Why building a community is more than starting a Slack channel
If you want to build an online community, you’ve probably thought about running it on Slack. But, it isn’t perfect for communities.
But why isn’t it perfect?
Yeah. So slack as a community-building platform. We think the very way you started the conversation where you said we've all been part of slack communities, we've used it for work.
The word work is a very key aspect of slack's persona. So slack, when it went public, their ticker. So the name that you have yeah. The one that's listed is itself W-O-R-K which stands for work.
Slack themselves don't advocate Slack as a community tool
Slack describe itself in various ways... the 'email killer', the 'place work happens', 'collaboration software' etc. They are very much focused on teams who are working on projects together. Those teams can be internal but may well be distributed or remote.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield confirmed recently (in a Stratechery interview with Ben Thompson) that Slack is not focused on it being a general community product: "Slack is specifically designed for some group of people who are aligned around the accomplishment of some goal... It's a lousy social network... a lousy replacement for a bulletin board or discussion."Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack
Slack is a workflow communications platform not a community platform which means...
Slack shouldn’t be the only tool you consider when choosing a platform for your own community.
The fact that Slack wasn’t built with communities in mind means it falls short in several ways. This can be especially problematic if you want advanced community features.
Here are some of the shortcomings you should consider before deciding to use Slack.
🤯 Slack's pricing model penalizes successful communities
Slack is designed for teams collaborating on projects. These teams tend to be small - even if there are lots of teams - and as this is business software it is reasonable for Slack to charge around $8 per active user per month starter paid plan (around $96 per year per team member) / $6.67 when billed annually.
There is a free version of Slack that allows unlimited users. So you could create quite a large community on Slack. However, the free version is limited to 10k of the most recent messages and 5GB of file storage, which means a vibrant community quite quickly hits the limits and either has to pay or accept limitations like not being able to post further documents or not being able to search valuable archive content from the community.
If you had quite a small community of, say, 100 members and needed to move to the paid version of Slack then you will need to spend around $9600 a year for Slack. 100 people is a big team but a small community.
This type of monthly bill is unreasonable for most community builders—leaving Slack’s pro features out of reach.
It is worth noting that Pensil costs around $45/ month to start a simple community with the bare essentials & unlimited members where you are not charged per user joining the community.
It is worth noting that you cannot export messages from Slack unless you are on the paid version. So if you start on the free version and then realize you cannot afford to move to the paid version and want to change to another platform... you won't be able to take your valuable archive of messages with you.
Onboarding your members is one of the first things you need to consider when building a community. Every community offers different value. Similarly, members expect different things from different communities. At the same time, it is also important to customize onboarding based on the member's needs.
For example, in a Coder community, Member A wants some of their tech-related questions to be answered while Member B is looking for Brand referrals.
If Member A sees content related to referrals, and Member B sees content related to answering tech questions; will this be considered a good experience?
Proper member onboarding allows new users to select their interests and sort their feed accordingly so that they get exactly what they want. This is the first thing that makes new members feel welcome and helps them integrate into a community.
With Slack, you cannot give your new members the proper onboarding training that they need, as the process is generic for every new user.
Pensil offers a few ways to customize how members get introduced to your community. These are personal touches where you can add your brand voice, and inspire them to get engaged!
Slack is simply software that people need to download and install. Then they can simply be invited to be a part of your workspace — Slack's version of a community.
On the other hand, Slack is primarily used for work-related interactions. The chances of them switching to your community’s workspace and interacting with it are low. This eventually turns into a pain point that needs to be addressed.
Also, Slack workspaces are never yours. Your brand identity is never displayed. Slack follows a standard theme that can be changed by users to a certain extent, but the company’s branding and theming are completely missed. This also has the drawback of leaving your user clueless about which workspace they are on.
Pensil White label Mobile App comes with a bunch of functionality - essentially everything you will need to build, run and engage your community**.** Build your community using our white-labeled DIY platform.
🖼You can’t customize your community
Another issue with Slack is that there is no way to make the community your own.
Each Slack community looks the same, lives within the Slack app, and is covered with the Slack branding.
Yes, you can add integrations and automation. But it’s impossible to make your brand stand out or customize the layout of the community to fit your needs.
Compare that to dedicated community platforms.
Easily add your own brand colors, use a custom domain, and integrate directly with your website or product. Pensil is customizable, flexible, and beautiful.
🎞There’s no way to create an open community
Members access Slack communities via the desktop, mobile, or browser app. Each group is only available to people who know about the community and receive an invite.
This is fine for closed communities, or if you have a large email list of people you want to invite. But it’s not suitable when you want to grow an open space for people to meet up.
There are many reasons why you might want to do this. Some of the most successful communities are open. Think about GitHub, IndieHackers, Figma, Etsy and the thousands of successful subreddits on Reddit.
