Whichever strategy your company takes, being involved in groups is a great way to find community, engage current audience members and prospective customers, build your brand, add value to your customer’s lives, and keep track of the industry’s climate.
And now, there’s a new alternative when it comes to social media groups: Slack communities.
In this post, we’ll explore what Slack is and how it works and lay out some of the advantages to building out your community on Slack.
Bonus: Buffer has a new Slack community—join here!
Currently, most of the “teams” on the platform belong to the same company. For example, employees of eBay, Urban Outfitters, and Buzzfeed all use it to communicate, collaborate, and build camaraderie.
Slack’s free version is pretty awesome. There’s no time limit, and there’s also no user cap. In other words, even if your company had 700 employees, you could still use Slack for free—forever.
It’s moving beyond the employee group
Even though Slack is meant for enterprises, more and more topic- and interest-themed groups are forming around the platform, according to PandoDaily.
“It’s not just business teams that are using the platform for internal communication. Organizations and individual consumers are flocking to the platform in droves, repurposing Slack as a public or at least external communication forum.”
There are now directories of “open Slack communities,” such as startupstudygroup, #smallbiz, and eComm Talk. These are forums for like-minded professionals to network, pass along valuable information and resources, find partners or employees, and discuss what’s going on in their fields.
In other words, they’re pretty similar to the tried-and-true social media groups we know and love.
Why start a Slack community?
So why start a Slack community when so many other types of social media communities already exist? Here are 3 reasons.
More attention, lower competition
For one, if you start a community now, you’ll be able to get in before almost everyone else.
There are around 4 million groups on LinkedIn, but there are less than 200 active and popular open communities on Slack.
You’ll get all the benefits of running a Slack community as you will from running a similar social media group, but with Slack, you’ll have much less competition for members and attention.
In addition, Slack drives high engagement. Since it’s a real-time chat platform, users tend to check in more often than most other types of groups. There’s a sense of fun and support you get on Slack that can be tougher to achieve when there’s a lag between posting something and getting a reply.
Slack also allows you to direct message other people in the group for even greater communication possibilities. (On LinkedIn, you can also send messages to other people in your group, though it’s a bit more complicated, which could possibly discourage one-on-one conversations.)
Free to start and run
Finally, Slack groups are free to start and run. Your biggest investment will be time and energy.
Getting started: Choose your topic
Now that we’ve covered why you should start a Slack group, let’s get into how.
First, you need to pick a topic. You might try to go for something fairly broad in order to attract the maximum number of relevant people. The biggest (unofficial) communities on Slack are WordPress, Designer Hangout, and Socket, all of which have fairly wide appeal.
Ideally, the theme should have something to do with your product or service. You’re trying to attract potential customers, so focus on the type of communities they’d be interested in joining. It could work well to go back to your user personas for inspiration.
Let’s say your company builds apps for high school teachers to use in the classroom. First, you want to reach school decision-makers: the people who’d actually buy the app. Second, you’d like to target teachers, who’d convince those decision-makers to buy the app.
So a great theme for your Slack community could be “K-12 Educators,” “Educational Leaders,” or even “Educational Technology.”
The logistics: Creating your community
After figuring out a subject, you’re ready to create your community. Follow this link to do so.
Slack will ask you to provide your team name (which you picked in the last step) and choose a URL. You’ll have the option of changing these at any time. While your team name can be creative, good URLs are generally straight-forward and descriptive.
For example, if you have a content marketing group, you could call your group Content Marketers and make your URL contentmarketing.slack.com.
Once you’ve established your name and URL, your Slack community will be live!
Promoting your community
Invite users with a sign-up form
There’s only one way to join a Slack group: You have to be invited by the administrator.
But how do you know who to invite when building a new community? The best way I’ve found is to create a sign-up form.
Your questionnaire doesn’t have to be long; it can simply include name, email (which is how you’ll send the invite), why the person is interested in joining, and links to his or her online profiles.
Here’s how Buffer’s Typeform looks for their new Slack community:
Reach out to influencers: Here’s a template
If you choose a popular topic, you might not have to work super hard to attract people to your Slack team.
Owen Williams, a tech writer, describes his experience with Slack:
“Last month, I personally started a public Slack for just talking about tech news and it jumped to 90 users within just a few weeks and almost no effort on my part. As it turns out, people on the internet like a more private place to hangout and chat that isn’t necessarily Twitter.”
Nonetheless, it’s a great idea to develop a plan for drawing in the right type of beginning members. They’ll be setting the tone of the early discussions and inviting more people to join, so they’ll play a huge role in the ultimate success of your Slack community.
A good strategy might be to come up with a list of 20 to 30 influencers in your niche. Once you’ve identified these people, reach out to them via email, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and ask them if they’d be interested in joining your team.
