Groups are great places to share experiences and have conversations with those of like minds. I am a member of several groups (and forums) related to my consulting business. The best ones, by far, are the groups that have a zero tolerance policy for spammers or attentions seekers.
When you join a group many assume that you can contact other group members off-group. Only when you use great discretion. For example, you would never email group members privately about anything you can commercially gain from. That’s spammy. Only do so when you are specifically asked for that information. You can, however, email other group members if you have a question about their service/product that you may be interested in.
Groups by their very nature are non-commercial. If you are making a request to the group for commercial products or services, include a comment that they contact you privately (off-group) to ensure the group remains on topic. Those “in the know” will be impressed with your tech savvy by including that statement.
When Off-Group Contact is Okay
There are a couple more situations where emailing other group members privately is apropos. For example, if a discussion goes off track and you know it no longer applies to the group as a whole. In that case email the individual who directed the conversation off-topic with your response. You will want to mention in your reply that you are emailing privately to keep the group on topic and of value to all.
When members are having a disagreement that is getting personal or off topic, moderators should shut that down as fast as possible. Another virtue of great groups are those that have moderators who quickly live up to their name by moderating!
I have stepped in on occasion and asked those involved to “Please continue your conversation off-group, please” when I see the conversation escalating and getting out of hand. Having been a list guide and moderator myself, I can tell when the time is right for that request. I only do so when I can tell moderators are nowhere to be found.
This is not something you would do just because you are not interested in or disagree with a conversation. Only when it is clear it is beyond the bounds of what the group exists to discuss.
If you find yourself involved in an increasingly adversarial conversation that clearly is no longer of benefit to the group, take it off-group. Other group members will appreciate that you do.
What If You Are Contacted?
It depends on why you are contacted. If for commercial gain, be polite and ask they not contact you again. If this is a new member of the group, they may not know the rules. Point them in the right direction.
Or, and here’s my experience talking, many folks join groups for the sole reason to access members for commercial gain. If you know that to be the case you can send a quick note to the moderator for them to follow up with the new member.
In some cases, you may be contacted off-list by other members who are aware of the nuances of group discussions. Especially if you post off-topic or your conversation no longer applies to the majority. The more experienced members will know to reply directly to you, as I noted earlier, rather than clog the group with replies to off-topic emails.
To send communications off-group when a conversation goes off-topic is perfectly okay and is not spam. Especially if someone is replying directly to something you posted to the group. And, when they do reply privately, the conversation should remain between the two of you. You do not have permission to post their private reply to you back to the group or reply to them publicly. Doing so will reflect a lack of respect for privacy.
The Bottom Line
Reply to the group when it applies to all and privately when other members will not benefit from your response, it becomes off-topic or is commercial in nature because you were asked. Following this guideline will provide a more enjoyable and valuable experience for you and everyone else in the group!