🤴Slack admins can see your members' direct messages
On the paid versions of Slack, admins with the relevant permission are able to export not just group conversation data but also private channel conversations and 1-1 direct messages. It is worth considering whether your community members will feel comfortable that others can see their private messages.
Engagement cannot be driven in a typical Slack workspace. Members participate because they need to, and not much else. That is a drawback of using a work-oriented chat app to run communities.
There is not much motivation for members to be active on a Slack workspace. Dead channels are a common sight when there is no specific work to get done.
On the other hand, community platform providers have features like seed members where managers or leaders can post content to boost activity. You can also make use of gamification features to drive the initial engagement and retention of the members.
Slack does not have such features, making it hard to drive initial engagement and even harder to moderate or control or even organise the conversations.
🎳Lack of gamification
Hard to create an effective system to reward community members for their contributions. For example, unique badges and reputation scores are some of the tried and tested ways to promote healthy competition.
🚞Search Engine Optimization
There will be no organic traffic for your company from search engines like Google and Bing, as Slack Workspaces are not indexed on search engines.
This is due to the type of content on Slack. The content on Slack Workspaces are regarded as private chats, not conversations.
That's why If SEO and traffic are your priorities in a community, count Slack Workspace out of it. Rather plenty of community platforms have features created to boost performance on search engine rankings.
If you are concerned about how your community is performing in search engine results (SEO), there are a number of questions to keep in mind when looking to optimize your community software of choice.
Pensil helps you in SEO by giving the option to customize post SEO & open graph details, other elements, such as metadata or sitemaps, while important, are not nearly as important as the content's relevance.
🛺Separate login is needed for each 'workspace'
You need to create a different email/password login for each workspace (the equivalent to a group or community on Slack) which makes it more difficult to navigate between communities if you ever log out. With community platforms like Pensil, the individual has the same login and profile across all their groups. Slack is built for teams within a company so it makes sense to have a login per company.
🕊Moderation features are very limited
Slack isn't designed with community moderation features even the most basic things like allowing admins to delete messages which violate community guidelines etc. You also can't mute or block others users on Slack which could be a big problem, including dealing with harassment
As your community grows, you'll want others to help with administration and moderation: virtual assistants, teacher mentors, volunteer moderators, chapter leaders, group leaders, and more.
We've got you covered! You can now scale your community with ease by assigning moderators to spaces and space groups.
📩Limited email notifications
Slack is designed for co-workers who are 'in Slack' most of the day. So email notifications aren't that important. However, even big platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter rely on email to get their users back and to notice that there are new direct or group messages. You will need email to help encourage your community members to (re)engage. Slack doesn't send email notifications for all messages and replies to threads aren't sent by email either (only mobile notifications).
Slack’s notifications have been the talk of the town for years. Back in 2016, they suddenly became a big problem, which received wide publicity with so-called ‘Slacklash’ trend. It all started with “Slack, I’m breaking up with you” article.
At Pensil we know that spamming your community members is not funny and hence we have added member preference which allows them to choose just when and how to get notified about activity within Pensil communities was a little tedious.
✈️Can't migrate your community or data so you're locked in
Unless you pay for Slack you can't access or migrate any of the data in your community. So if you build your community on Slack and then realise you want to migrate it elsewhere you'll need to pay to do so and that could be very expensive - essentially you're stuck. eping up:
A community is about getting the right people to the right place — where they all share a mutual sense of belonging. To achieve this, you will need to invite a large number of people.
In Slack, to invite people, the invite has to be sent manually to every single person which consumes a lot of time and effort. This is where Bulk Invite allows you to invite multiple people together in a single go. While it may sound like a very simple thing, bulk invite ends up saving you a lot of time and acquisition costs.
Sending bulk invites in Pensil as easy as 1 2 3
Ultimately you can build a successful community with both Slack and a dedicated community platform.
You just need to ensure that the platform you choose is optimized for the type of community you want to build.
🤷Slack can work if you want to build a small, closed community. You should be content with the fact that the discussions that happen within the community will not be exposed to search engines and third-party sites. Also, you should be fine with the prominent Slack branding. Finally, you must be prepared to manage the community without features around moderation, gamification, badges, omnichannel notifications, and analytics.
👉 Choose a community platform if you have more advanced needs. You get to access everything you need to grow your community and provide value to members. Plus you’ll have more control over the look and feel of your community, as well as where you host it.
In short, building a community is hard, but building it on Slack is even harder. Slack was never intended to be used as a tool for communities— it was built as a ‘Workspace’. That's why if you are looking to run a genuine brand community — one that includes, customers, employees or even vendors as members, it is better to go opt for a community platform that can cater to your needs.
What’s more, the software is affordable. Pensil’s Grow plan supports Unlimited members and costs $85 per month as compared to slack
See for yourself how the Pensil Community Platform is different to Discord, Slack,Discourse or Facebook Groups.
Join us on a platform that is purpose-built for creating groups, communities, and networks on mobile.
Contact us if you want to know more or have any questions.
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