Many successful marketing campaigns involve groups. Some companies have their own LinkedIn or Google+ groups, while others stick to participating in relevant groups and chats.

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!

slack community

What’s Slack?

Slack is a realtime team messaging app that’s been exploding in popularity lately.

slack growth

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.

slack communities

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.

High engagement

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 WordPressDesigner 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.

I recommend using Typeform, an easy, free service that allows you to create simple forms. (Check out this guide to integrating Typeform and Slack.) Google Forms is another good alternative.

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:

Buffer 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:

Hi Carol,

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!

Best,

Aja

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

Finally, you can publicize your community by adding it to the directories of open Slack groups. To get yours on this Medium listtweet at its creator, Angela Cois.

To be added to Slack List, another directory, fill out this form.

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.

Slack add files

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.

You can use a customized link generator (like bit.ly or goo.gl) to shorten the links to your company site. Then, you can see how many people from Slack are clicking through to your pages.

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.

slack metrics

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!

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Written by Aja Frost

College student by day, freelance writer and content strategist by night. Say hi on Twitter!

  • Bart

    Have been using Slack for almost a year now, and can’t imagine NOT using it. Fantastic communication tool, and really engages clients with real-time feedback as they feel connected to something vs waiting, wondering if somebody actually received their email.

  • Kapil Chopra

    Thank you for the post. I have looking out for a platform to start my own community. I suppose taking the advantage by getting in early will be the key.

  • First, thank you very much for a well thought out article regarding the Slack platform.

    Regarding; “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.”

    *** I love community platforms…and Slack is very, very well done. However, striking a true balance in the “moderation” of SPAM and Self-Promotion has always been a puzzle I could not solve.

    I would love to see an example of an effective policy for governing SPAM and Self-Promotion within a “business friendly” community. Where does one draw the line and how is it defined. To reduce confrontation, the boundaries must be clear and enforceable. ANY help to that end would be something for which I would be grateful.

    • Jim, one easy way to get halfway there might be to make a separate Slack channel for all announcements so people will post them there. Would that help?

      • Not a bad idea (and I’ve tried that approach)….but unfortunately, there will be those who don’t follow the rules. And really, it’s the “rule” itself I can’t figure out how to define. If you were to write the rule yourself, what would it look like? How would you clearly define the difference between a promotional post about your business and an informational post about who you are and what you do? See my dilemma?

        I sure do appreciate your reply though.

        • Hi Jim, we all instinctively know the difference between a conversation and an announcement, so that’s how I’d make the distinction. If someone is asking a question or replying, then it’s a conversation and can go in the main channel. If it’s unsolicited information (ie not in reply to a query) then it’s an announcement and would belong in the announcement channel. Could that work?

          • Possibly. Unfortunately, it has been my experience there will always be members who attempt to “game” the rules disguising announcements as conversation. This is particularly true in environments where members are new to the broader online environment.

        • I’m newly considering creating a Slack solution, but have a FB group and the rule on self promotions is anything that includes a link to your own material is considered a promo. So articles on your blog, your graphics that quote you (picquotes), your services, anything on your website, your interviews, etc. are all promos. You can talk about what you do without providing any links, and that’s not considered a promo. Just one way of doing it. I could see someone ruling “this is what I do. PM me to find out more” as also being a promo, but 1) I haven’t had that problem, and 2) I would probably be ok with it if people did that.

          • Thank you, Indigo. I appreciate your feedback.

    • In a Slack group I run, there is a self-promo channel where each member is limited to 2 promos/asks per week. Break the rule the first time, you get a polite DM warning for next time. Break it again, you’re out.

  • Rob

    Great information, if only I had the time to implement. I’ll jump into some communities instead.

  • I am in several Slack communities and remember a few months back the idea of Buffer having one on a Bufferchat discussion. I do like the format and have some good conversation. My challenge comes with being able to keep up with all of them. I think it can be an effective channel if you are only going to be in a few but as the number increases the fact that each community is a separate room turns me off a bit. I am a big fan of Slack as a business tool as well. I know that Slack never expected it to turn into what it did, if the apps would be able to allow easier setup and management of multiple groups it would really help. Happy to be in the Buffer Slack group 🙂

  • Thanks for this informative and insightful post!

    I was toying with the social media options for an interest group that I’m building, and was deliberating between Slack and Facebook Groups. Eventually, I settled on Facebook because it’s so integrated in people’s lives already.

    I personally love Slack and would like to use it to supplement the lively community discussions that are already happening in the FB Group. I think the conversations in Slack could be more light-hearted and informal given the ‘chat’ style. There may be a nice niche purpose for it since my community members do PM me with discussions and chats now and then.

    What do you guys think? Could Slack be a great complement if there’s already a thriving conversation happening in FB?

    • I had similar ideas but my concern is privacy. Facebook worry me. We want a private group 🙁 But trusting Facebook….

