Listservs, Distribution Groups, and Shared Mailboxes, Oh My!

At the SOG, we use listservs, distribution groups, and shared mailboxes to facilitate email use beyond the basic sending from one individual to another or to a manually typed list of individuals. This article will go over some differences in how these work and what they can do.


A listserv distributes emails sent to it to all the individuals who have subscribed to it. A list of our SOG listservs can be found here, and clicking the title of a listserv will provide more information on the purpose of that listserv, who the contact for that listserv is, and how to subscribe to that listserv. Emails from a listserv are delievered to one's individual email inbox and will appear there along any other email received. Anyone who meets the membership requirements for a listserv (these can be different for different listservs) can be subscribed to that listserv, which means both people internal to UNC and external clients can subscribe.

Distribution Group

A distribution group, like a listserv, distributes emails sent to it to the individual email inboxes of everyone who is a member of the group. Unlike a listserv, members cannot subscribe themselves, but must be added by the SOG ITD Service Desk team (or the distribution group manager, if there is one outside of ITD). Also unlike a listserv, a distribution group can only include people internal to UNC. A distibution group will deliver emails within the organization, but cannot be used to contact external clients.

Shared mailbox

A shared mailbox works differently than a listserv or distribution group, because it does not deliver emails sent to it to individual email inboxes, but instead is a separate mailbox itself, with its own inbox. This means it must be checked separately from one's own email. The shared mailbox can be added to one's Outlook desktop client, where it will be listed under one's individual mailbox, or it can be opened in the Outlook Web App after logging in to one's individual mailbox. To access the mailbox, people must be added by the SOG ITD Service Desk team, and access is limited to people internal to UNC. A significant difference with a shared mailbox is that emails can be sent from it with the shared mailbox address as the sender, where emails sent to listservs and distribution groups will be have the individual's email address as the sender. A shared mailbox can be useful when several people may need to manage emails for a group or purpose. Everyone in a distribution group gets a copy of a message, so one person may handle the issue without the others knowing, if they aren't copied on all emails in the conversation. With a shared mailbox, there is only one copy of the message, in that mailbox, and it can be put in an appropriate folder after it has been taken care of so that others who manage the mailbox will know that it is resolved. Similarly, someone checking a shared mailbox and finding new messages will know that no one else has yet followed up on them.