In offices around the world, Slack is where employees organize their workflow, update their teams, share documents, and even banter with emojis and memes. It has the instant, easy-to-use quality of texting, with the professionalism and ability to share documents that previously dominated email. It’s easy to customize, with the ability to allow notifications for certain channels, and get someone’s attention by tagging them in a message. The platform is highly organized, allowing the user to create channels for different conversations that can easily be moved to direct messaging for privacy, and past conversations are searchable.
The company’s mission to “... make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant, more productive,” has heavily influenced office communications all over the world, with the app being integrated into millions of businesses across a wide range of industries.
In this guide, we explore the ins and outs of Slack, its advantages and its inherent risks in a world of increasingly regular big data breaches. We also hear from the office managers of a few notable companies about their experiences with Slack and how they use it to manage their teams and projects.
Slack, a Silicon Valley success story and multi-billion dollar messaging app that has infiltrated offices around the world, all started with a failed video game.
In 2012, Tiny Speck and Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Flickr, threw in the towel on his multi-year mission to create the next big multiplayer online game called Glitch. But the company, then called Tiny Speck, had another asset. Tiny Speck’s development team consisted of four employees living in different cities across the country. They needed a way to communicate that was easy, instant, and would store the information so that anyone could open up the chat later and see what they missed. Since at the time, no such thing seemed to exist, they created one themselves.
Because the messaging platform was created for internal use, the Slack team tested the app with outside users so they could learn how people would use the app.
Butterfield told First Round that the team begged companies to try out the software and give them feedback. Seven months after they first started working on the service, it was ready for the public. On the first day, eight thousand people signed up.
Launched in: 2013
Raised: Over $42 Million
Valuation: Up to $10 Billion
Paid Users: Estimated 3 Million
Integrations: Over 600
The app is lauded as one of the fastest growing startups in history. Within just a few months of its launch in 2013, Slack raised over $42 million from investors and was receiving upwards of ten funding offers per week, according to Investopedia. By 2017, there were rumors that Amazon, Google, and Microsoft were competing to buy the company, according to The New York Times. That same year, a round of funding valued Slack at over $5 billion. By 2017 it was over $7 billion, and today, it’s up to $10 billion, according to CNN.
From 2017 to 2018, the app doubled its users. While the majority of users have the free version, according to 2018 estimates about 3 million users pay for the software, according to Forbes. The company also frequently invests in other startups, gaining more integrations as well as a stronger financial portfolio with each addition.
As of 2018, according to Investopedia, over 600 different software could be integrated with Slack. This makes it more than just a chatroom, but a platform that forms the basis for accessing other services. Much like using Facebook to log into different apps, many see the future of Slack as the basis for accessing thousands of different office tools. Today users can access tools like Google Cloud, Oracle and Github all through Slack.
According to Slack’s website, 65 of the Fortune 100 companies use Slack. In 2018, Slack reported 8 million users overall, according to CNN, and by January of this year, daily users exceeded 10 million, including 85,000 organizations that paid for the service. According to CNN, up to 50 percent of users are international. Prominent users include: NASA, the New York Times, Amazon, BBC and Lyft.
Slack faces competition from similar services offered by Microsoft and Facebook. Many have speculated that such well-established corporations would be more successful in this particular market due to their enormous customer base. The business structure and target audience for these companies are already in place to offer something like Slack in their already extensive software bundles. However, by 2018, Slack reported more than double the users of Microsoft’s competing service called Teams. In February of 2019, Slack took over a competing app called Stride, according to Wired, who declared that Slack won the office-messaging wars.
Does your company use Slack? More often than not, the answer is yes.
Slack has been called the holy grail of communication for businesses worldwide. According to Slack’s website, 65 of the Fortune 100 companies use Slack. According to CNN, Slack reported 8 million users overall in 2018 and 50 percent of its users are international, including NASA, the New York Times, Amazon, BBC and Lyft. Sounds like success to us!
Because so many of you use Slack, we consolidated some important Slack shortcuts to improve your messaging experience as a new or old user of this platform.
*Only Workspace Owners and Admins have permission to delete channels
Type /giphy followed by a word or phrase (try /giphy happy)
It’s critical that you train employees in best practices to maintain security on Slack. Make sure they know that it’s a good idea to avoid sharing passwords and other highly confidential information via Slack. Warn admins about the gravity of their position, and make it clear that they shouldn’t make other users admins without careful consideration.
Always remember to:
While Slack is a great productivity tool for many businesses, it’s not the only option. In the past few years, many companies have released programs similar to Slack that are worth a try. Different systems work best for different businesses. Here are Slack’s competitors and alternatives to help you discover which system works best for you.
