-mail. He also said "yes" and so I composed an e-mail to introduce them to each other and they've now set up a meeting. Time consuming? Yes but proper e-mail etiquette.
There are occasions where it's acceptable to share e-mail addresses but only if a relationship - professional or personal - has already been established. For example, I could include the e-mail address of a coworker in a welcome message to a new client. Or, if I am a board member of a professional organization, I wouldn't be surprised to find my e-mail address, along with those of the other board members, in the To line. We have a prior, established relationship with a clear objective and an understood code of professionalism.
However, if one of those board members decided to include the addresses of the others in an e-mail to an outsider about a separate fundraising event, without their prior permission, it would no longer qualify as appropriate netiquette.
Rule of thumb: if you apologize anywhere in your e-mail for the way in which you're handling the communication (e.g. "sorry for the mass e-mail, I don't usually do this"), you might want to rethink it.
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