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Listservs are one effective way for networks to circulate and share information. They can be free/low-cost to set up, and are technically as simple to use as email.

Administrators should have a good sense of the goals for a listserv, and make these goals clear to other network members.

Listserv goals might include:

  • Facilitating conversation between network members
  • Circulating useful resources within the network
  • Building social ties between network members
  • Collecting content to populate strategy or other materials development (for example, on a wiki or Google Doc)

Protocol and considerations:

As with any tool, strive towards building an open and effective listserv culture. Some suggestions and considerations:

Set up:

  • Articulate listserv goals and parameters. Participants should know the goals of the listserv, and as a result what content is ok to circulate, and what is not.
  • Establish procedures for introducing new members to the listserv/protocol.
  • Define and establish leadership and administrative functions. Will the listserv be moderated? Will someone recruit new members? Who will help with technical issues? Who will enforce violations of listserv protocol? What are the consequences for inappropriate use?
  • Define and track success. Are you looking for a certain volume of emails, or certain kinds of content or impact?

Culture: Some listserv protocol you may want to consider/implement:

  • Ask new members to read but not post for two weeks or a month, giving them time to observe the culture of the listserv.
  • No email harvesting.
  • Introduce emails with a capitalized header, indicating the content is a QUESTION, JOB, EVENT, INFORMATION, etc. This will enable subscribers to easily filter information. Designate headers that effectively suggest key kinds of content being traded through the listserv.
  • Review emails before sending – remember they are going to a large number of people.
  • Reference emails you are replying to.
  • Avoid using all caps for anything other than subject line introductions – it is perceived as yelling.
  • No commercial use/marketing of paid services.
  • Do not share illegal content through the listserv (software, copyrighted text, etc.)
  • No slander or otherwise inappropriate content.
  • Circulate summaries/compilations of answers to questions posed to the listserv.
  • Write short and to-the-point posts, making it easier for others to skim and absorb content.
  • Avoid controversial postings – although this may not be possible, avoid stimulating traffic that is overly heated/threatens to overwhelm the listserv.
  • Email subscribe/unsubscribe requests to the moderator, not the entire listserv.
  • Consider whether an email is more appropriate for a single person, versus the entire list. Similarly, be aware of whether you want to ‘reply’ to one person, or ‘reply to all’.
  • Do not forward any posts without the permission of the person posting. Conversations are meant only for listserv members.
  • Never write anything you wouldn’t say to the recipient. Remember that it is hard to interpret the tone of emails, and it is therefore necessary to exercise extra caution with regards to tone.
  • Are attachments allowed?