After Slack was released, dozens of brands emerged as its competitors. Here are some of the original Slack rivals that still have countless dedicated users today:
Created in 2015, Ryver organizes emails, messages, and calls all in one program. Unlike Slack, with Ryver, users don’t have to download individual apps to communicate, manage tasks, and automate their workflow. Ryver also boasts integration with Evernote, Gmail, Trello, Dropbox, and more, but it doesn’t connect with Google Drive like Slack does. While Slack can cost anywhere from $7 to $13 per user per month, Ryver ranges from around $50 to $400 per month for a set number of users.
Another popular Slack competitor, Chanty, was released just last year. Chanty claims to be intuitive for even the most technophobic users. Unlike Slack, with Chanty, users can “pin” messages in chats and easily find them later. Users can also send voice messages, a feature that Slack doesn’t offer yet, and instantly convert any chat message into a task. But Chanty is still working on threaded conversations, something that Slack users are already familiar with. Chanty also costs less than Slack - businesses can use either the free plan or the $3 per user per month plan.
Mattermost, created in 2015, looks like and is priced like Slack. But unlike other programs, Mattermost is open source and self-hosted. It emphasizes information privacy and security, things Slack doesn’t advertise. It also makes it easy to transition from Slack by allowing businesses to import users, public channel histories, and even theme colors into Mattermost. Its list of current customers is pretty impressive, too - ever heard of Uber?
Workplace by Facebook launched publicly in 2015. Visually, it looks very similar to Facebook. There’s even a News Feed, just like Facebook’s, that displays only the most important information first. Workplace also offers auto-translate for companies that do business internationally. For $3 per user per month, businesses can live stream video without integrating a separate app, a feature that Slack lacks. There is also a free plan that comes with basic messaging and group project capabilities.
Released in 2017, Microsoft Teams is basic and easy to use, so it’s great for businesses that haven’t tried collaborative softwares like Slack before. It is priced slightly higher than Slack, with three plans ranging from free to $20 per user per month. Unfortunately, the more basic plans are very limited in the number of features they offer, which can include project sharing and video conferencing. Teams is compatible with most other Microsoft programs and will easily blend into a Microsoft office.
The five competitors above have been well-tested. But now, newer options have arrived that can keep pace with Slack while offering additional features. If Slack just isn’t cutting it anymore, try one of these hidden-gem alternatives instead:
Wire, released in 2014, has end-to-end encryption to keep your information safe. Users can invite others to join Wire conversations and send messages that self-destruct. Other features include the ability to mute notifications, read receipts, a dark mode, and the option to shorten lengthy URLs. Wire is targeted towards businesses and offers three plans that range from €4 to €6 per user per month, with discounts for educational and non-profit organizations.
Since 2015, Discord has reigned as the leading chat program for gamers worldwide. Now, many businesses use Discord for its voice and text messages, customizable design, screen sharing, and the ability to chat with people outside of Discord. Users also enjoy the ever-responsive Discord staff, the ability to designate primary speakers in conversations, and Discord’s availability on both Windows and Mac. Finally, Discord is free, so it’s a good option for companies who want to test out collaborative software before actually implementing one.
Discord: Free, can be set up in minutes, and has more messaging features.
Slack: Built for businesses, can connect with more apps, and has task management options.
What Carl, CTO of Kisi says:
“We switched to Discord very early on at Kisi. It was optimized for performance because gamers have an allergy to lag – and our tech team liked that. As a Startup, it also helps that it’s way cheaper than what Slack costs.”
Fleep, created in 2012, offers both a free plan and a €5 per person per month plan. With Fleep, users can see who’s reading and writing messages, pin messages, and access a list of all documents and files sent in a chat. And unlike Slack, people who don’t use Fleep can be added to Fleep conversations. For businesses who want to include customers or clients in their discussions, this feature is essential. Fleep also offers an app for iPhones and Androids and does not include any advertisements in its free version.
Fleep: More organized, offers status messages (such as “working from home”), and allows users to create private tasks that only they can see.
Slack: Slack has direct messaging, screen sharing, and threads.
For $12 per person per month, Hive is a platform for managing tasks and projects that has been around since 2015. Hive is modern, clean, and extensively color-coded. It’s targeted towards businesses that need flexibility and is currently used by Starbucks and WeWork. Features include “forms” that Hive users can send to non-Hive users, four different project layouts, time tracking, the ability to turn notes into tasks, repeatable tasks, and lists that combine all tasks from different projects in one place.
Hive: Hyper-organized, has a list of more features coming soon, and can integrate with Slack.
Slack: Focused on messaging and communication, has voice calls, and offers less features that may confuse users and waste time.
Glip was released by RingCentral in 2015 and offers a free plan and a $5 per user per month plan. Like Hive, Glip is clean and minimalistic, but still user-friendly. Glip’s features include the ability to mark up documents, unlimited guest users, group video meetings, screen sharing, and integration with over 50 apps. Glip also has 24/7/365 free live support, in case any problems arise. There are no extra fees for scaling up, so Glip is great for both large companies and start-ups.
