Building a community on Slack is a great way to bring your customers, users, prospects, and fans together, build your brand, and deliver better products and experiences. Does the platform suit your needs? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of building a community on Slack.
Thinking about building a community on Slack? Many organizations, brands, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders have found success building communities on Slack in order to:
- Foster camaraderie between customers, community members, and internal teams
- Nurture brand awareness and credibility
- Deliver relevant content directly to their target audience
- Establish engaged dialogues directly with their product users
While there are plenty of benefits to building a community on Slack, including the renowned usability and ubiquity of the platform, its helpful community management features, and the wide range of integrations it supports, certain challenges can emerge that are worth considering.
In this post, we’ll run through the pros and cons of building a community on Slack to help community managers and moderators make an informed decision about whether or not they should use the platform to support their community engagement initiatives.
What is community management?
Community management encompasses any initiative or campaign designed to identify and nurture champions, increase customer engagement, boost customer retention, and recognize and amplify useful community-generated content using social media websites, apps, and online platforms. It’s a holistic term and it often involves engaging in conversations and activities across multiple channels.
To get the most out of your community management initiatives, it’s essential to analyze data and insights from all of your community channels to surface trending conversations, engage new members, get important feedback about your product or service, and encourage community contributions and connections.
Understanding your community goals
Every community is different because every collection of individuals—your community members—is different. Your core members and users have different career goals, concerns, and interests, so not every platform or topic will be universally applicable to all communities.
The first step to building a community is to identify the following:
- Why are you building a community?
- Who are your ideal community members and why would they join?
- What do you hope community members get from the group?
- What are your company’s goals for the community?
- Which platform supports these goals?
Say, for example, your company offers a solution focused on streamlining processes for UX researchers worldwide. UX researchers are your ideal community members. As a result, the platform your company uses for community management should facilitate asynchronous conversations about professional development, UX industry trends, new UX job postings, and new UX research experiments or frameworks, among other topics.
The goals of your community members may be to learn the latest industry best practices, network with other UX researchers, or upskill. Your goals as an organization would be to build and nurture a large group of UX researchers who would be in a position to view your content, receive product updates, and discuss ways to best use your platform or offerings. Increasing content reach, upselling existing users, and retaining users longer are a few of the goals you may have for your community.
In this instance, your company would look for a chat-centric community management platform like Slack that can seamlessly organize conversations about multiple subtopics, allow community members to easily interact and network with others via direct messages, and give your company the ability to easily distribute content and product news while nurturing conversations with priority prospects.
On the other hand, if your company is a clothing brand that sells to consumers, you may look for a community platform that’s more visual. You may want to implement features that allow users to act as brand advocates—sharing photos of themselves wearing your product with a larger group of users. In this instance, a platform like Instagram or Twitter would better suit your needs.
What type of community is Slack suited for?
Slack is one of several useful platforms for a professional audience. The platform was originally created to facilitate conversations within an office environment. For that reason, communities that focus on a specific professional persona—like marketers, product managers, open-source creators, and salespeople—are usually drawn to Slack. There’s usually a low barrier to entry for these groups of users, as many professionals are already familiar with Slack and use it on a regular basis.
Some communities are more active or familiar with alternative platforms. Gaming communities, for example, might be familiar with Slack but more active on platforms like Twitch or Discord. Companies who serve these communities may want to take a closer look at comparing Discord vs. Slack to determine which is best suited for their needs.
Pros and cons of building your community on Slack
Pros of Slack
- Community management features: Slack offers an array of community management features to organize and enhance conversations. Customizable profiles make interactions on the platform feel more personal, while channels allow community managers to facilitate discussions about separate topics—with the added functionality to implement specific guidelines for each channel and set them to public or private.
Threads enable granular back-and-forths related to posted comments or conversations, without clogging the UI, and private messages promote more direct and in-depth conversations. Slack also allows community managers to set up automated messages and responses to users, streamlining workflows and giving community managers the ability to scale the number of touchpoints they can have with community members.
