What Is Slack?
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.
A Brief History of Slack
How the Founder of Flickr Turned a Failed Video Game Into a Great Office Communication Software
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.
Valuation and Funding History
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.
Steadily Dominating Office Communications
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.
How Many Companies Use It?
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.
Slack Hacks and Shortcuts
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.
Here Are Some Important Slack Hacks You Need to Know:
How to add a custom emoji on Slack:
- From your desktop, click your workspace name in the top left.
- Select Customize Slack from the menu.
- Click Add Custom Emoji
How to delete a channel on Slack:
- Click the gear icon to open the Channel Setting menu.
- Select Additional options, then Delete this channel.
*Only Workspace Owners and Admins have permission to delete channels
How to leave a workspace on Slack:
- Right-click the workspace icon in the workspace switcher on the left.
- Click Remove
How to make a channel private on Slack:
- Click the gear icon in the top right.
- Select Additional options from the Channel Settings menu.
- Choose Change to a private channel
How to use giphy on Slack:
- Click Install Giphy Integration in Slack App Directory.
Type /giphy followed by a word or phrase (try /giphy happy)
Slack Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts of Communicating on Slack
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.
Communicating With Remote Teams
Always remember to:
- Small Talk
- You’re probably not emailing your co-worker just to ask about what they ate for lunch, and when you have only a weekly Skype meeting, it’s natural to want to stay on task. Making an effort to get to know your co-workers and what makes them tick outside of work will help build trust and strengthen your relationships in the long run.
- It’s simple. The more you keep lines of communication open, the better you can reduce misunderstandings.
- Give each platform a purpose
- If there are too many different places to communicate, they can end up serving only as a distraction. By assigning separate tasks for each platform, the whole process is streamlined.
- Be Careful With Your Tone
- Something that’s easy to forget is that text can rarely convey tone. What you might think reads as strictly informational, someone else may read as angry. You can avoid this, to some degree, by stating things very clearly, avoiding sarcasm, and throwing in the occasional exclamation point or emoji.
- Choose Video Calls Whenever Possible
- Video communication is more authentic and helps you get to know your team. Maybe your co-worker wears the same baseball hat every day. All of those little details help you build the type of relationship you would have if you were working side by side.
Alternatives to Slack
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 Best Slack Alternatives
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.
Wire vs Slack:
- Wire: Has encryption, great design, and the ability to edit messages you’ve already sent.
- Slack: Has channels for conversations, the ability to connect with other apps, and more advanced search features.
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 vs Slack:
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 vs Slack:
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 vs Slack:
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 vs Slack:
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.
Slack Pros and Cons
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?
- It’s popular; many businesses use it
- Slack is compatible with all computers, iPhones, and Androids
- Slack works well for real-time collaborating and when quick, direct action is needed
- Slack has powerful search features
- Slack is intuitive to use
Why do other people not use Slack?
- Employees without smartphones can’t access Slack when they are away from their computers
- Limits on features in Slack’s free plan can be too restrictive
- Slack doesn’t work as well for collaboration on large-scale projects
- When multiple conversations start to happen within one Slack channel, messages and files can get lost
- Some feel that Slack can be addictive because their company culture dictates that employees should always be active on Slack. When they miss Slack activity that happens while they’re asleep or taking a day off, they feel guilty.