The barrier to entry is incredibly low for setting up a Slack community.
For starters, you can manage a thriving community with thousands of members on the free plan. Both the desktop and mobile applications are convenient and easy to use. And many people already use it as part of their day jobs, meaning they’re already familiar with Slack.
But Slack wasn’t built for managing communities. In its own words, Slack is a messaging app for businesses.
That hasn’t stopped thousands of community builders from using Slack as their platform of choice.
Slack’s features are designed to connect teams in the workplace, but with a solid community strategy and a little creativity, you can build, manage, and nurture a successful community on Slack.
Conversations on Slack live in channels, and there’s no limit to how many channels you can create. That doesn’t mean you should go overboard — having a focused channel list will make it easier for you to manage and stay on top of conversations, and it'll be clearer how members can and should participate.
To prevent channel creep, start with a few core channels that are directly relevant to your community's purpose and topics you want to encourage people to discuss. If there are behaviors you want members to exhibit, create channels that will facilitate that. Want people to ask questions? Create a channel for that with general posting guidelines. Want to cater to a specific sub-group of members and ensure there's a space for pointed conversations? Create a dedicated channel for that.
It may be helpful to build personas to understand who your members are and what channels might make sense to start your community off with.
There are a few basic channels you can plan on launching your Slack community with.
Welcome or Introduction: There are different philosophies on whether this channel is necessary, but it can help lighten the burden on members for that initial step towards participation. It’s easy to say “hi” and share a few details about yourself, perhaps not as easy to immediately dive in and answer people's questions.
General: Unless you have specific reasons against it, a channel for general chatter can be helpful. Some people may not feel like they have enough to contribute to more specific channels, but they may be comfortable engaging in a more casual manner.
Announcements: An announcements channel will help keep members informed of important happenings in your community — new programs or events, changes to the community, reminders about rules, etc. Be selective about what you post here so members know that, if you’ve shared an announcement, it’s worthy of their attention.
When naming your channels, be as clear as possible about what the channel’s purpose is, and use the channel’s topic or description fields to give members more context where necessary. If there are specific guidelines for a channel, such as what types of promotion are or aren’t allowed, create a post with these guidelines and pin it so that everyone can easily access it. If you have a free Slack plan, members won’t be able to navigate to a pinned post from the information toolbar if it’s older than the 10,000 message limit, but they’ll still be able to read the guidelines from the toolbar itself.
Private channels can be a great way to accommodate multiple personas within one Slack community space, as well as a way for people to feel safer in having certain conversations. In our own community, The Community Club, we have private channels dedicated to our customers, people taking part in our various programs, accountability groups, and certain subsets of our members who requested a private (but moderated) space and made a good case for it.
It's always good to take stock of what channels you have and how active they are. Channel creep is real, especially if you let members create their own channels. At some point you may also want to change your overall community strategy, which may mean you need to add or remove channels.
Before adding or removing any channels, it's good to get a pulse check from your members. You can do qualitative research and ask people 1-on-1 or en masse how they feel about it, or you can do quantitative research via a survey or poll. Even if you know for a fact that you're going to make the change and people's response won't impact your decision, it's good to have that knowledge in your back pocket for how you approach the announcement and any additional communication about it.
When you invite new members in, your welcome message should do more than say hello from the Community Manager (CM). A well-crafted welcome message should be informative (but not overwhelming) and help them understand:
If your community is large and you’re constantly onboarding new members, you can automate your welcome message. Set it up so that it comes from a real person and not a bot! You can have the automated message tied to your CM’s Slack account, so there's an immediate way to get in touch with a real person. Your CM can even send a more personalized message to new members as a follow-up.
It’s possible your community is one of many groups or workspaces your members are signed into on Slack. The quality of conversations, relationships, and content are the core reasons why members will keep coming back — but it doesn’t hurt to make it a fun experience and stand out from the crowd along the way.