Here’s a template:
Although we’ve never spoken, I really enjoy reading your LinkedIn posts about cloud-based software. You stand out as a leader in this field. I just started an open Slack community for cloud software engineers and wanted to personally invite you to join. Your advice and experience would be invaluable, and on your end, you might enjoy our lively group discussions!
Share your community on social media
You’ll also want to get users interested through social media. Here’s where relevant hashtags will be invaluable to quickly and easily get your group noticed by the right kinds of people.
You can use Buffer to schedule promotional posts for your group on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Check out this sample tweet:
Do you work in #HR? Join HR Professionals, the open Slack community for those involved with the “people side” of things!
Add your community to Slack directories
Channels: Add sub-topics to your community
Now you’ve got users! To make their experience as beneficial as possible, take advantage of Slack’s “channels” features. Each channel is like a sub-topic, so if your community is for social media marketers, you could have separate channels for Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and so on.
Also consider having an “Introductions” channel for new members, a “Resources” channel for sharing helpful tools and links, a “Watercooler” channel for shooting the breeze, and an “HQ” channel for group feedback. (Thanks to the #CreativeTribes for the ideas.)
Moderating: Keep your community friendly
Like with any online forum, you’ll want to make sure your environment is friendly and respectful at all times.
One of the best ways to do that is to create a clear and cohesive policy of what’s expected of your members. I’d suggest banning spam, inappropriate or offensive comments, harassment, and non-stop self-promotion.
However, unlike a LinkedIn group, where every single comment is expected to add value, Slack groups are a little more casual and free-form—so don’t make your rules so strict that you’ll discourage friendly conversation.
To upload your guidelines into Slack, log in, click “Menu” and then “Files,” and then paste the rules into a new post.
Moderating your community for inappropriate behavior is pretty easy. Slack allows you to monitor for the use of certain words or phrases, so you can set notifications for profanity and common slurs. That way, if you get an alert that a user has used one of the terms, you can quickly resolve the situation.
If you notice discussion in one of the channels is flagging, try jump-starting it by introducing an open-ended question, posting a link to a thought-provoking article, or asking a thought leader in your industry to “guest-post.”
Tying it back to your business
Your Slack community will hopefully become an asset to a large group of people. However, for many brands the main goal will be advancing your business.
To do so, you can include links to your company site in your Slack profile. If your colleagues will be joining you on the platform (which would be awesome!), have them do the same.
When it’s relevant, you can point team members to your company’s products or services. You can also link to blog posts, infographics, white papers, or another informative content on your company’s site.
I think it’s super important to only promote your organization when it makes sense. In other words, if there’s a spirited debate about working with hospital administrators, you might not want to jump in and say, “Hey, check out my company’s podcast on how Obamacare will affect your small business!”
In addition, you could set up a channel specifically for giving feedback. This channel would give you and other members the opportunity to test out ideas and get valuable insights into what does and does not resonate with the target audience.
But the biggest way in which Slack will help you with your business goals? Developing solid connections with qualified leads. Chatting with people everyday in an exclusive, yet pretty laid-back, atmosphere is a fantastic way to develop strong relationships.
Measuring success: Some Slack community KPIs
Of course, anytime you launch a new marketing initiative, you want ways to measure its success.
When it comes to Slack communities, there are two different things to track:
- How active and healthy the community is
- How your company is benefitting
Let’s start with the first, which is a little easier to quantify. Since you’re the owner of your Slack group, you’ll have access to your team usage stats.
This page will tell you how many messages have been sent on the platform and from where: for example, maybe 55% of your community members’ communication is in groups, and 45% is through direct messages.
Obviously, the more messages your members are sending, the more engaged they are. Track this number every week to see if engagement is declining, maintaining, or increasing. (And don’t forget to take a growing number of users into account!)
Speaking of a growing number of users, you’ll definitely want to focus on how many new people are signing up for your community each week.
Other stats you can track:
- Mean number of people online at a time
- How many files your members are uploading (which speaks to how many resources are being shared)
- How many new members are coming in via referral (in your sign-up process, you can ask how the person heard about your community)
Measuring Slack’s efficacy as a content marketing tool is a little more difficult, but it’s still doable.
In addition, track how many of your community members are buying your service or product. Since both platforms will collect their email addresses, this should be fairly simple.
While you can’t track how much brand awareness, lift, and loyalty you’re generating with your Slack community, you can see if the customers you gained via Slack stay with your company longer or buy more products than those who you gained via different channels. You can also measure if the content on your site (like your blog posts or white papers) are getting more exposure and engagement.
Have you tried Slack?
If you can, we suggest starting your Slack community as soon as possible. After all, imagine if you’d had the opportunity to create one of the first LinkedIn groups. It’s a little late for LinkedIn, but it’s definitely not too late for Slack.
Have you created or participated in any Slack communities yet? I’d love to hear how it went for you and any tips you might have to share!
Ready to give a Slack community a try? Buffer is starting one now—join here!