July 25, 2016

What is Slack and How Do I Use It for My Team?


slack featured

Since the advent of the World Wide Web, the opportunity for collaboration has been one of its most touted features. Enter Slack!

Here at Small Business Trends, we’ve seen online collaboration apps come and go, but few have caught fire like Slack. The innovative “team communication” solution offers groundbreaking functionality that is just too useful to pass up.

So, if you’re asking yourself, “What is Slack and how do I use it for my team?” read on and we’ll give you the 411.

What is Slack?

At its heart, Slack is an instant messaging and collaboration system on steroids:

Slack

There’s a lot under the cover here however, so let’s start with a look at Slack’s base functionality.

Channels

Slack’s channels help you focus by enabling you to separate messages, discussions and notifications by purpose, department or topic:

Channels

Private Channels

If you need privacy, Slack provides that as well with invite-only channels:

Private Channels

Direct Messages

When you need to send a message to one person instead of a group, Slack provides traditional instant messaging functionality for you to do so:

Direct Messages

Share Your Files

Sharing documents is one of the basics of collaboration. Slack enables you to share all types of files, even those stored outside of the solution itself:

Share Your Files

Search

Slacks robust search functionality enables you to find key information quickly, even if it’s inside of a document you’ve shared:

Search

Notifications

Notifications can be a tricky feature: too many and you start ignoring them; too few and something might slip through the cracks. Slack enables you to fine-tune your notifications (by channel, keywords and more) so you can focus on your highest priorities.

Notifications

Preferences

Slack provides robust preference features at both the company and individual level. This enables your employees to make Slack their own while you control the overall use of the solution.

Preferences

Platforms

No matter where you go, Slack can come with you with their mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone (beta).

At your desk, Slack offers apps for Mac, Windows and Linux (beta).

Platforms

Price

You may be surprised to learn that Slack offers a “free to use forever” pricing tier. For small businesses, that may be all you need.

However, to truly make the most of the solution, they offer reasonable per-user pricing at both monthly and annual rates.

Integration

Integration is what takes Slack from a normal online instant messaging and collaboration system to a solution that enables you to centralize all your notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where your team can discuss and take action on each.

Slack offers three types of integration:

  • Pre-Built Integrations: At the time we’re writing this post, Slack offers built-in integrations with over 60 partner, many of which small businesses know and use every day. Here’s a small sample:

Integration Partners

  • If This Then That (IFTTT) and Zapier: You can use both IFTTT recipes and Zapier zaps to integrate Slack with many more systems and solutions. Currently, there are over 500 ways to extend your Slack integrations. We’ll discuss these further in a bit.
  • Build your own: Slack also enables you to build your own integrations. Here’s a list of their recommended ways to do so:

Integration - Build Your Own

While writing this post, we decided to give the pre-built integration with MailChimp a try. Configuring the integration and connecting Slack with MailChimp was a breeze:

MailChimp-Slack Integration Configuration

As you can see, we can receive notifications in Slack when:

  • Someone subscribes or unsubscribes from one or more lists of our choosing; and
  • When a campaign’s sending status changes.

Once the integration was setup, we subscribed and unsubscribed using our MailChimp form. Each time, we received a notification on our desktop:

MailChimp Alert

When we looked in Slack, our notifications were there waiting for us:

MailChimp Messages

Pretty slick, eh? And that barely scratches the surface of how you can use Slack for your team.

How Do I Use Slack for My Team?

As a simple instant messaging system, Slack has all the collaboration features you need in place. It’s when you throw in integration that things really get exciting. Imagine your:

  • Marketing team getting an alert in Slack when your company is mentioned on social media;
  • Support group receiving notifications when a Zendesk ticket is created;
  • Sales manager seeing every point-of-sale transaction made using Stripe; and
  • Staff kicking off a Zoom webmeeting directly from Slack when an impromptu face-to-face meeting is necessary.

And these don’t even take into account the amazing things you can do with IFTTT (449 “recipes”) and Zapier (64 “zaps”) such as:

  • A slack notification when your employees arrive at work;
  • Post news articles to slack based on keywords;
  • Notifications of updated DropBox files;
  • Letting everyone know when your daily web traffic exceeds a certain number of visitors; and
  • Automatic happy birthday messages.

Conclusion

At first glance, Slack appears to be yet another online instant messaging and collaboration solution. However, a closer look will reveal revolutionary innovation under the hood.

Integration is what catapults Slack into a category all its own. The solution enables you to centralize all your notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where your team can discuss and take action on each.

Now that’s collaboration for the 21st Century!

Images: Slack

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Matt Mansfield


Matt Mansfield Matt Mansfield is the Tech Editor at Small Business Trends where he is responsible for directing and writing many of the site’s product reviews, technology how-to’s and lists of small business resources.

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9 Reactions

  1. I like the feature. What I don’t like though is the per-user pricing. Which means that it can get more expensive as more people use it. That may not be so good for a growing company.

  2. Terrific write-up, Matt, especially with the screenshots to add context.

    TextStrong is similar to Slack, but for communication between businesses and customers. Since not every customer will download a new app just to talk to a business, TextStrong gives the business a standard SMS/MMS phone number *inside* of the TextStrong app.

    As far as the customer is concerned, she is texting a standard number. The business meanwhile gets rich app features such as virtual receptionist and important business controls for security.

    I won’t fill your comment with all the features but you can check it out yourself.

  3. Slack is a fantastic communication tool. It surely reduces the need for email and acts as a real-time collaboration platform. The channels are super flexible and allow for public or private communication strings focused on project specific or role specific chat. Meanwhile you can easily upload content like pdf or video. Big fan! It’s right along side 2.0 tools like Box and Docusign as must-haves for the growing company!

  4. Alex Yong

    Slack on Android is pretty wonderful. And if I were in a supervisory role I would use it to identify strengths in employees. And if I were an employee looking to showcase focused knowledge in an area I want to be known for, I’d take advantage of Slack

  5. Slack is good. Additionally, you may also have a look at other collaboration tools like webex, R-HUB web conferencing servers, gomeetnow, gotomeeting etc.

  6. Nice article Matt! Been using Slack for a while and absolutely love it because it integrates well with Jira, Google docs among other things.

    We wrote an article on how we use Slack in our office. Check it out and tell us what you think 🙂
    http://blog.datalicious.com/news/how-we-slack-at-datalicious/

  7. Richard Trevelyan

    I have three questions, Matt.
    1. If S integrates with MailChimp, doesnt that beg the question > do you need Mailchimp?

    2. If you still need an autoresponder service like MailChimp, will S integrate with GetResponse?

    3. do you have a link to video tuts on using Slack? I’ve got the app hooked up to my Gmail
    account, but to be perfectly honest I dont know how the hell to use it….!!! Atm, it just seems
    to get in my way….!!

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