- Usability and widespread adoption: While other platforms may have advanced or industry-specific features, the learning curve associated with adopting a new platform may prevent some users from joining or engaging. But many professionals are already using Slack, which increases the likelihood that users will initiate and maintain participation in your community.
- Free tier: Slack’s free tier option has one huge advantage—it doesn’t place a limit on participants. Even if your community grows beyond your wildest projections, you won’t need to upgrade. While the free version of Slack comes with some limitations (more on that later), it offers most community members everything they need to stay connected, engage with other members, and interact with moderators and community managers.
- Integrations: Slack integrates with more than 2,400 apps and bots to streamline your workflows. Integrations allow users to easily share and collaborate on files, schedule meetings, get real-time alerts, and more.
Cons of Slack
- Limited message history: Certain communities focused on acquiring practical knowledge or furthering professional development may feel the limitations of Slack’s capped message history on the free tier. For example, communities focused on career development often include content resource channels. These channels provide community members with free content about specific skills, industry or function trends, educational courses, and other helpful resources.
The capped message history restricts members from accessing older content, only allowing members to view messages from the previous 90 days. While new resources will crop up, some community members may find value in having a complete archived library of content to search, save, and review. Access to full message history requires a paid plan.
For communities who love the chat aspect of Slack and want to maintain a knowledge base of content or conversations, community managers can consider opening a forum, like a Discourse, alongside their Slack. Forum content remains searchable and appears in search results.
- Limited profile information: While Slack does support customizable profiles, the profile information is relatively limited compared to what you’d find on a platform like LinkedIn. The platform also doesn’t allow you to search member profiles by job title or organization, which can limit a community manager’s ability to identify members for targeted messages or upsells. Fortunately, intelligent community growth platforms like Common Room are able to surface this information for community managers, so this drawback is easily mitigated.
- Paid tier costs: For companies that need to spring for Slack’s paid tier, the platform will cost them $8 per user per month. While these costs can add up and may be seen as a con by some, it’s important to consider the ROI these communities provide in return.
- Limited functionality: Voice huddles enable users to launch instant calls directly from their Slack workspace, but Slack’s free tier only allows voice huddles between two people at a time. This removes the possibility of live AMAs, conference calls, or spontaneous chats between small groups of people. For most communities, this won’t be an issue—private messaging and threads provide the functionality necessary for most in-depth, personal conversations. But for communities that want to support larger, livelier conversations, springing for the paid tier may be necessary.
- Lack of analytics: Another challenge for community managers using Slack is that the free tier option doesn’t offer any access to member-level engagement data. There’s no easy way to view key analytics that help community managers measure the direct ROI of their community initiatives. More importantly, even the paid version of Slack fails to provide any valuable community-level analytics or insights.
But this too can be easily mitigated. An intelligent community growth platform like Common Room gives community managers and organizations the ability to understand what their community is saying and sharing, how they're feeling, and what they need. When Slack is part of a community strategy intended to enable customers and members to engage with each other and an organization, an intelligent community growth platform allows community managers to get all the Slack analytics they could want—they can use a platform like Common Room to quickly understand trending topics and conversations across Slack, discover and amplify community generated content, identify and triage bugs, respond to feature requests, build and grow programs, measure the impact of their work, and drive business impact.
Ultimately, deciding whether or not to use Slack to host your community depends on your organization’s specific community members and users, product, and business goals. The platform has a strong track record of supporting flourishing communities for a number of B2B organizations, which is why community managers across industries continue to experiment with it to see if it's right for their communities. The pros and cons above should help inform that decision, alongside conversations with your community members.
Looking for more about Slack community management? Check out some best practices for building community on Slack and connect with 1,000+ community and DevRel leaders to share expertise and ask questions in the Uncommon community Slack. To intelligently engage and grow your community, try Common Room for free today.