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Slack: What makes this tool so successful for teams

In Silicon Valley, hypes are practically part of everyday life, but even here the rapid success of “Slack” from San Francisco caused a few jaws to drop. The startup has hit a nerve: It facilitates communication between teams and wants to retire several tools in the same breath. The feature set as well as a generally successful implementation make it up. It now also understands German. We present the surprise success.

We originally published this article in December 2014 and last updated it in March 2019.

introduction

How information exchange and communication are organized in a company has a major impact on its efficiency. It also influences the working atmosphere: Is it a burden or a pleasure to exchange ideas with colleagues, to coordinate projects and the next steps?

Often you will find a bunch of tools in offices that are needed for daily work. They each serve well for their specific purpose. But they usually don't work together, or only poorly. And then finding something again is a frustrating task.

The startup Slack from San Francisco tries to combine these tasks under one roof. Others have tried this before, some with notable success. But Slack made a lightning start.

For those who prefer to watch a video rather than read a text: In the following video from November 2016, I explain the three essential functions of Slack, explain the strengths and weaknesses of this tool and pass on some tips from my practice.

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Accidentally successful

Interestingly, Slack came about as a by-product. Stewart Butterfield is one of the people behind it and already has a surprisingly similar success story on his résumé: In 2002 he was actually working on an idea for a new type of computer game, which could not be financed. One side project became a surprise hit: the Flickr photo community. In 2011 Butterfield worked on his game idea again and this time it was even published - but it flopped. But again it was a side project that instead became a success: Slack.

Slack was created as a tool to simplify internal communication. The team originally used IRC. They supplemented this chat with automatically fed information, for example about development steps for the game. It soon proved so useful that they created their own platform for it. And finally the team realized: We never want to have to work anywhere without this tool again. So they set about developing it into a public version.

But what makes Slack so successful that the first companies are now listing it as an “employee bonus” in their job advertisements? How is it that users are introducing Slack into companies instead of companies having to enforce it with their employees?

Features of Slack

You can read about the marketing strategy behind Slack on Medium.com. The startup posted an internal memo there that was going around two weeks before the public testing phase.

On the one hand, Slack's idea seems familiar because there are of course several internal chat applications. But it does a lot more in everyday life and is so easy to use that it obviously makes the decisive difference for many.

A brief overview:

  • In Slack you can any number of "channels" set up that work like chat rooms. Who can take part can be determined.
  • In addition, one can directly communicate with individuals.
  • Everywhere you can Files upload and comment on them.
  • The search works well and is fast. This way, discussions or files can be found reliably.
  • Last but not least, you can Link a number of services with Slack. This way you can find what is happening elsewhere in Slack. This works, for example, with Dropbox, Trello or Twitter. The list of these "integrations" is very long and is constantly being expanded.

Ultimately, Slack can be reduced to the formula: Chat + integrations. But that's not all.As you can read in the Medium article linked above, the Slack team invests a lot of work in refining the user experience. They try to find all the rough edges and sand them down. They assume that the user in question has absolutely no interest in getting to know a new tool - after all, companies already have a set of services and tools as described above.

This effort is quickly noticeable. A friendly "Slackbot" helps, for example, in a chat dialog to set up your own account. That alone feels much more personable and easier than filling out a nasty form. And such examples can also be found in other places. The offer has built in many useful abbreviations. For example, 11 tips can be found in this article on Medium.com.

The rest of the success arguably remains a mystery. Not even Stewart Butterfield himself can explain in an interview with Fortune, for example, why Slack is so much better received than Atlassian's HipChat, even though both offerings have very similar functions.

In practice

I have been using Slack in different teams and situations since 2014. Usually these were distributed teams, because I now live in the USA, but my contacts are often in Germany.

Here at UPLOAD Magazin we use it with all three essential functions:

  • general chat rooms to chat about upcoming issues and other plans
  • Integrations with Twitter and Trello to keep everyone up to date
  • as well as personal exchange via direct messages instead of email.

On a larger scale, I've also seen it as a Community platform got to know whose members can live scattered all over the world. The WordPress hoster Raidboxes, for example, uses it in this form. I am also a member of the "Content + UX Slack Group".

During my work for clients, I also got to know Slack as a guest: If you pay for Slack (see below), you can invite people directly to individual channels. Slack can be used both for the internal team and for external employees.

The natural enemy of email

In general, it can be said that Slack not only dramatically reduces the number of e-mails at UPLOAD Magazine, but also elsewhere, can also make a messenger superfluous for internal communication, centralize activities in other cloud services in one place and also discussions Can be retrieved at any time - even if they are about documents that you have uploaded.

This combination of features combined with generally successful user guidance make the rapid success of Slack understandable.

Choose the right tariff

Of course, Slack wants to earn money and that should work according to the well-known, tried and tested “freemium” model: There is a free account that is easy to use and, for larger needs, there is a fee-based variant with additional functions. It currently looks like this:

  • Free account: The search works for the last 10,000 messages and you can connect up to ten external services. You have 5GB of storage space for files.
  • "Standard" account: The prices here currently start at 6.67 US dollars per month and user, if you decide to pay annually (= $ 80 / year). The search in the archive is unlimited here, as is the number of external services. As an additional feature, you get some statistics and can assign guest access. 10GB storage space is available per user.
  • "Plus" account: From US $ 12.50 per month and user, you can export the messages, for example, and a lot more.
  • An "Enterprise" account is the newest member of the family. "Enterprise Grid" primarily gives the admin the ability to set up several separate Slack instances ("workspaces"). This is useful, for example, so that departments have their own chat rooms and everything remains clear. However, users can still search company-wide and communicate with one another. Enterprise users now also have encryption in hand. 1TB of storage space per user is included. You have to ask for the price if you are interested.

With the free version you can do a lot and you will only reach your limits with time. Above all, the fact that older posts can no longer be found at some point can be noticeable - if you have many users who write a lot.

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Alternatives

Conclusion

In order to stay on the ground with all enthusiasm: Slack is certainly not a tool that turns the world off its hinges. Instead, it does a lot of things right, combining useful functions with good user guidance. At the end of 2016, they had a serious competitor in Microsoft's “Teams”. By buying Atlassians HipChat and Stride, they got themselves fit for the competition in 2018.

In any case, the topic of internal communication will be even more important than before in the coming years. Slack itself assumes that corporate emails will be obsolete in ten years. Personally, I can only welcome that. Email as a medium was never intended for all of the purposes for which we use it today and this is becoming more and more noticeable in everyday life.


This article belongs to: UPLOAD Magazine 17

Tools! Tools! Tools! This issue is all about the best tools and how they can make everyday life easier. It revolves around productivity, project management, team communication and a lot more.

Jan "jati" Tißler has over 20 years of professional experience as an online journalist and digital publicist. In 2006 he launched the UPLOAD magazine. Since 2015 he has been helping companies to inspire the right customers with content. Together with Falk Hedemann, he offers UPLOAD Publishing services along the entire content marketing process chain. Born in Hamburg, he lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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