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Mailing List Manager

Mailing Lists

Becoming a mailing list manager

The most common use of the phrase "mailing list manager" is to mean a piece of software. Mailing list managers (the software kind) usually manage email discussion lists and email newsletters. (See our page on mailing list software for more information about computer programs.) However, human mailing list managers also exist.


The duties of a human mailing list manager vary greatly depending on the kind of list. For example, if the mailing list is set up by a business, the manager's job will involve keeping track of customer information to make sure the marketing mailings sent out are appropriately targeted. This will usually be done using database software, which sometimes comes as part of a mailing list software package. List-cleaning is a related activity, which means removing invalid email addresses from the company's mailing lists. See our page of advice on mass mailing for why this is so important. The manager may also be responsible for testing the company's mailing system by setting up test addresses to receive the company's mailings.

If the mailing list is a discussion group, the list manager's duties are different. Some people use the term "mailing list manager" to mean the list administrator, while others use it to mean the list moderator. As our page on consumer mailing list s explains, a list administrator is someone who handles subscriptions to the list, deciding whether or not people should be allowed to subscribe. A list moderator is someone who screens all messages sent to a list and decides whether or not they should be posted to the list or rejected. A mailing list manager may be the list's administrator and moderator, as well as often being the person who created the list.

If you are thinking of setting up a mailing list for discussion, there are a few questions to consider:

  • Is there a need for the list? Do you think enough people will be interested in your suggested topic to keep a lively discussion going? Are there no existing lists that cover your topic?
  • Do you have time? Posting regularly to a discussion group can take a larger than expected chunk of your day; maintaining a discussion group can be even more time-consuming.
  • Do you have the skills? Running a mailing list doesn't require a doctorate in computer science, but you will have to choose the right software and then work out how to use it. There are other skills involved too, such as communication and decision-making skills. For example, if you choose to be the list's moderator, you will have to have fair, clear and consistent criteria about which messages you reject, or you may be accused of censorship.

If the answer to those three questions is "Yes", and you still want to go ahead with the mailing list, there are a few things you need to remember:

  • Write a brief description of the type of list and its purpose . This will appear in online directories and on the list's webpage, if there is one. It will help people decide whether or not to subscribe, and it will solve subsequent arguments about whether a conversation has gone off-topic. The description might be along the lines of "COOK-TALK is a non-commercial discussion group for sharing recipes and cookery tips."
  • Publicize your mailing list. There are plenty of online mailing list directories that will be happy to include your list for free if you send the list description and details of how to subscribe to the directory's compiler. If you don't know how to start looking for directories, start by searching for your area of interest. For example, if you want to run a list that discusses European wading birds, look for directories that list ornithological mailing lists.
  • Write an FAQ and netiquette guide. Compiling a list of answers to frequently asked questions about the list will save you a lot of time in the long run. The list of FAQs can be expanded as people ask new questions. A netiquette guide is useful for new subscribers to know what is and isn't acceptable. See our page on email mailing list s for more information about netiquette. If your mailing list has a linked website, include pages for the FAQs and netiquette information; if not, make sure you email this information to each new subscriber.
  • Don't invade people's privacy. Some mailing lists allow you to see the email addresses of all subscribers when a message is posted to the group. Although this isn't illegal, many people will object to having their addresses publicized in this way, and may unsubscribe because of it. Also, scrolling through long lists of addresses to get to each message can be very annoying. Most mailing list software will help you avoid publicizing individual email addresses.

Being a mailing list manager is a lot more work than you might expect, but if you can't resist the thought of managing an Internet forum on a topic you're passionate about, the advice above should get you started.