If you want to build an online community, you’ve probably thought about running it on Slack. And there’s a good reason for that; many successful communities use the tool.
But, it isn’t perfect for communities. Slack was developed to enable workforce communication, not community management.
This means it lacks the specialized functionalities that community builders value. To access features like activity feeds, profiles, moderation, gamification, and advanced customization, you need a dedicated community solution.
This article will discuss whether you should use Slack for your community or if you’d be better off with an alternative.
Use Slack for community building?
Slack has a positive reputation among community builders. Here are some of the most compelling reasons why.
You can use it for free
The fact that you can create a community on Slack without paying a cent no doubt adds to its popularity.
The free version has all the basic community-building functionalities. For example, people love features such as channels, threads, and real-time messaging. Officially, there’s also no limit to the number of people that can join a group, even one created with a free plan.
This makes it perfect for community builders looking to experiment without risking any cash upfront. It’s easy to download Slack, start a workspace, and invite people.
People know how to use Slack
This is the other point that makes Slack appealing to community builders.
Slack is already a part of the daily workflow for professionals. They have it installed on their PCs and phones: joining a new community is often just a case of adding a new Slack workspace to their existing app.
There’s even a button within the sidebar that streamlines the process.
If members don’t already have Slack installed, the company makes signing up and creating an account super easy. All you need is an email address.
This removes a huge barrier that may otherwise stop people from joining the community.
|Other platforms offer these features|
|For example, with Tribe, you can create a community for free, just like with Slack. You can also enable social login or Single Sign-On to make it easy for people to join your community.|
Slack has useful community building features
Being free and easy to use wouldn’t be much use if Slack didn’t have the features you need to build a community.
Of course, that’s not the case: the tool has many features that community builders love.
- You can create Slack Channels to organize discussions around different topics in your Slack group.
- Conversations are organized into threads, making discussions easy to follow.
- You can send direct messages to communicate with other members.
When you combine these features with the above points, it’s easy to see why Slack is a popular community-building tool.
But, Slack isn’t ideal for all types of community
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.
The free plan is limited
The limitations of the free plan can be a major problem depending on how you plan to grow and use your community.
One of the biggest issues is that only your most recent 10,000 messages are searchable. This is a major issue as the discussions that take place in a community are one of its most valuable assets.
Every message that becomes unsearchable results in diminished value. Imagine you hosted an AMA with an expert in your industry: once you reach the limit, that content will no longer be searchable.
And while 10,000 messages may seem like a lot, you’ll use up this allowance rapidly as your community starts to grow.
|Why content is one of your community’s most valuable assets.|
Then there’s the fact that storage is limited to 5GB on the free plan. Again, this doesn’t sound too bad at first.
But you’ll soon use it up once your community starts to gain traction or if you want to share multimedia assets. PDFs, slide decks, images, webinar recordings, and more will all quickly eat up your allowance.
Other limitations of the free plan include:
- Being restricted to 10 integrations with other tools.
- No ability to communicate with people outside the community.
- No video conferencing.
The paid plan is expensive
You may reason that when you grow out of the free plan, you can simply upgrade to the paid ones. While this is true, large communities will find themselves with a huge monthly bill.
Slack charges $8 per user per month ($6.67 when billed annually) for its entry-level paid plan. This is an affordable price if you’re a company looking to connect your team members. When you spend thousands of dollars on an employee’s wages, tacking on an extra $8 is a tiny outlay.
But for community builders, it adds up to a huge expense.
I’m currently a member of two Slack communities, so I checked how many members each one has. I then used this to estimate how much it would cost the people running the community to use the paid version of Slack.
- The first community has 3,604 members. Upgrading to a paid plan would potentially cost the community owner $28,832—every month!
- The second community has 2,476 members, bringing its monthly cost to $19,808.
Even smaller communities can end up with hefty bills. A tight-knit community with 100 members will cost almost $10,000 per year to run on Slack.
This type of monthly bill is unreasonable for most community builders—leaving Slack’s pro features out of reach.
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.
Depending on which one you choose, these may let you:
- Host your community on your domain.
- Add your branding and logos.
- Add or remove features.
- Customize the design of the community.
The image below shows how you can make a community your own with a platform like Tribe. Check out the custom domain, logo, custom colors, and unique imagery.
All these features elevate your community from being just another Slack group to being a powerful platform in its own right.
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, and the thousands of successful subreddits on Reddit.
Some of the benefits of creating an open community include:
- It opens up community knowledge to anyone. People will come to view your group as a valuable asset.
- You can get the posts indexed on Google. This can result in significant web traffic.
- You can link to discussions to elevate blog posts, content marketing, or web pages.
- Brands can use open communities to offer self-help support to users.
Ultimately, being open increases the chance of people becoming aware of your space. This means you may grow your community far faster than you would otherwise.
You compete with other communities inside the Slack app
Once you’ve downloaded Slack, it’s easy to join new communities. This is a big plus point, but there is also a negative aspect: with so many workspaces and communities available in a single tool, you’re fighting with other groups for the user’s attention.
The problem is nowhere near as severe as it is if you decided to create a Facebook group, but it can be an issue nonetheless.
Other missing community features
Above we explored some of the main reasons to avoid Slack, but they aren’t the only ones. Slack is missing a host of dedicated community features.
This isn’t digging out Slack, it’s merely a side-effect of the fact that Slack is a workforce messaging app, not a community platform.
Missing features include:
No activity feed
This is my biggest frustration with Slack communities. There’s no centralized activity feed which means I’m left searching through all the different channels to find interesting content.
This is time-consuming and means I see a lot of content I don’t need and potentially miss discussions I do want to see. An activity feed that highlights important conversations users may be interested in is a much better solution.
Slack profiles are limited compared to what we are used to on social media. They display little more than your name, job role, and some basic contact information.
Only basic networking
Slack also lacks networking features like the ability to follow other community members. This makes it hard to keep up to date with what other people are doing on the platform.
No moderation tool
With Slack, it can be very difficult to moderate the community and keep it spam-free. There is no way to block posts based on keywords and empower the moderation team as well as community members to report content and peers.
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.
Other community tools enable this in a similar way to platforms like LinkedIn.
A community platform is often a better choice
Understandably, a community builder will want to start a community on Slack to test the idea and see the traction. When the community picks up momentum it is best to opt for a dedicated community platform. Do this and you’ll get access to specialized community building features.
For example, Tribe lets community managers build communities that include the features people love about Slack: things like spaces, commenting, and emoji reactions.
But we also offer advanced features like:
- Activity feeds: This shows content to users based on their actions, connections, and interests.
- Profiles and networking: Create detailed profiles that highlight user activity. Members can follow other members to stay up-to-date.
- Granular customization: Customize branding elements or even add your own CSS.
- Robust moderation: Moderators can take bulk actions, set up automation, edit content, and more.
- Analytics and reporting: Keep track of community growth and activity.
What’s more, the software is affordable. Tribe’s Plus plan supports up to 10,000 members and costs $49 per month with a yearly subscription.
Which one to choose: Slack or a community platform?
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.
And remember that a community platform is your best option if you want to create an open community or a community with both public and private spaces. Slack simply doesn’t allow open communities.