How Build a Highly-Engaged Community with Slack

Hey yenizens!

This breakdown / deep-dive is a long one, so, let’s just jump to it!

To infinity & community,

— john

Continuing in our breakdown series is a conversation and presentation by Jacob Peters, cofounder of Commsor, on how to build a “highly engaged” community via Slack, with Tom Osman of Makerpad!

As always, I extract the best tips, tactics, and practices from this hour+ long session in a bulleted, digestible format — enjoy!

Oh, and as Jacob mentions earlier in the program, many of these tips, tricks, and practices are equally applicable and usable for other platforms, not exclusively Slack!

Tip #1: That Profile Though

Members who fill out their profile within the first week are three times more likely to engage over the lifetime of their time in the community than those who do not. This “sets the tone” for the community and is something that should be encouraged.

Tip #2: Think Math (The Exponential Kind)

I love how Jacob attacks community building from a distinctly mathematical perspective, taking the example of twitter or a newsletter and how that fosters 1-to-1 connections (say for instance, 500 followers to your 1 account) while having a system like slack with 500 members which would allow many-to-many connections resulting in an exponential increase of opportunity.

This is not just simply clever thinking; it really does impact tool choice and how you build a community (and business using community).

Tip #3: It’s How You Use It

Jacob answers the question of whether Slack is the “right” tool for your community building needs by saying:

It’s not about the community tool; it’s how you use it.

Using a tool that is both familiar and that is currently part of a user’s existing workflow is a powerful driver for (ease) of adoption, use, and engagement — they don’t have to learn anything new.

Jacob posits another possibly-contentious perspective by stating that the natural limitations of Slack are offset by the “power of familiarity” of the tool itself and that’s why he still chooses Slack over purpose-built platforms.

By extension, this is also why we (still) have Facebook Groups and why FBGs are still very much a part of the community building landscape. And that landscape is fast-growing:

Yikes. But, it’s how you use it and Jacob continues to remind the audience how critical he believes it to be for community builders to “match the rhythm / cadence” of your audience so that they can engage without friction.

There’s just not a “one size fits all” solution out there; it’s vastly better to execute well with an existing tool than attempt to find the perfect one.

And you don’t need the “newest” and “coolest” technology either! As long as there’s solid connections, old forum (software) communities will continue to grow and thrive:

There’s a lot of wisdom there.

Tip #4: Take the Long View, Slack as a Foundation

Jacob lays it out concisely when he states that upon the decision to move forward with Slack, you should consider a 2-3 year view, using it as a great place to build a strong foundation, but not a “be all, end all” solution.

He shares the example of the Product Marketing Alliance community that started on Slack with just a handful of members and then 18-months later is sporting a “full stack community” with courses, education, podcasts, events, and much, much more:

What I love is how quickly a small implementation of Slack could become a fully-scaled business — with no obvious ceiling in sight! The raw potential of taking a small community to $million dollar revenue business is not fantasy nor fiction; it’s scary-real.

Tip #5: The Power of Content Curation (to Attract New Members for a New Community)

A question via the live audience asked what tactics Jacob has seen to be proven successful for attracting new community members to a community and he states one of his go-tos plainly:

Growth is certainly one of the most challenging things — it’s not enough to have a shared reason for people to gather, you have to be proactive about the ways in which you promote these things.

One of the best strategies that I’ve seen work well, especially when building a community around a niche topic or industry, is to start with your audience and become a content curator.

There is so much content and noise out there — you can create value by curating content and slicing through the noise.

Jacob did this for Commsor as well, his current startup, and built a newsletter that curated the content around the space and then invited subscribers to join a many-to-many experience, which ended up being Slack:

Note: I am a member of The Community Club and give it 👍🏻👍🏻.

Tip #6: Keeping a Well-Run Slack is a Good Slack

Jacob gives four tips:

  • Lock Slack app installs, @channel, @here, invitation and ability to create channels to admin only
  • Channel default #general to #announcements and lock posting permissions
  • Hide user email addresses on public Slack profiles
  • Name channels carefully, set clear topics/descriptions, and don’t create too many!

Tip #7: Onboarding Matters

Jacob shares a few useful tips using bots (Greetbot) as well as a custom Zapier integration that can help onboard new members quickly that can create custom “Welcome Notices” and more.

Now, community leaders can create a direct connection with new members auto-magically using Slack’s Workflow Builder.

Rounding out the advice is something as simple as a personalized “Welcome Video” using a tool like Loom:

As well as a quick-tip on making sure folks get connected to the community via their mobile device (mobile app) as well as desktop app (Windows / macOS), a far better way than just via the web.

Tip #8: How to Start Engagement

One of the best ways to lay the foundation for quality engagement is creating “starter threads” or conversations in Slack:

At a meta-level, making sure to never forget that you should use techniques that maximize many-to-many connections which also helps scale the community team:

Creating a system for moderators of certain channels / volunteer community leaders is also a worthwhile consideration. Building a separate channel, for instance, for them to communicate, share the issues that the community is facing, and provide a safe place for support is vital.

Tip #9: Keeping the Engagement Alive

One of the best ways to keep engagement high is by creating a content schedule, using a simple spreadsheet or a tool like AirTable. This has the added benefit of creating community “traditions” that can help strengthen a new and younger community.

And, as Jacob mentions, they can be as simple (like above) or as complex as you want and/or need them to be:

Tip #10: Weekly Summaries

Something as simple as a “Weekly Summary” of what happened and what the community might be looking forward to in the coming future is easy using Slack’s native “notes”:

There are a few bots that can help do this but Jacob suggests manually curating them in the beginning (with advanced workflows possible as well).

Tip #11: Customize the Look-and-Feel

You can easily change the look to be on-brand or as funky as you’d like through Slack’s built-in settings:

Spending a little time on this can make the community feel a bit more personal and homey.

Tips Galore: The Home Stretch

Jacob shares a few great tips as he rounds out his time on the Makerpad interview, fielding live member questions:

  1. How to get around Slack’s history (10k posts) limitation? Use a free Notion document to capture the best conversations every week to create a searchable database.
  2. Slack Apps that you love? Zapier is one of Jacob’s favorites.
  3. How to map the journey of a user? Start with a simple diagram of how you want the user to experience your product, service, and community. You don’t have to use expensive tools.
  4. Jacob highlights the importance of a convincing and nicely-designed landing page for the community that clearly states intent and value.

Oh, and don’t forget:

Have a good one folks.