Distribution List vs. Shared Mailbox: Which One Should You Use?

Luis Manjarrez
by Luis Manjarrez

Should I use (or still use) a distribution list or a shared mailbox? We get asked this question a lot, and although some say that it depends on your business needs, I say most businesses should opt for a shared mailbox. Let me explain.

Let’s start with understanding what they are and how they differ.

What is a Distribution List?

A distribution list is a method using a single email address to send emails to multiple people at the same time. Using a maintained list of email addresses, you can send emails to all recipients without having to use CC or BCC to manually enter all the addresses.

Companies have been using distribution lists mostly as a hack. They want a group of people to receive emails sent to a particular email address, for example, a support team getting emails from support@company.com.

The original email is replicated and sent to all the members of the list. The lists can be managed easily to add or remove recipients.

It's great for sending out information, but not for collaborating seamlessly or coordinating a discussion.

Distribution lists were created in the early 1980s as a way to share news about certain subjects such as wine tasting.

What Are the Drawbacks of Distribution Lists?

Distribution groups sounds like a great solution, but what about replies? This is where it all goes south. You have no way of knowing who has answered which emails, or what they responded to. This leads to doubled responses, sending conflicting information, or simply not answering some messages at all.

This is where the second layer of hacking comes along. Businesses start developing intricate labeling systems to keep track of who's working on what.

Distribution list labeling chaos
Distribution list member labeling chaos

I've heard about these labeling chaos situations countless times. Those systems work at first, but you cannot scale much with them.

Simply put, they were not designed to be used in a collaborative or team setting.

Distribution lists are great for sending information or content to a lot of people at once, like a newsletter or internal notifications for example, that don't require responses or open communication. They can be set up in Gmail or Microsoft Outlook, or into a marketing tool that will enable you to take advantage of segmentation.

What is a Shared Mailbox?

A shared mailbox is a mailbox that multiple team members can access simultaneously. Each member maintains a personal email account, but they all can "send as" and read messages from a particular email address.

Shared inboxes are a step up from a distribution list as they enable communication and collaboration around emails.

For example, Amy (amy@acme.com) and Lucy (lucy@acme.com) can receive and send messages from the shared mailbox address help@acme.com. They can reply using their personal accounts or use the shared address.

Users with access to the shared email inbox will be able to see and manage the mailbox from their personal account under their personal inbox. When an email is deleted from a shared inbox by a user, it will automatically be removed from the shared mailbox of all other users.

Contrary to distribution lists, most shared mailboxes offer collaborative features. For example:

  • Ability to know who sent which email from a shared address
  • Ability to assign messages to specific team members
  • Ability to send canned responses or templates

A shared mailbox solves all the pain points presented by distribution lists.

  • You promote accountability in the team.
  • You stop sending conflicting information to customers.
  • You add a notch of professionalism to your business belt by not responding twice or, even worse, not responding at all.

How to Set Up a Shared Mailbox?

Setting up a shared mailbox isn't complicated. Most email clients offer some sort of shared inbox functionalities, however, as we'll see later the tools to manage share mailboxes don't offer all the same functionalities.

To create a shared mailbox in Google Workspace, you can either delegate an account to team members or use a Collaborative Inbox within Google Groups. Both enable team members to have access to shared email aliases and reply to messages, however, Collaborative Inbox enables teammates to collaborate around emails.

If you're using Outlook, you can create a shared mailbox to give permission to team members to view, edit and send emails using share email aliases such as support@company.com. You should note that shared mailbox in OUtlook arn't avaible on mobile device.

Missive Team inboxes are shared inboxes made for collaboration and assignment between team members. It is useful for teams who want a "triage" step that will clean up messages for all coworkers at once.

Team Inbox

You can set it up easily by creating a team and giving it access to the email address you want to share.

Distribution List vs. Shared Inbox: Which One Should You Use?

Distribution list vs. shared mailbox diagram

If your goal is to collaborate in a team setting, 10 out of 10 times go for the shared mailbox option. On the other hand, if your only goal is to broadcast information and you're not expecting replies, go for the distribution list.

Businesses with customer support, sales, or any other customer-facing teams will benefit the most from using shared mailboxes, as it will enable better collaboration and make sure every team member are synchronized.

You can find very affordable ways to create distribution lists, whereas shared mailbox solutions tend to be a little more expensive. There's a reason for this; one was made with collaboration in mind, and the other is mostly a message forwarder.

Which Shared Mailbox Tool Should I Use?

If you are looking for the best shared inbox software for your team emails, I suggest having a look at our guide.

As always, there are plenty of collaboration tool solutions out there (google shared inbox). But they are not all created equally.

If you're a small or medium business looking for a fair-priced, clean UI and robust solution. You should give Missive a try (don't just take my word)

Try Missive for free

Depending on your needs, some features and functionalities might be more important than others, but being able to collaborate around shared emails is the most crucial aspect of a shared inbox tool.

Basic solutions like Outlook or Gmail simply don't compete with a robust tool like Missive. Sure they offer basic collaboration functionalities like labels and assignments, but with them, you won't be able to chat with coworkers inside an email conversation or compose an email collaboratively.

Considering a shared inbox tool with more advanced features can help your business offer better customer service.

No matter what tool you decide to use in the end, following shared inbox best practices will help your team collaborate seamlessly and augment productivity.

Trying a Better Solution

Missive is much more than a simple shared inbox medium; it's a team inbox and chat app that empowers teams to collaborate around email and other channels of communication like SMS, WhatsApp, Twitter, Messenger, and live chat.

It can be used in various scenarios in all areas of a business.

In addition to the shared inbox experience, you will also get access to these great features:

  • Internal chat
  • Live drafting
  • Tasks and assignments
  • Shared calendars
  • Rules
  • Canned responses

Book a demo to see how Missive can help your business.

Luis Manjarrez

Growth at Missive
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