by John Brandon

Slack in the wild: Is the collaboration app a hit or a myth?

Jun 08, 2015
Enterprise ApplicationsSoftware DevelopmentStartups

Itu2019s one thing to be proclaimed Silicon Valleyu2019s latest unicorn, but after the buzz inevitably dies down, it can be more instructive to see how u2013 or if u2013 the mythical creature can become a workhorse in the real world.

Slack is one of those rare business tools that comes along once in a while that shifts the technology landscape. In a nutshell, Slack is a team collaboration app that essentially turns email into a group effort, allowing users to create channels where discussions take place in public so everyone can participate. While Slack has some serious competition from apps like Convo and Circuit, it seems to be gaining the most momentum. 

It all sounds great on paper, but to find out how it’s being used in the wild, tracked down several companies using the app to learn how they’re collaborating as a team, which features they use most and whether it’s changing how they actually work on a daily basis. 

Replacing all other communication channels. The Internet privacy and security company Golden Frog uses Slack for all company communication. Andrew Staples, a company spokesman, says they’ve been surprised how it has cut down not just on email but also on meetings. They’ve completely eliminated all instant message chats; when there are one-on-one discussions, everyone can see them. They use a few obvious channels (e.g., sales people use the sales channel), but will also create channels for trade shows that they eventually archive. 

[Related: The rise (and rise) of Slack, Silicon Valley’s hottest startup] 

Going private when needed. An interesting feature in Slack is the capability to make a channel private. This would seem to go against the “everyone can see conversations” mentality. For instance, a marketing group can create a private channel that the sales team can’t see or participate in. This is a mindset change for a company like TicketCity that wants the benefits of team collaboration, but with some degree of privacy between departments. Ashley Kubiszyn, TicketCity’s marketing director, told they use the privacy settings as a way to control inbox clutter. 

Reducing total email volume. Speaking of controlling inbox clutter, one of the primary reasons companies are using Slack has to do with reducing email volume. That’s what originally attracted Vector Marketing to the collaborative platform. It’s changing how they work, too. With teams spread out all over the U.S. and Canada, they’ve found that Slack helps them brainstorm about ideas (something employees used email to do in the past), comment on news and even tag people as you can do on Facebook. Slack has also allowed them to track social media and marketing campaigns as a group, and answer questions through a forum where everyone can see the answer, not just the recipient. 

Solving the open floor-plan conundrum. An open floorplan is a wonderful mechanism that fosters collaboration and team-building. Ironically, it’s also a problem when people actually need to focus and work in private. One intrinsic use for Slack is to create “private offices” for employees. Aron Susman, the co-founder of the real-estate brokerage firm TheSquareFoot, told they use Slack as a way to get some sanity for employees who want to have private discussions. No one needs to head to a conference room, they simply initiate a new channel. 

[Related: As collaboration tools multiply, here’s how to avoid overload] 

Monitoring social media. One surprise for companies using Slack is that the tool can integrate with existing social media channels, which means they don’t have to reply on tools like TweetDeck or Sprout Social as much. Golden Frog’s Staples said his company uses Slack to monitor all company mentions. They have a dedicated channel called Brand Mentions to track this activity. While email apps can pull in RSS feeds and help you monitor mentions and direct messages, it’s harder to do that for an entire brand in a way that lets everyone see the activity in a public channel. Slack does just that. 

Keeping up on news. TicketCity told their company also has channels set up to track news. As a sports ticketing agency, it’s important to stay up on news and information from almost every league. So they created a dedicated channel that pulls an RSS feed from such sites as CBS Sports, ESPN and USA Today. This saves employees from having to use a different app or browse to those sites and keeps everyone focused on the work collaboration. It also means employees are seeing the same reports and can hold discussions about them in real time. 

Fostering business relationships. Another ironic benefit of using Slack is that it encourages deeper relationships. TheSquareFoot’s Susman says employees know they’ll be a part of discussions and not excluded by private email threads, which can be a closed loop of information sharing. It’s human nature to want to feel part of the process, and Susman says using Slack offers a way to keep everyone in the loop and foster input – and a sense of ownership – from a much greater percent of the company community.