Shared Inbox Vs Distribution List— What’s Right for Your Team?

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Distribution lists and shared inboxes are both useful email tools. We’ll help you decide which is right for you to help you manage your email better.

Distribution lists and shared inboxes are both great ways to share incoming email with your team. But while they’re often compared, they each serve different purposes and function in very different ways. Depending on your needs and the type of incoming email you are receiving, either one could be the right choice for you. 

In this post, we’ll look at both options, explain the benefits of each choice, and help you decide on the right email management tool for your situation.

What is a distribution list?

A distribution list receives incoming email and forwards a copy of that email to everyone that’s subscribed to the list. 

For example, you might set up a distribution list for alerts@yourcompany.com and then add jane@yourcompany.com, jose@yourcompany.com, and meredith@yourcompany.com as subscribers. When an email gets sent to alerts@, a copy of that email will be forwarded to all of the subscribers.

When you reply to an email that you received through a distribution list, your reply will go to the person who sent the original email. If you “reply all”, your email will go both to the original sender AND to the distribution list so that everyone on the distribution list will get a copy of your response.

Your reply will also come directly from your email address, not from the distribution list’s address. So, if an email gets sent to alerts@yourcompany.com, and then Jane responds to that email, the email response will come from jane@yourcompany.com. 

A distribution list receives incoming email and forwards a copy of that email to everyone that’s subscribed to the list.

How is a distribution list different from a shared inbox?

A shared inbox doesn’t forward email the way a distribution list does. Instead, everyone at your company logs into one inbox and can read and manage email in that inbox. The most basic way to think about a shared inbox is to imagine if you gave everyone in your company the password to a single Gmail account. Everyone can then log into that one inbox and manage incoming email there.

In a shared inbox, email replies are always sent from the shared inbox’s email address – not from individual user’s email addresses. This means that all communications stay in one location. 

Sharing the password to an email inbox is one way to create a shared inbox, but there are better options to create a true shared email inbox. I’ll touch on a few options in just a moment.

When should you choose a distribution list?

An email distribution list is a great choice when you just need to distribute information to a group of people. For example, if you have a website and have set up email alerts to notify people when the website is down, a distribution list is perfect for that task. The alert will get sent to an email address like alerts@yourcompany.com and then get forwarded to everyone that should get a copy of the email.

In a nutshell, distribution lists are great for sending out updates, alerts, and other notifications that don’t need to be directly acted up within your email platform.

When should you choose a shared inbox?

If your team needs to reply to incoming customer emails sent to an address like info@ or sales@, a shared inbox is a better choice than a distribution list. 

Because distribution lists just forward email, they’re not great for collaboration, centralizing all of your customer communication, or providing transparency about who’s doing what.

Consider this situation: If you use a distribution list and a new sales email comes in and gets forwarded to 5 people, you don’t know who is responding to the email. The potential customer could get two (or more!) different emails from your company. Or, the email could fall through the cracks because everyone thinks that someone else is handling the inquiry. 

With a shared inbox, you can see who is replying to each email. Also, all email communications are centralized in one inbox so anyone can see the full history of an email conversation with a customer. 

Good shared inbox solutions also have collaboration features such as:

  • Assignments to determine who is going to respond to each incoming email
  • Notes for trading information about an email conversation without extra forwards and CCs
  • Collision alerts so people don’t step on each other’s toes
  • Analytics so you can see how long it takes team members to respond to email

Shared inbox solutions

There are a couple of options available that you will want to consider if you choose to set up a shared inbox for your team.

Share passwords:

The most basic solution is to share the password to an email inbox with your team. Unfortunately, this is not a very secure solution and lacks the collaboration features that make a real shared inbox solution so effective. 

Google Groups:

Google offers a collaborative inbox solution on its “groups” platform. You can learn how to set it up and get tips for managing it in our guide.

Office 365 Shared Mailbox:

If you’re an Office 365 user, you could consider using their Shared Mailbox solution. Read more about the pros and cons here.

Outpost:

Outpost is our shared inbox solution that makes collaboration simple and easy. It includes all the key features you’ll need and works seamlessly with your existing email. You can try it for free or sign up for a no-hassle 15-minute demo.

Find a solution that works best for your team

As you can see, whatever solution you choose, a shared inbox offers significant benefits over creating a distribution list if you’re looking for more than a shared alert system. But be sure you identify what you need from a shared inbox software, before committing to a specific platform as functionality varies drastically.

Do you need greater oversight into your team’s productivity? A better way to avoid sending duplicate responses? Or maybe you’re just looking for internal notes that assist with team collaboration? Additionally, think about long-term support, growth, and other factors that may affect your choice. 

You’ll want to find an option that serves your needs for years to come and provides dedicated support for the platform and your teams’ needs. 

Posted in Email, Productivity

Noah Parsons

Noah Parsons

Before joining Palo Alto Software, Noah Parsons was an early Internet marketing and product expert in the Silicon Valley. He joined Yahoo! in 1996 as one of its first 101 employees and become Producer of the Yahoo! Employment property as part of the Yahoo! Classifieds team before leaving to serve as Director of Production at Epinions.com. He is a graduate of Princeton University. Noah devotes most of his free time to his three young sons. In the winter you'll find him giving them lessons on the ski slopes, and in summer they're usually involved in a variety of outdoor pursuits. Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of Outpost and the online business plan app LivePlan, and content curator and creator of the Emergent Newsletter. You can follow Noah on Google+ or on Twitter.