The pros and cons of Slack for communities

Slack logoThese days, it’s rare to hear anything but awe when community managers talk about Slack. The common consensus seems to be that Slack is the perfect community platform. This overexcitement worries me because a) it’s not and b) different communities require different types of platforms.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Slack. I think it’s a fantastic tool for company communication (especially for companies with more than one office) and it can be a good tool for community. Let’s explore the pros and cons without the rose-colored glasses on.

Pros

Synchronous Activity Drives Engagement

Usually the biggest health metric community professionals are looking at is engagement: how much are members interacting with each other? And when you put people in a space at the exact same time, engagement increases. This is the reason meetups and conferences are such powerful experiences and why it can be harder to drive engagement on asynchronous forums. The #1 reason most community professionals like Slack for community is the live chat drives significant engagement.

Many People Know How to Use It

Any time you introduce people to a community, you have to deal with the learning curve for the platform. This is why so many communities are built in Facebook Groups, despite even more significant drawbacks; everyone knows how to use Facebook. The same is quickly becoming true of Slack. Many organizations use Slack, so for many, a Slack community doesn’t involve any learning curve.

The Opportunities for Onboarding are Excellent

Getting new community members to add a profile photo, introduce themselves, or read the community guidelines can be hard. Very few people look at intro threads or sidebar guidelines. Even an email onboarding campaign has to compete with all the other emails in your inbox. Slack, on the other hand, has demonstrated how live chat bots can drastically improve onboarding uptake. This is a huge boon for community professionals.

Cons

Synchronicity Leaves Out Some Populations

If you have an international community, putting them on Slack immediately decreases the likelihood that people from different time zones will interact, because Slack is all about in the moment.

FOMO Can Drive Disengagement

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is often a strong tool for communities. You log in to see what happened while you were gone and add your contributions. But because Slack rewards being active in the moment, it favors those who have the time, attention, and professional setting where they can sit on Slack all day. And because the synchronicity drives significant engagement, returning to “check in” once a day can be overwhelming. In order to create a truly engaged community, you need to create a shared experience. I’ve disengaged from several very interesting Slack groups simply because I can’t be on them very often and returning to catch up is an unpleasant task that doesn’t make me feel part of the group.

Lack of Scannability

On top of that, it’s much harder to scan a train-of-thought Slack discussion than it is to scan a list of distinct topics in a forum. (The new threaded replies may help some, but don’t solve the problem entirely.)  This also makes it hard to point others to useful discussions at a later time.

No SEO

For many companies, the search engine optimization benefits of their community are huge, driving new membership, deflecting potential support tickets, and even converting customers. Slack conversations don’t show up in search engine results.

Separate From Your Site

Whether for branding purposes, consistency, or simple navigation, it can be beneficial to have your community embedded into your site. Slack is a separate space.


 

Again, this is not a hit piece on Slack. Slack is a fantastic tool and can be great for some communities. But it’s dangerous for us to talk about the pros of any platform without discussing the cons. Choosing a community platform is about making the right choice for your community and company.

So, if you don’t need SEO benefits, have a relatively small group of people who are at a computer all day, able to chat, and in the same time zone, Slack could be perfect for you. If you have an international audience that can only check in online occasionally and your business needs relevant conversations to show up in search results and be easily retrievable, Slack’s probably not the right choice. Write down your must-haves and see where Slack and the many other platforms out there fit.

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