How to use Slack for community building


How to Build a Community using Slack

In my recent quick guide to community building I mention how we are now using Slack to build communities, even though it is very much a ‘team tool’.

Seeing as people have been asking for some more information, I thought I would lay out some of the main considerations when choosing a ‘home’ for your community.

Consultancy questions to consider when choosing community software

This is where we start with clients looking at our Community Building solution, and should help guide you too:


1. What is the outcome you are seeking to achieve by having an online community?

2. Across how many locations (e.g. across Social Media) are your community members spread right now?

3. How large do you see community getting?
(a community of 500 may need a different approach to 50,000 - see below)

4. Do you want the community to be ‘part of a Social Media platform’, or platform agnostic?
(there are advantages to both)

5. What is your budget for the community software/platform? (there are good free options, as well as paid)

Tactics and operational

6. How will you ensure you only get members who are ‘the right fit’ to meet your strategic aims? (some platforms allow members who have a link to join, some are ‘open door’ so anyone can join etc.)

7. What third party integrations would you like to have?

8. What functionality would you like to have e.g. text chat between members, video calls, administrative control?

9. Are you looking for an element of gamification to increase engagement?

10. Who will be running the community? And how will you train new members?
(you want the learning curve to be very quick)

The Space

The online environment creates a psychological space. Depending on the software, you can create ‘rooms’, channels, or categories that will all influence the members’ behaviours.
And there is a definite art to ensuring the community architecture enables members to feel freedom enough to engage, whilst still enabling you to run the community in the interests of the business.

As such, each of the options you will come across is, to some extent, like a blank canvas but at the same time you need to understand the limits of each one too.

Why choose Slack to build a community?

Slack is ‘platform agnostic’, in other words people can join without having to belong to a social network. In essence, it is a sophisticated messaging system and different to social media. As such, you can invite people and the learning curve is super quick (5 mins in total to master the main features).

It is intended to be a ‘team tool’ and we use it for that as well, but seeing as we build communities for brands we needed a robust platform and Slack is working well.
And thanks to Chris Brogan’s Owner Insider community for helping me take the leap from Social to Slack.

Also, I’ve had great support from the Slack team on understanding when to use/and not to use their platform in this way. I thought I would share exactly what they said before running into the tips!

“Our current workplace team focus with Slack means that our system isn't designed for communities of tens of thousands of users — it's designed for teams of coworkers who collaborate on a frequent basis to get their work done.
To that end, you would most certainly run into issues attempting to build and run a team of 20k people, ranging from problems sending out invites successfully to stability issues.

If you do want to continue to use Slack to manage this community, I'd recommend you spin up multiple teams and cap each one around no more than 1,000 users (ideally more like 500). Once one team fills up, stop inviting people to that team and start a new one for the next group of people who want to join your community.”
With all that said, let’s run through some tips...

10 Tips for Community Building using Slack

The Community Architecture:

Slack is valued at over $3.8 billion now, so is looking like a solid player in this space.
Understand what you get for free with Slack, and what is paid for.
$5 a month per member would start to rack up a considerable bill for larger communities, but we are running the free plans successfully too.

To get started:

Plan your community structure (the architecture) first, take your time on this stage and then...

Keep the structure of the community simple enough that you can explain what people need to do, as:
Start here
Look at this
Then do this

The labelling of your channels in Slack will go in alphabetical order, and you can add ‘0, 1, 2, 3 in front of the name of the channels to create the order you want (if not alphabetical)

Use the ‘star’ function on channels to move them to the top section

Look to ‘pin content to channels’ before people arrive. This creates a feeling that people’s home is furnished.

Invite a small (up to about 10 people) test group first. This way you can iron out any problems before the rest of your community arrive.This is what our current architecture looks like for my private members Academy:

Slack Community

Note: this is a work in progress for us and we learn what people respond to best with every 'new build' App integration tips: This is a huge area. Integrations are what makes Slack so versatile.

You can bring in your Google Analytics stats, your Tweets, order and Uber, or make everything just a little more Giphy.
Integrations give your Slack group a personality, and that really matters for community building.
I'm sure I'll write a blog post around our favourites in due course so let me just give you a few tips now...

You will only get 10 App integrations so you want to choose them carefully

Don’t add an app, making its features available to your community members and then have to remove it to make space for the next ‘cool thing’.

Try out an app in a private channel before deciding whether to make it publicly available, and part of your community infrastructure

Know you can delete integrations that aren't working, so it is worth experimenting.

What else?

The environment in which you build a community is essential to get right, but this is just the vehicle for the journey.
Community building is about your members and how you can best serve them, and this takes time and attention - as well as a good plan.

We build communities for brands looking to make people feel loved. And we build Command Centres for people looking to co-ordinate their marketing efforts.

Want to know more? Contact us here.