Slack has been hugely successful as a messaging platform for teams. And it has been used to run online communities - mostly professional or semi-professional. However, Slack was never designed for online communities and suffers from a number of drawbacks as a result.

Slack themselves don't advocate Slack as a community tool

Slack describe themselves 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.

How Slack describes themselves on their hompage

Slack is a workflow communications platform not a community platform which means...

Slack's pricing model punishes 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 £6 per active user per month (around £70 per year per team member).

There is a free version of Slack which 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 £7,000 a year for Slack. 100 people is a big team but a small 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 realise 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.

Slack's features aren't optimised for communities

Because Slack wasn't designed for running online communities there are many areas where it is lacking for professional community management. For example:

  • Users' profile information is limited - this matters less when you are in a group with team members you already know but is a problem when you are trying to build a community with people who may not already know one another.  LinkedIn, for example, has much richer profiles for professionals.
  • It is not clear who is in charge - it is usually important for communities to have some kind of leader, manager, or host, who is the 'face' of the community and who community members can turn to with questions etc.  Slack does provide a lot of admin features and controls but can feel quite impersonal and there is no sense of a community 'host' or community manager.
  • Limited branding - many communities have a strong sense of identity that may be conveyed graphically. Slack is a business productivity tool that is less concerned with providing customisable branding beyond colour schemes.
  • Too much freedom and complexity - Slack provides all sorts of abilities for team members to create new channels, integrate with other apps, start threads, create DM groups etc. This freedom can become chaos, noise and overwhelming complexity in a community. Communities, and community managers, often want to restrict what community members can do to maintain quality and avoid too much complexity and loss of focus.

Conclusion

Slack is a great tool for team workflow comms - if used correctly. There are examples of successful professional communities running on Slack although many of them, because they are often quite open, have become too noisy to be valuable.

As Slack is particularly popular with tech startups the best Slack communities tend to be small, invite-only, and focused around tech and/or entrepreneurial themes. If kept small these communities may never need to pay and might not mind the limitations of the free version of Slack.

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