Make it easy for members to spot your community logo in Slack’s sidebar with branding that’s consistent with your community website, social media, email newsletter. If you’re hosting a conference, running a campaign, or sending out a survey, you can temporarily change your icon to promote these activities and start some buzz in the discussions as well!
Emoji reactions to posts are a quick way for members to engage, and you can customize your community’s emojis to make the Slack workspace feel more personal. In The Community Club Slack group, the custom emojis of our logo and the Commsor dinosaur mascot get a lot of love on our announcement and event posts.
Pro tip: Your CM and other teammates can also add a custom emoji next to their name so people can easily identify that they belong to your organization. Slack doesn’t let users add emojis to their name in the profile, and an easy workaround is to set it as your status, with no accompanying status text.
You can personalize a workspace’s default status messages, and it’s the perfect place to infuse your personality in place of Slack’s default options. Find the perfect emoji (or upload one!) and change the options to activities relevant to your community.
In an ideal world, your community would be a safe space for all your members without any help or intervention from you. This might be something you aspire toward, but every community needs basic measures in place so that, if there are incidents that make members uncomfortable, you have a plan in place for how to address them.
The first step to setting up an inclusive community is setting up moderation efforts. It’s easy for your CM to be on top of things in a small community. But you need more systems in place for them to moderate a community of thousands of members having consistent, active conversations on a platform that can be as busy as Slack.
A solid set of rules, guidelines, or a Code of Conduct: This should be one of the first things you do when setting up your Slack community, but it doesn’t end there. Make sure your members are aware of these guidelines and have easy access to them — link to them on your community’s signup page, your welcome message, and in a pinned post in your general channel.
A way to empower members to lend a hand: You can do this ‘officially’ or unofficially — elevate members to have moderation permissions and compensate them for it, or rely on people to help out of the goodness of their hearts by reporting things and giving them special recognition for their contribution.
Things will always slip through the cracks, and it's not the end of the world. Give periodic reminders of the rules of the road for anyone who has forgotten, is new, or didn't take the time to read your onboarding message.
You may want to screen members for a variety of reasons and, if possible, I recommend trying to do at least a minimal understanding of who you're accepting into your community. By screening, you reduce the risk of spam or bad actors getting through the door and help maintain the safety that members come to know and rely on.
You could take the labor-intensive approach and require actual interviews with people before bringing them into your community (which works for many communities, but is time-consuming), or something less hands-on like an application form that gives you an overview of who the person is before you approve their application.
Your community needs to make all your members feel welcome and valued. The synchronous nature of Slack can make this difficult to do if your community boasts members from all over the world.
One way you can keep people involved despite their time zone is to tag them into conversations. If you know that someone has a great answer to a question but might miss it by the time they sign on the next day, tag them to ensure they can get involved. This works better in smaller communities, but it can still be helpful in communities with tens or hundreds of thousands of members.
Another way to include members outside of your core time zone is to host Slack-based events during hours that are more convenient for them. If your CM or another member of your team can’t facilitate the event, empower one of your members to do it instead.
It’s tempting to jump into every conversation or want your members to be active and engaged all the time. Trying to force engagement is counter-productive — take a step back and remember that building a community is nurturing relationships over time and not an agenda that you need to push at every step.
Make space for other members to respond to a question or comment first and, if they don't receive a response after a reasonable time, hop in and either answer or tag in someone who could answer best.
People will follow your lead, so try to exhibit behaviors you want them to copy. Use emoji reactions to comments, tag in relevant people, post in the appropriate channel, and ask questions to prompt conversation.
There's a reason why your stomach likely drops any time you're about to hit that ‘send’ button when you're alerting the entire community to something — you don't want to bother people or make room for problems to come out of the woodwork.
There's a time and a place for an @channel or @here, and it's once or twice a month unless there are extenuating circumstances. If it's something that applies to everyone in your community, feel free to use it. If it only applies to a small sub-section of your members, perhaps consider an @-free message in your announcements channel instead.