Email discussion groups provide a private online meeting space for like-minded people. By sending and receiving emails, they can participate in open-ended conversations at their convenience. But why email and not, say, Facebook groups, web forums, or other platforms?
Only people who regularly use Facebook will use groups, but email is nearly universal. Practically everybody has an email address.
Other platforms require a learning curve and options that seem easy to the leaders of a group, but may be beyond the grasp of the regular members. And digitally savvy people forget how intimidating it can be to make that first post to a new group. According to BJ Fogg, it’s better to make things simple instead of trying to motivate people. One of the benefits of email discussion groups is that, since almost everyone already uses email, they’re more likely to already know how to use it.
While nothing in the digital world can truly be private, email feels more private than web forums or Facebook groups. And privacy is important because any question posted is a public statement of ignorance.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Groups or LinkedIn, email is decentralized and nobody has the right to censor your messages. These private companies can block your messages, kick you off, and change the rules any time they want. Their goal is to make money by selling your data, and sometimes that is in conflict with your goal of hosting a valuable online community. But an email discussion group community isn’t beholden to any large company with its own agenda.
Facebook group posts are only on Facebook, but emails come into your inbox, where you can archive them for posterity and have your own local searchable library. Plus, you automatically retain all of your own messages to the list in your outbox.
If someone’s not in your Facebook group, forwarding something to them takes extra steps. But emails are easy to forward to friends and colleagues, so you can pass on useful knowledge to people that are not regular members of your community.
Unlike web forums, reading emails on a smart phone is easy and common. (See listservs and smartphones.) So if your community is an email discussion group, it can benefit from people participating with their small chunks of down time.
With other communities you have to remember to visit and login. But with email, the email itself is the trigger to read and possibly reply to anybody else’s message.
Finally, a successful online community becomes a habit for its members, but not everyone is the habit of using every social media. Email, however, is already a habit for almost everyone. Typically, it’s the first thing people read in the morning and the last thing they check at night. All day long they are in their inbox, and this allows them plenty of opportunities to develop the habit of reading and participating in their online community.
Other, newer community platforms may seem alluring, but good old-fashioned email hasn’t died and it’s a solid foundation for a solid community. Consider switching your community to an email discussion group!
Here’s one last reason email discussion groups are the best. They are push instead of pull social media.