Shared Mailbox vs Distribution List: What's the Difference?

Spike Team
By Spike Team, Updated on March 17, 2024, 7 min read

Information is power, and lack of access to that information quickly leads to a shutdown, whether for an individual, a team, or an entire company. In a modern business, all key stakeholders must have access to the information they need to get their job done. Most frequently, this information is delivered via email.


But, when you start dealing with hundreds, or even thousands, of emails every day, how do you ensure that information is getting where it needs to go in the most streamlined way possible?


We’re going to look at the tools for streamlining collaboration among groups in modern email systems – distribution lists and shared inboxes – as well as the pros, cons, and the system that might work best for you.



What Is a Distribution List?


A distribution list is a collection of email addresses that can be messaged en masse rather than having to enter each recipient individually. This allows an individual or a company to send the same information to potentially thousands of recipients simultaneously with very little effort.


However, distribution lists are a one-way communication form–they send information out to a large group of people rather than engage them in communication or collaboration.


That makes distribution lists excellent for uses such as newsletters or email marketing, saving time and keeping track of customer email addresses in a single location. However, if you need ongoing dialogues with the people being emailed, such as an internal team, distribution lists simply fall apart.


While basic distribution lists can be built in many consumer email clients, albeit with a bit of tinkering, most companies use dedicated mailing list providers, such as Mailchimp, DirectMail for Mac, Sendinblue, and Mailerlite.


These platforms allow for the fast creation of email distribution lists and offer tools for collecting customer emails and creating ongoing campaigns – all directed to a one-way communication system.



What is a Shared Mailbox?

Maximize team cooperation with a shared inbox


A shared mailbox is like a regular email inbox but with multiple users. That is, it is able to send and receive mail, and often has a shared calendar or other features that a mail provider would offer, but rather than having its own username and password, it is accessed by various users from their own individual accounts.


This enables multiple people to send and receive emails under the same address. When is a shared inbox useful? Most often, when companies want a generic email address but have multiple members of staff responsible for it.


If you ever see email accounts like “”, “”, or “”, there is a good chance that they are shared inboxes, accessed by multiple members of a customer support team.


So, for example, if John and Jane both work for the customer support team at Globex, they will have individual email accounts ( and However, they would also be able to access the shared mailbox ( via their individual accounts.


They can then read incoming messages and respond or act appropriately. Often, team members using a shared inbox can choose to either respond directly from the shared address or on behalf of a generic address. This will change how the response appears in the recipient’s inbox, getting a reply from either “” or “Jane from”, for example.


This allows for greater flexibility than a distribution list and, most importantly, shared inboxes offer the opportunity for two-way dialogue. That said, this form of communication is still suited to a customer/business relationship or interdepartmental communications since it still doesn’t really foster a collaborative approach.


Depending on the provider, shared mailboxes also allow companies to monitor which team member sent which email from the shared address, allocate messages to specific team members, and use message templates for customer relations.


A shared inbox is a great way to have multiple people access a single account, but shouldn’t be confused with a unified inbox, which allows a single person to unite multiple email accounts. Most modern email users have more than one email account, and a unified inbox means they can be accessed in the same place, rather than hopping from inbox to inbox, which creates another opportunity to lose or miss information.



Shared Mailbox vs Distribution List: Which Should You Use?

The shared communication tool you should use really depends on the job you’re trying to get done.

Distribution lists are great for:

  • Sharing information with large groups (inside or outside your organization)

  • Keeping track of customer information

  • Building a customer database for future marketing efforts

  • Marketing goods and services

A shared Inbox is most effective when you:

  • Offer customer or staff support

  • Need multiple people responsible for single points of communication

  • Want to create ongoing two-way dialogue

  • Need a generic incoming company email address

The truth is, you will often see companies running a distribution list (for outward mass emails) as well as managing a shared inbox (for incoming mail and mutual communication) in order to have a robust email workflow using the same generic email addresses. They fill different niches and are both useful tools to have.


However, neither of these is an adequate solution for shared team communication. They both have their place, but none provide a collaborative environment where teams can get to work. This is where you have to start looking at the third alternative: online collaborative email platforms, such as Spike.


Spike offers the tools you need to communicate effectively, whether for one-way information or ongoing dialogues, without adding complexity. In fact, the very core of Spike is making things simple – their Conversational Email, for example, strips away all the clutter that would usually clog up a shared inbox and instead offers professional email that acts as simple as an instant message.

Teamwork from home - best tools


One of the key tools you’ll use when streamlining email communication versus a shared inbox is Spike Groups. These online workplaces are built for collaboration and can be created quickly and simply for any team, project, or client. Spike Groups don’t require more accounts and downloads but are instead built around your email – that means that anyone with an email account (whether they use Spike or not) can join the conversation in seconds, collaborating in real-time.


In addition to offering a modern email collaboration platform, Spike Groups also centralize attachments and files, meaning any team member can access the information they need, whenever they need them, wherever they are.


One of the most complex parts of streamlined email collaboration is keeping track of everything, which is where Spike Notes really stands out as a must-have feature of any productivity workflow. With Spike Notes, your team no longer needs to switch out of their emails and into docs or some other note application, it’s all right there in a unified platform.


With Spike Notes, you can capture your thoughts and info in the way that suits you, whether that’s text, images, code, or videos – you can even attach files or include collaborative To-Do Lists and Tasks. This can then stay private or be shared with an individual or, to make things simpler, a whole Spike Group.


If you’re looking into distribution lists, shared inboxes, and online collaborative email platforms, chances are you’re dealing with industrial quantities of emails. Trying to find the information you need among all those messages in a fast and effective way has always been difficult – until now, with Spike Super Search giving you the power to find everything or anything when performing a search in your email, whether it’s an attachment, recipient, file or folder, Spike will find it.



Spike’s Shared Inbox: Streamlined Collaboration that Works for You

Maximize your team cooperation with Spike’s shared inbox feature. Setup is super quick and easy – You can revoke or grant access with a single click, so there is no need for password headaches! Spike’s shared inbox ensures uninterrupted communication as your team expands.

FAQs About Distribution List vs Shared Mailbox

You can use a distribution list to talk to customers, but they can’t talk back. Distribution lists are a one-way email communication, allowing you to quickly deliver information to large groups.

Not at all! A shared inbox is a single email mailbox that can be accessed by multiple users, a unified inbox is a single inbox that combines messages from multiple email accounts.

It depends. A distribution list will work if you need to deliver information to lots of employees very quickly. However, if you require responses or some level of two-way dialogue, you’ll need another solution, such as Spike.

Spike Team
Spike Team The Spike team posts about productivity, time management, and the future of email, messaging and collaboration.

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