On the surface, Slack is just another workplace communication channel. It directly competes with Campfire, Hipchat, and even to a lesser degree Google Hangouts and email. It’s tagline is to change the way companies communicate and make work life easier.
There’s no doubt Slack is revolutionizing how many companies are communicating these days. Due to a great UX, site stickiness and an insane growth strategy, Slack has taken off like rocket fire in the last year. It’s now rumored to be worth $2.8 billion. That’s quite the feat for a company that has only been around for a little over a year.
While it is solely meant to be a workplace communication tool, I’ve been fascinated by all the different use cases people are starting to use Slack for these days. As a community manager, the one that fascinates me is all the awesome, public communities that are beginning to crop up on Slack. There’s even entire sites devoted to finding public Slack communities, including chats.directory and chitchats.co (formally SlackChats). These Slack communities cover a variety of topics from music, startups and e-commerce to Web design, wood-working and whisky, among many, many others. Even WordPress.org (the open-source flagship product) has moved away from its established IRC channel to a Slack community
It got me thinking. Is this what is going to finally propel community platforms to innovate? While social media platforms continue to innovate by the day, forum software has remained fairly stagnant. The major players in the space – vBulletin, Get Satisfaction (now acquired by Sprinklr), myBB, Vanilla Forums and even enterprise community platforms such as Jive and Lithium- still all resemble the traditional forum look and feel.
Discourse is beginning to challenge the way forums are perceived. It’s sleeker, modern and works well across desktop, tablets and mobiles (something that we can’t say for many forum platforms today), it’s still very early days.[box type=”info” border=”full” icon=”none”](Sidenote: If you have never had the privilege of watching Jeff Atwood speak about the future of community platforms, I highly recommend you watch this video. Fascinating insights) [/box]
Are Slack and to a lesser extent, Discourse, finally going to be the thing that pushes community platforms to innovate with the changing times? On the surface, it’s already unintentionally killing IRC, as it makes it easier than ever to chat in real-time with a group of people around set topics. To illustrate this, I am going to dive deeper into some of the core functionalities of Slack and how it can be used by online communities.
Slack works by setting up channels for specific topics or projects. You can invite others to join these public channels. Think of it in a similar fashion to categories, tags or sections in online forums. You can have a specific channel for each topic.
You can also seamlessly start and set up your own public channels, private groups and even direct (private) messages with specific members.
Slack also has the ability to do filtered searches based on all the channels that you are currently in. In fact, the Slack search functionality actually works better than many existing forum platforms.
In addition to being notified when someone mentions you (both in-app and via email), you can also set up highlight words. This is something that can particularly useful for moderators and community managers.
Another thing that makes Slack incredibly powerful for online community builders is that it integrates with so many other Web apps, from Github and Twitter to Asana, Google Drive, Iffttt and Zapier. For anything it doesn’t integrate with already, you can code your integration via it’s robust API (a.k.a. Slack API, Slackbot, and Slack Commands)
Finally, it also works seamlessly across devices from your desktop, tablet and your smartphone (especially if you download the iOS and/or Android apps). That’s a big factor as 64% of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, as of October 2014.
On the surface, Slack has most of the features that a community needs to take off. If you are running a community around a particular hobby or starting a brand new community for a startup, I’d absolutely recommend considering Slack in addition to other platforms such as Facebook Groups, subreddits, Google+ communities, etc.
So, what are some of the things that I would like to see and would make it something that more branded communities would adopt in the near future?
More customization options
Right now, all Slack communities look the same. That’s fine for it’s core, main purpose which is a chat tool for companies. It’s not meant to be accessed outside of company employees. However, in order for it to be widely adopted as a community platform, having some customization options where brands can tweak the design to their own style and design guidelines would be needed.
This is something that is universally needed by every community platform right now. Talk to any community manager who has been doing this for awhile and you will likely hear the same sentiment. Analytics are sorely lacking with all of the major community platforms including enterprise platforms. To get data that is meaningful and not simply vanity metrics, you have to be familiar with Excel and even SQL in many cases. That shouldn’t be the case. We should be able to automate our reporting with custom business metrics, so we can focus less on analytics and more on growing the community.
Ability to migrate content from an existing platform
If you are a brand new community, Slack is an awesome alternative to some of the traditional players in this space. However if you have been around for awhile, there’s history built up in your community. In most cases, you don’t want to sunset it to move to a new platform. That’s just a recipe to alienate your existing community members.
Additional moderation tools
There really aren’t any moderation tools in Slack. For example, an admin can kick someone out of a channel, but there is no way to keep someone from joining again. Or, being able to give moderator rights for one specific channel and not across the board. Or, setting specific participation and access levels for members.
Are you currently using Slack either within your current company or participating in a public Slack community? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.