There are several ways to email groups of people in Google Apps: type email addresses individually, send email to a saved list of recipients with Contact Groups, or send email to a Google Group email address that forwards the email to group members. Of the three, Google Groups is the most powerful way to communicate with a group of email users.
Type email addresses and “Don’t forget Bob”
The simplest method of sending email is to type each email address every time. This works well when sending email to one person or a very small number of people.
As the number of recipients increases, you’re more likely to forget to include someone. Gmail lists the names of people you might “Consider including:” below the “To:” box, to the right-hand side of the screen. Click on a name to add the recipient. Google sometimes refers to this as the “Don‘t forget Bob” feature.
Use a Contact Group
With a Contact Group, you type the name of the Contact Group in the “To:” box. Gmail replaces the group name with email addresses of all the list members. A Contact Group is essentially a saved set of email addresses: no need to cut-and-paste a recipient list from a prior email.
To create a Contact Group while in Gmail, click on “Contacts” in the black bar menu at the top of the screen. Then, choose “New Group” from near the bottom of the left-side menu. Learn more about “Managing contact groups” from Google‘s support pages.
There are three significant limitations to Contact Groups:
- Sending to a Contact Group works only when sending email from a web browser. You can’t send to a Contact Group from an email app on your smartphone or tablet.
- Contact Group recipient addresses are visible, which means recipients can “Reply All” to send email to the entire list. To hide the addresses from recipients, send an email “To:” your own address, and enter the Contact Group in the “BCC:” field.
- Contact Groups also present problems if your list is large. Google Apps does place limits on the number of emails per user. This includes a maximum of 500 external addresses in the To, Cc, and Bcc fields for an email, and a daily sending limit of 2,000 messages total. When you send an email to a Contact Group, each email address on the list counts towards these limits.
If you’re a smartphone user or want to manage larger lists, a Google Group may be a better choice.
Use a Google Group
Each Google Group gets its own email address: users with permission can send messages to that address, which are then forwarded to all Google Group members. Each email sent to the group is also stored as part of the group history; group history that can be searched.
Google Groups also provides many administrative controls. Google Apps administrators control many group privacy settings; group owners can lock down privacy, as well. Groups can be configured to be used as private discussions lists, or as public email lists that anyone can join.
When you use a Google Group, many limitations of Contact Groups are gone. You can send a message to a Google Group with any device that supports sending email. Recipients see the message as being sent to the list; individual email addresses are not displayed in the headers. The sending limits mentioned above still apply, but a message sent to a Google Group counts as one message sent.
There are still some limits. Free Google Apps account users are limited to a maximum of 10 groups, with each group having a maximum of 100 members. Google Apps for Business and Education (including the Nonprofit Edition) users can have as many groups as needed. The sending limit for Google Apps for Business and Education users is higher than the free editions, allowing up to 10,000 external recipients per day. Organizations with large numbers of users have even higher limits.
How to create a Google Group
To create a Google Group while in Gmail, click on “Groups” in the black bar menu at the top of the screen. Then, choose the “New Group” graphic near the middle of the page, to the right of “Browse All”. (Note: If you use Google Apps and can’t create or configure the Group settings you need, check with your system administrator.)
Give your Group a name, email address, and brief description. Keep the email address short and easy to remember.
The default group type of “email list” is likely what you want. Other types are available for special use cases, such as a Group intended to be a web-browser accessed forum.
Give careful thought to the Basic Permission settings. These control who can View topics, Post to the group, and who can Join.
There are four options for both View and Post:
- Managers of the group
- All members of the group
- All organization members
There are five options for who can Join the group:
- Anyone in the organization
- Only invited users
- Anyone can ask
- Anyone in the organization can ask
Let’s look at three different uses of a Google Group:
- First, an internal staff discussion list, e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org. All options except “Anyone” would be selected for both View and Post. The Join option would be set to “Anyone in the organization”.
- Second, a distribution-only email list, e.g. email@example.com. Typically, this would be a list where information is publicly available, but only selected people can send to the list. The View topics option would be set to “Anyone”. The Post option might be set to “Managers of the group”. The Join option might be set to “Anyone”. So anyone could join and view topics, but only Managers could post.
- Third, a discussion list for an organization’s board members only, e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org. This group would be more restricted. View topics would be set to “All members of the group”. Post option might be set to “All members of the group”, which would allow any board member to be part of the discussion. Joining the group would be restricted to “only invited users”.
After you create the group, you next need to invite members. Click on “Manage”, which is found next to the sprocket in the upper right corner of the Groups page. Then, using the menu options along the left side of the screen you can add members. You can modify many more Google Groups setting on this page. In many cases, the defaults are fine. Learn more about Google Groups from Google‘s support pages.
Google Groups for Documents, Calendar, and Sites
You can share Google Documents, Calendars and Sites with a Google Group. You do this by sharing the item to the email address for the Google Group.
For example, say you create a Google Document containing the minutes of a board meeting. You’d share the document with the email address of the “email@example.com”Google Group. The members of that group would have access to the document.
Moments now to save hours later
If you frequently cut-and-paste a set of email addresses, stop now. Take a few moments to create a Contact Group if you’re the only one sending email to a group. If other people also need to email to the group, create a Google Group. The few minutes you spend to set up a Google Group today will make email communication easier tomorrow. That’s exactly what technology should do.