Groups are a way for your organization to have a branded presence on the Action Network, publish actions to the public, and build an organizational email list. They're also another way the Action Network makes it easy to work together. They set up a federated permission structure to allow you to work with your allies, colleagues, and staff in a way that mimics the federated structures organizations use every day.
In many ways, groups are Action Network's fundamental organizing unit. Each group has its own email list. Subscribing to one list does not subscribe you to another, and similarly unsubscribing from one group does not unsubscribe you from another.
Groups sponsor actions, like petitions, and anyone who takes that action is subscribed to the group's list. Activists are de-duplicated by email address within a group's list, but not across groups. When you write email, you target that email to one and only one group.
All this means that typically each organization would have one group on Action Network, which holds their email list. To subdivide and target various segments within that list, people typically would use tags. However, in some situations where you have totally separate email streams and subscribe/unsubscribe list membership, you'd want separate groups.
Groups have branded pages with your organization's name, location, a logo, and a description. Under that is a list of all of the actions your group has published, so activists coming to your group page can see what your group is up to. Groups come with their own email list, and taking action on those pages adds an activist to the group's list. Finally, there is a button that allows activists to apply to become an organizer for your group if they want to join in. (This button can be turned off in group settings if you don't want to allow applications.)
Groups are invite-only, meaning activists have to apply to become an organizer for the group and administrators have to approve them or group administrators have to invite them before they're let into the group. Group organizers can participate in the group's private discussion board, view a list of group organizers and administrators, and create actions that are sponsored by the group. They do not have access to the group's email list -- that's reserved for administrators.
When a sponsored action is created, activists who take action will be added to the group's email list. At the same time, they'll be added to the action creator's personal email list if the action creator hasn't removed themselves from the page. This creates the federated structure. For example, let's say your organization had field staff all over your state working on local issues but as part of your organization's national program. Your staff could be organizers in your group, of which you are the administrator. As they publish local petitions, events, and other actions, they'll be building up a local personal email list that they can use to keep in touch with their local activists about local issues. At the same time, every activist each of your field staffers recruits is also added to your national list, so your staff gets to keep the benefits of their local organizing but all of those benefits also accrue upwards to your national list, which only administrators have access to.
You can also have multiple administrators of a group, each with access to the group's list and their own separate permissions. This makes it great for working in coalitions or with staff -- your national coalition partners or your senior staff can all have full access to the group's list and share all of the names you collect, while your smaller partners or staff can have less administrative permissions or be organizers and only have access to their local lists while benefiting the national coalition.
We expect groups are the way most organizations will use the Action Network.