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Unleashing the Power of Discussion Lists

By: Azriel Winnett

Azriel Winnett is senior staff writer at Sling Shot Media LLC, which offers a wide range of hosting solutions for email lists of all types and sizes, as well as many other services for email marketers and list owners. Visit our site at: or e-mail us at:

When we talk about the power of email as a medium for marketing, or simply to get ideas, concepts and messages across to mass audiences, we generally think of newsletters, ezines, tip sheets, announcement lists or the like. These are all communications moving in one direction, from the publisher to the reader.

While articles, books and tutorials abound on this type of email publication, there seem to be far fewer resources on the two-way, or more accurately, multidirectional type  - commonly known as discussion groups or lists. Yet enterprising publishers are making a huge mistake if they underestimate the tremendous potential of the discussion list.

Not that the discussion list serves only as a business or marketing tool. Very far from it; we know that there are lists covering every subject under the sun, many of them far removed from commerce.

At, we've helped clients set up discussion groups for many different purposes: professional networking; "virtual" boards and committees; fast communication between corporate personnel, family or society members located in different cities, or between  people united by a common interest; and many others.

But it's the various powerful ways that you can use discussion lists to further your business objectives that we'd like to emphasize here. Prominent among these, of course, is their use as a vehicle to build virtual communities.

You may be aiming to place yourself in a position of leadership in a specific industry or sphere of economic activity. A discussion list is the ideal tool to attract a community of people involved in or interested in your field.

Provided that you are prepared to seize the initiative in the exchange of information and the give and take of ideas, your credentials as an expert, and perhaps even as an innovator or trend-setter, will soon become transparent.      

On the other hand, if you already enjoy a reputation as an expert, you may be inundated with requests for advice, or referrals to resources on various topics. If you make your list the vehicle for your responses, you will be saved the bother of having to reply to countless individual emails.

If past issues are posted on your website, your archives will serve as a comprehensive "FAQ" section for queries that keep cropping up. Then simply refer inquirers to the relevant URL, or even better still, install a search utility that will make it easy for them to find everything themselves.

The interactive nature of the discussion list concept generally means that all participants in the group share a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects under discussion. The interest of subscribers to one-way newsletters dealing with the same topics, on the other hand, is often passive or lukewarm by comparison. 

Advertisers promoting products or services tied to these subjects are often, therefore, willing to pay higher rates per subscriber in the case of discussion lists. If posts to the list are mailed out individually to the members, ads added on to the relatively short messages will also enjoy higher visibility.

If you are also publishing a newsletter in the same or a similar field to that which is the focus of your discussion list, you will find many additional benefits. For a start, you will be able to offer another outlet for advertisers targeting your specialized community. You might be able to negotiate special packages for advertising clients taking advantage of both publications.  

Then again, the discussion list should prove to be fertile ground for ideas for content in your newsletter.

After all, the topics and ideas that your audience are talking about are what they would like to read  about, and the questions they are asking are the very best indicator of what they would like to learn more about. And what better forum could there be for feedback on how you're performing?

© Copyright 2000, Azriel Winnett, Sling Shot Media, LLC

Other Articles by Azriel Winnett

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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