      • Hi Johan, thanks for your reply 🙂 I completely understand that people do want to keep their Facebook lives private from other engagements. Slack is a great alternative if you are concerned with privacy! On it, you share as much (or as little) as you want about yourself. Have you given that a go? The Buffer Slack Community is a great place to start to get a feel of Slack communities 😀

    • I was in the same situation except I went with slack haha.

      • That’s interesting, Wilson! If you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to know why you decided to go with Slack!

        • Stephanie, I read that you chose Facebook because people were already there. What is the goal of the group? Each group is different and (because we build tools for group leaders) it’s always good to hear what group leaders want for their members.

          • HI Lucas! The group was created to establish a community where people could learn a bit of Philosophy together and engage in dialogue about the material we read or about interesting articles that come their way. It was also a platform to share said articles 🙂 However, in the time that has passed since the conception of the idea, the community has evolved quite a bit and I’ve learned so much about responding to the needs of the community. We have shifted from Facebook to more in-person and small group communication, as I find that people are increasingly wary of Facebook and its pervasiveness and some report that they want to minimise their time spent on the platform. So, I’ve been channel more efforts to organising meetups and seeding conversations on the blog 🙂

  • There is a little program called Slackin that will create a registration page for your public Slack community…

    The sign up is then simple and automatic and the registration page will point to http://slack.yourdomain.com

    More information here: https://github.com/rauchg/slackin

  • Informative post and I haven’t used Slack YET. See you on the interwebs Aja! 🙂

  • Such a cool idea. There certainly is no shortage of spots to create new groups but utilizing a product that so many are already using, like Slack, makes it even easier.

    Thanks for the awesome outline for getting started with our own communities.

  • Melissa Haney

    We’ve been experimenting with this the past few months. One of the things we find most challenging is getting folks to check in and participate on a regular basis though.

  • Mate Rauscher

    Hi Aja,

    Great post, I do agree that Slack can be a community platform of the near future, and it’s a good idea to jump on it as it just started to take over. Liked that you compared it to Linkedin groups.

    In addition I think it can be useful to automate the sign up process as the group starts to grow. I’ve found this tutorial useful for that (little coding skills necessary):
    https://levels.io/slack-typeform-auto-invite-sign-ups/

    Especially appreciate that you mentioned the #smallbiz community.

    Heading to tweet it right now. 🙂

    -Mate

    • Did Slack change their Channel Guest policy in the last week? I set up a new team, upgraded to paid account, but am now seeing this attached message, “You’ve reached your team limit for Single-Channel Guests” and when I click on learn more, it now says, “Single-Channel Guests are limited to 5 per paying team member”. So… they must have already squashed this. In other words, I can pay $16/yr per Single-Channel Guest if I add a team member ($80/yr) for each 5 guests I want to add to my channel. Pretty lame.

      • Mate Rauscher

        I don’t know about it Trent, for our #smallbiz channel I use to add everyone as a full member.

    • Hey Mate, everyone – the typeform hack is a great solution. However if seeing PHP code and OAuth tokens scares you give https://slackvite.com a try. It will do the automation for you

  • This article is missing some pretty crucial information. It sounds like you didn’t actually try and set one up yourself. If I have 5 paid team members, I can have up to 25 Single-Channel Guests. For every 5 after that, I have to add a new team member, whether I have more team members or not… so essentially it will cost me an extra $16/yr per guest if I want to treat this like a community and grow it. Not worth it unless I have a paid membership/community. Check out this Tweet convo from 2 months before your article was published here on Buffer – https://twitter.com/slackhq/status/479414282023477250

    • Hey there Trent! Thank you so much for your comment here — I’ve helped set up the Buffer community on Slack and have been learning so much through this process!

      I’d love to clarify a bit how we set up our community – it is separate from the team sort of Slack channel that we used as an internal team. It has its own URL and it requires a separate login from the team one. That said, I can view the communities I’m a part of on the side and easily toggle between the two.

      When we add folks to the Buffer community, I’m selecting them as full members – and those are the free/unlimited ones.

      I hope this helps a little – I’m still very new to this and so grateful for all the opportunities to grow in my knowledge here! 🙂

      • Hey I filled out the form and tried to get access to the Buffer group but it didnt take me anywhere do I need to be approved? Thanks and great job on everything at buffer!

  • Pat Sullivan

    How does everyone deal with the limits of only searching the last 10,000 chats and 5GB storage? Plus if “guests” were totally free there might be a useful mix of Full Access Member and Guests?

  • Laurent Carnaille

    Thanks for the article Aja!
    I love Slack, been using it with friends and within my company.

    I would love to create a Team for my community but for me there is a major issue: I am in several Slack communities with usually several hundreds of people, however very, very few discussions happens.

    In the end it is all about getting people engaged enough to participate on a regular basis while keeping the community small enough to make sure not only 15 people out of 400 are active.

    Any insight on this? Do you know some very active Slack communities that succeeded in keeping a smooth flow of high-quality content?

  • Hello Aja,

    thx for your very interesting post. I build a slack community around the paperless office. i work with typeform to (thx to levels.io) At first time it was free, later i decided to make it to a close community (like levels.io did to) now the community grows of course slower than when it were open.

