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Nobody is perfect: How to correct common mass communications mistakes

Navigating mass email mix-ups to verbal slip-ups: What to do and what to avoid

Everyone makes mistakes and when you’re dealing with employee communications, those mistakes are often broadcast to thousands of people. Don’t panic! Follow these top tips to deal with some of the most common mass communications faux pas. 

Reply all avalanches

This is how it usually happens:

  1. Someone accidentally hits “reply all” to an email that originally went to a very large distribution list. 
  2. Next, someone else hits reply all to say, “don’t hit reply all.” 
  3. Now someone (or likely many people) hit reply all to say, “unsubscribe.”
  4. Now it’s a running joke and others start using reply all to send memes.

Before you know it, there are thousands of emails flooding inboxes across the company.

While this might be temporarily amusing, the intense volume of emails can cause stress on email servers and delay the delivery of business critical information.

What to do if this happens to you: Contact your IT department. They may be able to suppress any communications containing keywords associated with the offending emails.

What not to do: Do not reply all to say “stop replying all” as it just adds to the avalanche, and isn’t likely to make a meaningful impact.

How to avoid this mistake next time: Always put distribution lists in the BCC field. This way if someone hits reply all, it will only go to the original sender, not the entire distribution list.

Pivot team gathers at an all-company presentation

Verbal blunders

Leaders and other subject matter experts spend an inordinate amount of time speaking in front of large audiences and if they are unprepared, they may say something incorrect, controversial or inadvertently offensive.

What to do if this happens to you: Loop in HR as soon as you can. Their guidance is critical as you develop a damage control plan. Your recommendation could range from a public apology to listening sessions that address the core complaint. Whatever you decide, be sure to listen compassionately and reserve your own personal judgment.

What not to do: Do not try to swoop in and fix the mistake in the moment. It will only draw attention to the issue, and your immediate response may not be completely thought through. 

How to avoid this mistake next time: Work with speakers to provide resources that best fit their needs. Options may include talking points, detailed talk tracks, scripts or media training.

Mass email snafus

You just sent an email to a huge distribution list and quickly realize that the email contained a mistake. 

What to do if this happens to you: Determine how urgent the issue is. 

  • If it is not business critical or reputationally harmful, running a correction in your next communication may suffice.
  • If the mistake is critical, resend the original email with an intro paragraph that addresses the mistake. Be sure to also correct the information in the original body copy. 
  • If the issue is a broken or incorrect link, you may be able to fix this on the backend by creating a redirect from the misprinted URL. For example, if the link in your email is set incorrectly as, you may be able to set a redirect from to the correct page. 

What not to do: Never, under any circumstances, use the Outlook “retract email” function. This is important so I’m going to repeat. DO NOT USE “RETRACT EMAIL”. It creates a huge mess and most people are going to receive a retract email notice, which just piques their interest and draws more attention to the mistake. 

How to avoid this mistake next time: Always have at least one colleague copy edit mass emails. It’s hard to see our own mistakes, and a fresh set of eyes is important for quality control.

No one is perfect, and even the most robust and disciplined communications teams make mistakes from time to time. The key is to own your error and avoid deflecting. The more honest and authentic you are, the more understanding your audience will be.

Mistakes happen to everyone, but they are more common in a stressed and understaffed environment where employees are working at a breakneck speed. Does this sound like you? We can help. Learn more about how Pivot’s team of seasoned professionals can lighten your load and enhance your internal communications strategy.

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