Glip: No limits on messaging and storage in the free plan, better task management, and video without a third-party app.
Slack: Has channels, threads, and email integration.
No matter which side of the debate your office is on, examining Slack’s pros and cons can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Here’s the long and short of it:
Why do some people still choose Slack?
Why do other people not use Slack?
Slack seems like a no brainer. But as with any platform, it comes with risks. Most people using slack aren’t tech geniuses, but there are many aspects of Slack that managers need to be wary of. From users downloading messages to default settings that make links public, there are key security risks you’ll need to weigh. Read on to learn more.
Slack makes adding new employees quick and painless, but it’s important not to underestimate the power of adding someone new to a channel full of confidential information. This is particularly relevant when it comes to employee termination. If employees leave on bad terms, every minute that they’re still in a Slack channel is a minute that confidential company information could be at risk. To avoid security breaches, make sure removing former employees from Slack is a routine part of the exit process, every bit as important as changing passwords and deactivating their company email. Check out the Slack guide to adding and removing users here.
Make sure to also review any external people that my have access. Whether it’s a client or someone who comes to fix the computer, Slack users should be reviewed regularly to maintain a secure system.
Be Wary of Linking Third Party Apps
Though it’s tempting to connect Slack with all the other apps you use regularly for maximum convenience, it’s important to think critically about who will have access to what as a result and what security breaches it may leave you vulnerable to. When you link third party apps, there’s always the risk that the log-in procedures will change and individuals will have access to the apps and information they normally wouldn’t have access to.
In 2016, a routine audit revealed that by integrating Google Docs with Slack and failing to adjust log-in procedures, the General Services Administration, (a government entity) left confidential information exposed for months. To be safe, avoid linking other apps. The small amount of extra work it will take will be worth the security it brings.
Because of Slack’s default settings, when a user creates a link to a file shared on Slack, it is automatically a public link. Anyone can click on it and have full access without any sort of password or log-in. Now imagine all the documents that get shared on Slack on a daily basis. Would you want all of them available to the public? It’s a good idea to disable this feature on the Settings and Permission page in Slack.
Assigning certain employees as Slack admins is a great way to delegate and create an efficient workflow. But don’t underestimate how much power admins have. They can create and delete channels, which may be full of key information, and create new admins, neither of which are reversible actions. They have access to settings which can allow any user to create and delete channels and add any new users they want. They can view any and all files that are shared in public channels in your workspace, and export much of it with ease.
As Slack has gained popularity among businesses everywhere, it has unsurprisingly become a target for hackers. Back in 2017, a security company discovered a glitch that could have allowed hackers to easily get into different accounts and access individuals’s messages and documents. It was the modern day equivalent of the old email scam: Click on a suspicious link and next thing you know your account is in the hands of a hacker. Slack has since fixed the bug, but hackers will no doubt search for other weaknesses.
According to MarketWatch, hackers are increasingly stealing data in order to blackmail users. That rant you went on to a coworker over private messages about your boss? In a blackmail hack, you may be forced to choose between paying up or being exposed.
Most recently, Slack reportedly closed a loophole in the Microsoft Windows version of the app which would have allowed hackers to download messages, according to Engadget.
When Slack went public in April 2019, it went so far as to warn investors that cyber security hacks posed a risk to the stock’s earnings. While many of the security breaches that have received publicity didn’t actually lead to data being shared inappropriately, the potential for grave consequences is ever present. There’s no simple answer as to whether Slack is uniquely vulnerable to attacks, but as of right now, there’s no question it’s a high value target.
Can Slack Read your Conversations?
According to the Slack website, employees only see messages when it’s absolutely necessary in order to fix a bug.
But even if Slack employees aren’t reading your messages, security concerns could arise from within. As of last year, certain users can download messages without others being notified. This means that even if you follow all of the best practices for removing former employees immediately, they may be able to hold onto confidential company information. Workplace owners can download all messages and files from public channels, and those with the Plus plan have the ability to do so with private channels and direct messages, according to NBC. Those with the free or standard plan are required to obtain consent from applicable employees.
Mashable outlined how to check whether others have the ability to download your private messages. “When logged into Slack, head on over to slack.com/account/team. Once you're on that page, scroll down to the bottom. Under "Exports," check and see what privileges are listed. If it only lists "PUBLIC DATA CAN BE EXPORTED," then the spokesperson assured us that your boss cannot pull your DMs. If it lists private data, well, then you're out of luck.”
How Does It Work With GDPR?
On its website, Slack features a lengthy list of all the ways it complies with the GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, a law passed in Europe that went into effect in 2018. You can read it here. One of the ways Slack promises compliance is through
“self-certification” under the E.U.-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. privacy shield. Any claims that are not independently verified arise a certain amount of suspicion.
Enterprise Ready breaks down how Slack has handled one of the biggest concerns of GDPR, exporting messages on public and private channels.