What Happens When You Reply in a Mailing List?

What Happens When You Reply in a Mailing List?

What happens when you hit reply in a mailing list? Well, that’s sometimes confusing, isn’t it? Email was never designed for mailing lists, and it shows. While email groups are a great resource, they could have been even better with a little bit of planning back around 1980.

One of the prime areas of confusion is what happens when you reply in a mailing list. On some lists, it’s configured to go back to the individual that sent the message. On other lists, it’s set up to go back to the list.

Play Attention When You Reply in a Mailing List

Because your email could go several different places, you have to pay attention when you reply and glance at the address in the To: line, before you push send. It can be very embarrassing to reply to a mailing list and find you’ve sent a private message to the list.  Could even be a disaster.

What Happens Depends on How the List is Configured

That’s why most experienced listserve users prefer to have the mailing list configured to have replies go back to the sender. Because the definition of experienced is somebody who has already sent a private email to the list before, and they don’t want it to happen again. Far better to have to resend a message to the list, instead of wishing you could retract what has already gone out.

However, most list owners prefer to configure the list to have replies come back to the list. Because it makes it easier for people to communicate with the group, and they want to encourage participation and see some results from their efforts.

What Happens Also Depends on Whether You Hit Reply to All

While the configuration of the listserv controls what address ends up in the To: line for a reply, another variable is the Reply To All command in your subscriber’s email reader. So if your subscribers like to hit the Reply To All button, then typically their email reader will send their reply back to the individual who sent the message and the list. And the list will send the message to all subscribers, including the original sender, who now has two copies of the reply.

I say typically because not all email readers work the same way. If you are interested in the technical details of how the most popular email readers work with Reply All, click here.

So the variations of the mailing list configurations (Reply To Sender or Reply To List), combined with the variations of how subscribers reply (Reply or Reply All), makes what happens when you reply in a mailing list very confusing to everybody. Especially when most people aren’t paying much attention to what command they hit or double checking the address in the To: field before they send the email.

So if somebody hits Reply All, their message is always going to go back to the list.  The best you can do as a list owner, is to configure your list as a Reply To Sender and help prevent problems with people accidentally sending private email to your list. Because if people get burned, or have any concerns in this area, it’s going to inhibit their level of participation.

Got any “worst moment in my life” stories when you sent a private message to a mailing list that you want to share?

Then,_ of course, there’s the question, how should you set up your electronic mailing list? Everyone replies to everyone? Or everything is collected and distributed as a digest?_