What is Slack?

You’ve probably heard of the service called Slack sometime in the past few months, as it’s growing rapidly. Case in point, I was out with the family at a movie last week and one of the pre-show ads was for Slack. Fun surprise! It was a neat ad, which you can watch here:

While it’s a great ad, it doesn’t show you much about how you might use it. So, what is Slack?

What is Slack?

slack-chatSlack is admittedly somewhat hard to define. It’s kind of a mix between an AOL chat room, Google Hangouts, and text messages. Since people already use Hangouts, iMessage, text messages and other platforms, Slack seems like overkill. I promise it’s not.

That said, it’s one of those things that’s difficult to explain. When I shared it with our team and suggested we try it, they agreed that it didn’t really seem to have a place in our workflow. After a few weeks, it become indispensable. If used correctly, it’s a great place for quick team discussions; things that need more attention than a text message, but less attention then an email.

It helps that they have a slick web app, desktop apps, and excellent apps for mobile devices. You can hop on your Slack team from anywhere and pick up right where you left off.

To keep the conversations organized, you break it down into “channels”.

#channels

Each channel is a separate stream of updates. One of the more popular channels on the GreenMellen Slack is for #recipes. It’s not work-related, but great for keeping the team engaged with one another. Here is a snapshot from our recipes channel from a few nights ago:

recipes

Your choice of channels is key to how well it’ll work for you. We got off to a solid start, but we’ve continued to refine our channels. Our current list includes:

  • #asana — for questions related to Asana, our task management system
  • #clients — to discuss issues with clients (“has anyone talked to x yet this week?”)
  • #education — to share videos and blog posts that the team might find helpful
  • #general — for things that don’t have a home elsewhere
  • #greenmellen — for updates about our own marketing and processes
  • #lunch — a popular channel! what are we doing for lunch today (or planning for tomorrow)?
  • #meetup — a channel to discuss ideas for our upcoming Meetups
  • #plugins — we’ve developed a few WordPress plugins (such as GM Block Bots) and we discuss ideas and issues related to them here
  • #recipes — see above.
  • #social — anything posted to our Facebook page automatically feeds onto here so we can all stay in the loop
  • #wordpress — other WordPress-related thoughts and questions

The next question, of course, is should you be using Slack? There are two reasons you should; if neither apply to you, then it might not be a good fit.

You’re part of a team of 3+ at work

This probably applies to many of you, but not everyone. If you’re a solopreneur you might not get much use from adding Slack to your “team”. However, if you are on a team with a few other people (or a few hundred others), it could be a great fit.

You want to hang out with other like minded folks

Aside from your internal team, you can join many other public “teams” on Slack. We have a small one for our Meetup, and WordPress has a huge one for everyone that wants to join.

Give it a shot

Here’s the kicker — for most of us, it’s 100% free! I certainly encourage you to view their plans and consider upgrading, but the free package is more than adequate for most users.

Go sign up for it, and remember these two basic keys to making it work.

  1. Choose your channels wisely. Don’t create too many, but have enough that each one has a purpose. Fun channels like “lunch” and “recipes” will help keep people engaged.
  2. Insist on two weeks of effort. When we decided to try, we agreed to dive in for two weeks and see what it did for us. Within days we were hooked. If you just float it out there and hope people might participate, it may or may not work. We all loaded it on our desktops and loaded it on our phones, and we’re not looking back!

How do you use it?

Do you have another cool use for Slack? Maybe some creative channel ideas we didn’t mention? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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Comments

    • It’s in addition to email, but it cuts down on email quite a bit. Lots of items that really shouldn’t have been an email in the first place have been replace by Slack.

      It’s ultimately roughly the same amount of communication, but in a much easier format to deal with.

    • Good questions! Yes, it’s stored as text (aside from images, of course). You can delete old ones if needed, though in theory you let them just slowly drift off the top of the screen as new ones roll in. It has a rather robust search, so leaving the old ones in there can helpful (“What was the name of the sushi restaurant that Ali mentioned a few weeks ago?”).

      Channels are discoverable by others that are already part of your team (though teams are not easily discoverable; you need to find them via blog posts such as this one). If you create a new channel, users aren’t automatically added to it but they can find it in the listing if they want. All channels in a team are open to the whole team, but you can create fully hidden “private groups” for subsets of users.

  1. When I’ve tried Slack — and I’ve tried it a few times — I found the lack of threaded conversations (at least I couldn’t find them) to be a major downer. Did I miss something? Anyone else have a similar reaction?

    • The lack of threaded conversations is indeed unfortunate, but I think it’s intentional. The way a channel flows, threaded replies further up the chain would be missed by most users.

      In our case, if we find a channel is getting too noisy, then we split it two separate (more specific) channels. For example, our five person team has a total of 18 channels in our slack. The generic “GreenMellen” one often focuses on one area, so we split that off into separate ones. Some splits out of that channel were “lunch” (who is bringing their lunch tomorrow? Or are we going out?), “homeoroffice” (are we in the office tomorrow or working from home?) and “content” (ideas on content that we should be generating as a team).

      It certainly takes continual tweaking, but works very well.

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