This post was updated in November 2020.
Think about how you spend your day online. It’s not all checking email and consuming content. Increasingly, a lot of us spend our time interacting with other people in online communities on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Slack. And now, with the pandemic and the remote workplace, online communities have become increasingly important.
For marketers, that presents an opportunity. You can tap into the growing trend of online communities by building one of your own. Online professional communities give you a direct line to your target audience, present new learning resources, and provide opportunities to connect with contacts in your space.
Once you’re in the planning stages of building an online community, one of the first questions you need to answer is what channel to use. One option that continues to grow in popularity is Slack.
5 Benefits of Building Your Online Community on Slack
Slack isn’t the best choice for every online community, but it offers a few key benefits that could make it the best option for yours.
Slack currently has 10 million active daily users. That means there’s a decent chance the people you want in your community are already using it. A lot of the people you want to reach likely have the app downloaded and understand the channel’s interface and features.
2. Free (to start)
Slack’s free version offers all of the features you need to build a community. And the free version puts no limit on the number of members you can have.
3. Organization options
Slack lets you organize your larger community into sub-groups using channels. That makes it easy for people to just follow the conversations relevant to them.
If you want to create a private online community, such as one that’s exclusively for current customers, Slack provides that option. It also lets you create private channels within your community, and members can send private direct messages as well.
5. Video calls
While most of the conversations in Slack happen via text (and emojis), the platform also supports video calls for when you want to actually see the online friends you’ve made. But the free version only supports video calls between two members; for group calls you have to upgrade.
3 Limitations of Building Your Online Community on Slack
Slack does have some limitations you need to be aware of before choosing it.
While the free version is pretty powerful, if you decide you actually need the features in the paid version, the cost is high. Slack charges a minimum of $6.67 per user per month to tap into features like unlimited searchable messages and group voice calls. That can add up to a lot, especially if your community experiences growth after you launch.
Slack doesn’t make it easy for people to discover your community on their own. Where sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn offer search functions for people looking for groups and chats, Slack doesn’t. If growth is more important to you than privacy, Slack isn’t your best bet.
3. Learning curve
While Slack has a large user base, it hasn’t yet reached everybody. For anyone not already familiar with it, it takes some time to learn and get used to. And for someone who doesn’t already have it downloaded, they may be resistant to adding another app or channel to their daily internet habit.
6 Steps to Get Started
If you’ve decided Slack sounds just right for your needs, here’s how to get started.
1. Clarify your goals.
No matter where you build your online community, this is an important first step. Even if you use the free version of Slack, building a community requires a big investment in time. Clarify what you want to get out of it, and how you’ll measure success.
2. Learn what communities already exist.
If you’re building a community specifically for your customers, you won’t need to worry about replicating something that’s already out there. But if you aim to build an online community for members of your industry, you want to provide something unique.
If there are already a bunch of online communities doing the exact same thing you’re trying to do—and especially if there are already Slack communities doing it—yours is unlikely to gain any traction. Do your research to make sure the community you build adds something new of value to your intended audience.
3. Decide your level of investment.
If your aims for the community are ambitious and you expect to to be worth a lot to your brand, your investment should match that. Consider if you’re prepared to dish out for the paid version of Slack, or if you’ll want to keep costs down by sticking with the free. Determine how much time you want employees to devote to working on the community, promoting it, and participating in it. Do you want to hire a committed community manager or moderators? If not, who will take on those roles and how much time do they have available?
4. Develop guidelines.
The more a community grows, the more likely you are to hit up against issues like conflicts between members or people adding irrelevant posts. You’ll be better equipped to handle those problems when they arise if you create clearly defined community guidelines from day one.
5. Set up your initial channels.
Setting up your Slack community is fairly simple. Just go to Slack.com/create and follow the step-by-step instructions. Once the basic community is in place, it’s time to set up your first channels. Think about the topic areas your community is most likely to be interested in, and any that may be especially important or relevant to the business goals you defined in step one.
Expect your channel list to grow as community members start participating and weighing in on what they want to see. Consider including rules in your guidelines about how suggesting and adding channels will work.
6. Invite your first members and start promoting.
If you’re creating an exclusive community, such as one for customers only, once your basic structure is in place, send out invitations to just the people you’d like to join.
If you’re hoping to grow a broader community, craft a promotion strategy to attract new members. Share it with your email list, across your social profiles, and in any relevant other groups you’re in. It may take some time to gain your first base of members, but as more people join and find value, it will continue to grow.
Online Community is Valuable
Don’t expect building and maintaining a community to be easy. It will require time and you’ll inevitably hit up against challenges you didn’t anticipate. But the value of building an online community can make it well worth the work that goes into it.
This is the first article in a series of community building online. Be sure to check out The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Using Facebook Groups for Community Building and Hashtag Community: Why Start a Twitter Chat.