Originally billed as the ‘email killer’ when it first launched in 2013, Slack had an impact like no workplace instant messenger before it; well not since Email.
First introduced as a way to reduce internal email, early adopters of the platform claimed to have eradicated them from their companies entirely. By mid-2014, Slack had over 125,000 daily users. By 2019, this number had reached a staggering 12 million. One year on from this, the platform was sold to Salesforce for $27.7 billion - a price reflecting how embedded in our work lives it had become.
Over the past two years, for obvious reasons, Slack has become indispensable to many organizations. With many of us unable to enjoy the workplace interactions they took for granted in the past, Slack has played a vital role in preserving some semblance of normality - something that could never have been achieved by emails alone. Being able to chat back and forth with colleagues - one to one or in a group - made the transition into remote work immeasurably easier, and for this Slack deserves some credit.
Not satisfied with ruling the workplace, Slack has now begun to expand into the market of external communities. The launch of Slack Connect marked a pivot away from simply killing emails towards an all-encompassing communication tool that could be used by anybody in the world. In some ways, this is a logical next step for the platform; having become a go-to choice for internal workplace communications, moving outside of this remit is the only way it can continue to grow. However, while Slack offers a stepping stone into the world of online communities, there are limits to its effectiveness as a community platform and it certainly shouldn’t be the endpoint of your brand’s journey. But why?
Your community needs a home
The purpose of community is to take advantage of the conversations and advocacy happening around your brand by consolidating them in one place. With fewer online points of presence, brands can ensure that all traces of their brand online are consistent in their messaging, while also making it easier to keep track of all customers.
This is where Slack begins to encounter problems as a community platform: it does not provide a permanent home for content where users can continuously return and interact with it over the long term. This represents a problem for marketers, as the purpose of producing content is to engage customers and increase brand awareness. When content is posted to Slack, it quickly gets lost among the constant stream of messages and becomes hard to find again. If users cannot access content at their leisure and post comments that will be seen and replied to, there is little incentive to engage with the content at all, limiting the brand awareness it is capable of generating.
Slack is a great tool for having quick fire conversations with colleagues or community members when an email will not suffice. It was not designed to house entire communities, nor everything that comes with one. Though the introduction of Slack Connect was clearly intended to extend the platform’s use beyond internal communications, the fact that it was originally created as an alternative to emails creates huge obstacles in using it for anything else. If the idea behind Slack was to cut down the time we spend reading and replying to correspondence, doesn't that essentially mean it was designed for us to spend as little time in as possible?
Slack is ineffective for hosting content and extending the conversation around it over the long term. Slack’s limited search function also makes it hard to search for anything unless you can remember exactly how it was worded to begin with and offers no way of searching by category. The platform is essentially the stream of consciousness of a group of people, making it easy to find yourself out of the loop and unable to catch up if you don’t check your messages for a while.
Using an instant messaging platform as a home for your community is guaranteed to limit your brand’s growth. It might look similar and fulfill a short-term need, but ultimately it is not designed for what you are trying to use it for, resulting in a poorer and less coherent experience for everyone involved. If you want to give your community a place to call home, taking more time to build a proper one will pay off in the long run.
One of the main benefits of online communities is the ability they provide to use a brand’s existing customers as social proof. The power of traditional marketing to influence consumers has waned in recent times; with word of mouth now considered more valuable than advertising, brands need their own space to populate with customer success stories that come straight from customers themselves.
Where’s the data?
In today’s hyper-competitive landscape, it can be the most marginal gains that make the difference between winning and losing a customer. This makes owning your community data absolutely critical in order to fully understand where your customers are succeeding and why this is.
The analytics Slack offers to users are fairly limited, and fail to give a clear idea of the level of engagement with content. You might be able to interact with customers or share an article or webinar recording with your community in Slack, but then what? Without any meaningful data, you are left with no means of tracking conversations, content performance or the synergies forming between different groups within your community. Social media companies are infamous for withholding key data from companies, but Slack doesn’t even do that - the data simply isn’t there. How are you going to track KPIs using a platform that doesn’t even offer read receipts?
Creating a purpose-built home for your brand is the difference between simply having a community and actually utilizing it. An owned community space will provide your brand with insights you can’t get from a Slack channel, giving you a 360 degree view of the customer that will allow you to maximize their lifetime value. Access to data allows you to meet them at their level and tailor your service to their needs, meaning that data ownership is more than just a nice thing to have - it’s critical to your bottom line.
Slack is just the beginning
Slack excels at the thing it was designed to do, which is to create a quicker and more direct line of communication in the workplace. Having an engaged community on Slack is great and bodes well for your business - but treating it as a permanent home for your community will limit not only you, but your customers too. Slack is a useful tool, one that can even be used to supplement a more expansive community platform if your community requires a lot of quick fire interactions throughout the day - but it is not a home.
In order to engage and retain your customers, ensuring future growth, you need to give your audience a space that they actively want to be a part of. The way we use Slack when we’re at work is predominantly reactive, messaging somebody when you have a problem or need to find something out. The beauty of expert communities is that they are proactive, creating an environment that users want to spend time in even when they don’t have a specific concern regarding your product. This means those customers will spend more time in your community and are more likely to incorporate your brand into their daily lives, extending lifetime value and reducing the risk of churn. By ending your community journey with a Slack channel, you are limiting your brand’s growth and success before you've even begun.