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How to Email Group Members You Don’t Know

How to Email Group Members You Don't Know

Online 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 attention seekers.

Can You Email Strangers?

When you join a group, many assume that you can contact other group members off-group. Not so fast! You should only do so when you use ample discretion.

For example, you would never email group members privately about anything you can commercially gain from. That’s called spamming and can cause the group member to complain and you to lose your access to the group.

You would only contact a member outside the group (or even by private message) when you are asked explicitly 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. However, if you make a request to the group for commercial products or service recommendations, include a comment that they contact you privately to ensure the group remains on topic.

With this approach, those “in the know” will be impressed with your tech-savvy by taking that approach.

When is Off-Group Contact 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.

When this occurs, email the individual who directed the conversation off-topic with your response. In your reply, you will want to mention that you are emailing privately to keep the group on topic and of value to all.

Many times when members have a disagreement that is getting personal or off-topic, the moderators will shut that down as fast as possible. Another sign of great groups is those with moderators who quickly live up to their name by moderating!

As a former list guide and moderator, I can tell when the time is right for that request. I would ask those involved to “Please continue your conversation off-group” when I see the conversation escalating and getting out of hand.

These are groups whose moderators know who I am and appreciate me stepping in — because we have discussed this in advance. This should not be the approach if you are not officially a moderator or known to the moderators. On the rare occasion that I do step in, it is when the moderators are nowhere to be found.

Never step in just because it is not of interest or you disagree with a conversation. Only when it is clear it is beyond the bounds of what the group exists to discuss to keep things on track or from getting out of hand.

When you find yourself in an increasingly adversarial conversation that no longer benefits the group, take it off-group or don’t encourage the discussion. Other group members will appreciate it when you do.

What If You Are Contacted?

It depends on the reason for the contact. If for commercial gain, be polite and ask they not contact you again. If this is a new group member, they may not know the rules. Point them in the right direction with a link to the group’s charter or rules.

Or, here’s my experience: many folks join groups to access members purely 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, members who know the nuances of group discussions may contact you off-list. Especially if you post off-topic or your conversation no longer applies to the majority. As I noted earlier, the more experienced members will know to reply directly to you rather than dilute the group with replies to off-topic emails.

Sending communications off-group when a conversation goes off-topic is not spam and is okay. 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 commercial. Following this guideline will provide a more enjoyable and valuable experience for you and everyone else in the group.

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