Email discussion list – Hosted providers

Electronic mailing lists ensure the right people are included in the discussion.

Email discussion list around a table

Have you ever tried to have a group discussion by email? Do you find yourself double-checking and triple-checking the recipient list before sending, worried someone will be excluded? And have you noticed how hard it is to add a newcomer to an ongoing email discussion? Personal email accounts are not designed to handle the volume of traffic or the nuances of managing an email discussion list. For example, how do you ensure people reply to all?

About ten years ago, one of my church clients embraced the use of electronic mailing lists for group coordination and decision making. They had one list for the church board, another for elders, and one for church-wide announcements. Over the years we tried several ways of managing the lists. We tried mailing list software managed by a shared web host; open-source software that tied in with the client’s content management system; and a provider that specialized in mailing lists. In the end, we chose the specialized provider because it just worked, and we could use the client’s domain name for the email lists.

An email discussion list provides an easy way of consistently reaching all the right people. Here are two hosted providers that worked well for me.

Two email discussion list providers

I have tried several hosted mailing list providers, and two of them really stood out to me.

1) If you want mailing list addresses that match your domain name, I suggest Simple Lists. They charge a monthly fee, but for me it’s worthwhile to have something hassle-free, private-label, and customizable.

As shown in the screenshots below, Simple Lists gives you lots of flexibility to run announcement (aka newsletter) and discussion lists. For example, they give you the option of requiring approval for subscriptions, un-subscriptions, and posting new messages to the group. You may also choose whether replies go to the original sender or to the whole group.

2) Google Groups is a great option if price is a concern and you don’t need to use a specific domain name. As expected, you have the ability to choose who can join and send messages, whether approval is needed for posting new messages, and who receives any replies. At one point, I helped a 50-member Bible study group set up an email discussion list using Google Groups. We didn’t care about domain names and we didn’t have any money, so this was a good fit for us.

More people use email than Facebook

There are lots of tools for having a group discussion online. Sometimes the best methods are not the coolest.

It may surprise you to hear this. Research shows email is the most common way to talk online. Overall, an estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide use email. That number is going up even as more people start using social media. And by social media I mean the dominant brand, Facebook. One study showed 40% of Americans over the age of 12 still didn’t have a Facebook account in 2014. Compare that with another study saying 20% of adult Americans were not actively using email in 2013.

I just threw a bunch of numbers at you. What do they mean? More people use email than social media. Email is still the common denominator.

I don’t know the right answer for your situation. Maybe it’s something completely different–in which case I want to here about it! Still, I suspect more groups and teams would benefit from an email-based discussion system.

Conclusion

Perhaps email is the right way for your group to keep in touch online. If so, consider using a hosted email discussion list to keep your team connected and communicating. You will rest easily knowing all the right people got your message and no one was excluded.

Question: Which online discussion tools have worked well for you? Continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.