    But its worth it, so we only get interested people with activity and not the “Stinginess is cool” one.

    I live in germany and the community has 80% german and 20% international people, that makes it very interesting but difficult for me in payment.

    here in germany credit cards are welcome but not very popular und typefrom only wors with stripe. i set up a system with gumroad.com

    What do you thinK, pls have a look:

    http://www.paperless-pioneers.com

    Thx for reading !

  • Ana Norris

    I had never heard of Slack, thanks for explaining it in detail and giving great tips to start a community, I’m intrigued and will plan to start one soon!… Thanks 🙂

  • Donato Perconti

    I created a new slack community for all things Finance. This includes everything from investment banking to fintech. Would love to have all of you join the conversation: http://www.hexwick.com/

  • Thomas Morgan

    We are trying one out for the commercial real estate #CRE community at https://thebrokerlist.slack.com/shared_invite/MzExMzgxMjAyMzEtMTQ1OTQ2ODYxNS1jNWUzZjVmOTM0

  • daphnes100

    If you are using Slack, this is really fun
    https://rocketgraph.com/reports/54-slack-stats

  • Seth

    Hi Aja,

    Excellent article on Slack!

    It’s now possible for Slack communities to create paid Slack groups and channels really easily with http://slackpass.io

    Here are some ideas for how people are planning to use “paid Slack channels”: http://www.ideahunt.io/coach/campaigns/what-are-some-uses-of-paid-slack-channels/brief

    Curious what everyone thinking about the concept. Feedback would be amazing 🙂

  • Jason Connley

    3 Website check list for 2016

    1. RESPONSIVE WEBSITE DESIGN
    We won’t go into this too much as we’ve posted about it a few times already. Basically, folks are designing a website to automatically size down to fit multiple devices like tablets and smart phones. The scalable layouts are always well designed for a great user experience. Additionally, Google has said they will stop ranking sites that are not mobile responsive. This means the upgrade to a responsive site is no longer voluntary, its mandatory.

    2. LONGER PAGES, BUT FEWER PAGES (a.k.a Infinity Scrolling) or “One Page Sites”
    With the proliferation of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, website users are getting used to scrolling down long pages of information. This use to be a big “no no” but hey times are changing. It seems like the scrolling long site has started to take the lead in modern look and functionality. The UX trend is to start crafting longer pages, but fewer pages. Yup, and even Google has shifted its search options to show endless amounts of information on just one page for its images and loads them as you scroll down the page.

    3. Webmasters VS Website coders/builders
    With the advancement of technology, it has become very easy to build and maintain a website. This is both awesome and deceiving at the same time. In this world of tech, it’s not if you can, its if you “know”. While the ability to free hand code is still vital, it is no longer the front runner to a functioning and successful website. However, a Webmaster with some coding skills, but more so the experience of running a website is the key to success now. You can pretty much find any solution you want already coded, all you need is a hall monitor so to speak. Keeping your website up to date on new codes and standards, as well as even helping with content. This is where a webmaster comes into play. Usually a webmaster will know how to keep your website up to date, help with content, and even handle your web marketing all for fractions of the price compared to a stick web coder. Don’t get us wrong, as you grow a web coder will be a necessity, however for small to midsize and local business, truthfully a skilled webmaster is all you need and will save you thousands of dollars.

    Moirai Marketing, providing unique advancements in web design, SEO, SEM, graphic
    and web management services. We at https://moiraimarketing.com can start helping you get a better return on your social media marketing activities. If you want more likes or need a more professional looking cover page, we can help. More followers and people who will respond to your post.

  • James Britt / Neurogami

    Is there a way to allow the general public to read Slack discussions, so that Web users do not have to join yet another private system in order to read content? Likewise, is there a way to let Google index the content to make it more easily findable?

  • If you want to automate the invite process, try https://slackvite.com. It removes the manual process of taking form submissions and running them through the Slack invite system.

  • Gilles Bertaux

    Hey Haja, that’s great post. Thanks!

    Actually it inspired us to write about real-time channels (live events, slack, 1:1 messaging…) and how they are changing how we do marketing.

    Cheers

  • Dmitry Yan

    Guys, please try this list of Slack chats for distribution – http://blog.reportchef.com/2016/08/23/the-ultimate-list-of-300-slack-communities
    It may be more helpful!

  • DanHuynh

    I’m curious if anyone has had issues with invitation limits while scaling their community? We have lots of people who want to join but can’t because Slack won’t let us send any new invites per their ‘acceptance rate’ rule. We’ve had 96 invites sent, 81 accepted, and 13 pending. This feels like a pretty fair amount of pending invites; not unreasonable. Any insights or workarounds for this would be greatly appreciated.

    “Slack may limit a team’s ability to send more invitations if a large number has been sent but very few have been accepted.”

  • Awesome application. We at http://writemyessaytoday.us are using it 24/7. It saved a lot of nerves and money for us!

  • You can use Community Inviter for free. They are giving you free plugin for your web site and free landing page. If you want more, you can ask some questions to your users.

    https://communityinviter.com/