Embarassing Email Faux-Pas? At Least They Weren’t This Bad

We had a snafu a couple of weeks ago, and we’re not too proud to admit it. Instead of sending out our regularly scheduled monthly newsletter The Scout, we sent out a blank copy full of Lorem Ipsum and a very handsome stock image of a guy in a canoe.

Email mistakes happen to the best of us. But, as Charles R. Swindoll said, “We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” That’s why we decided to take our mistakes and learn from them, then pass those lessons onto you.

In our 3-part series on recovering from and conquering your email oversights, we’ll cover some of the ugliest email blunders of all time, what to do when the inevitable happens, and crafting a system that prevents mistakes in the future.

Misery loves company, so we’re starting with other people’s mistakes and how they were handled. Some were handled with grace, others with eyebrow-raising clumsiness.

Toyota warns that a criminal is on the loose, and is coming to hide out at a subscriber’s home

When the Toyota Matrix came out in 2009, a marketing campaign kicked off, led by fictional outlaw Sebastian Bowler. Those who had opted-in to marketing emails from Toyota received messages from Bowler stating that he was on the run from the law and looking for a place to lay low. People could even enter their friends into a contest to be on the receiving end of the prank.

The unfortunate winner was a woman named Amber Duick, who lived in Los Angeles. Once she was chosen, she began receiving a series of emails from Bowler, the first of which said, “Amber mate! Coming 2 Los Angeles. Gonna lay low at your place for a bit. Till it all blows over. Bringing Trigger.” When she didn’t reply, he then continued to send photos and updates from his cross-country fugitive tour, going as far as to send her a bill from a hotel where he had smashed the room up and claimed that she would be responsible for the damages.

Duick pressed charges, and Toyota lost the case on the ruling that “the putative contract is void on account of fraud in the inception … [because] a reasonable reader in Duick’s position would not have known that she was signing up to be the target of a prank.”

The lesson here? Before you try to be clever in an email, be cautious. Check with an internal or external legal team before you try anything that could be classified as cyber stalking or harassment.

UC San Diego sends out admissions letters to the wrong mailing list

In 2009, Cole Beetle received an email that said, “We’re thrilled that you’ve been admitted to UC San Diego, and we’re showcasing our beautiful campus on Admit Day!” Thrilled that he had gotten accepted to the college, Beetle quickly contacted friends and family, who made plans to visit the campus with him on the day in question.

Later that day, Beetle received another email apologizing and stating that he, in fact, had not been admitted and that an email error had been made. This mother of all errors involved every applicant from the 2009 admission pool, 46,000 students in total, receiving the false admission letter.

The error was discovered quickly, but left a lot of students and their parents with a bad taste in the mouth. The lesson? Always check your listservs BEFORE you click send.

UK-Based company accidentally “fires” every employee

Aviva Investors, an asset management company based in London, was facing budget cuts and a board overhaul in 2012, leaving its 1,300 employees wondering what their future with the business looked like.

In the midst of turmoil, a company email came through to every member of the staff stating that all employees were being terminated, to turn in all company property, and a reminder that “I am required to remind you of your contractual obligations to the company you are leaving. You have an obligation to retain any confidential information pertaining to Aviva Investors operations, systems and clients.”

Soon after, HR sent out another email apologizing and explaining that the email was meant for a single employee, not the whole company. Additionally, Aviva Investors apologized in a press release for the mistake.

The lesson? Save sensitive topics for in-person conversation, or at the very least, double-check your recipient.

Do you have any stories of email mistakes you still cringe over? Been on the receiving end of an email not meant for you? How did you handle it?

While mistakes happen, they can be mitigated. Check out next week’s article to learn a few strategies for saving face after an email embarrassment.

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