Community Building June 17, 2020

Slack isn't a good community building tool

IdentityTensor

I love slack, I'm in a ton of groups, but we need to start being honest with ourselves. Slack isn't designed for community building.

To me, communities grow valuable in two ways: great users, great content. As a community ages, great users will have generated mountains of incredible content. Think, that stack overflow question from 5 years ago that saved you.

The realtime messaging nature of Slack is silly powerful. A single thread might have any number of back and forth messages between any number of users all iterating towards a solution.

That is precisely why slack is a terrible tool for communities. The 10K free message limit... The more the community helps one another, the more content is lost. At one point I was in 20+ slack groups. Only one of them was paid, my work group..

Next time you're considering creating a community, consider looking for another solution. The VueJS community has had great success with Discord. Mattermost is a self hosted option.

Is anyone aware of any other self hosted options?

Do you think using widely known platform plays into the success of growing a community?

Interested to hear you what you think!

  1. 10

    I agree, Slack is not designed for community building.

    We've been working hard on such a solution and now it's live in closed beta: https://peerboard.io

    It's a fully embeddable forum/community solution that supports rich user profiles, no code integration, real-time threads, and much more.

    Please let me know if you want to learn more!

    1. 3

      Looks like a nice product

    2. 3

      Peerboard looks super cool! I don't have a use for it yet, but I'll keep you in mind.

      I think as a group we've kinda iterated towards Slack/FB groups being a "friction" reducer - which helps drive the community. Curious what you think.

      1. 4

        Hey, Mikhail here, CEO at PeerBoard. There're two paths really, and the choice is defined by your current situation:

        • If you don't have an existing website with members on it (and thus don't have a benefit of existing usage), it makes sense to go for the lowest entry barrier and if so, Facebook is still the #1 choice, imo (with Reddit being #2 in the US). Going for any other platform would mean increasing friction while getting more or less the same thing.
        • If you do have an existing website with members, then the lowest friction is actually on your own website and so it makes sense to integrate your community board as tightly into your website as possible. That's essentially what PeerBoard is doing with a bunch of plugins, SDKs and components to eliminate any friction using the community space from your own website.
        1. 1

          Thanks, Mikhail. Great insights on community building. I am looking into creating a SaaS for podcasters, with a heavy focus on community. Would love to figure out how to embed your tech. Shall we have a quick chat about it? dm at dmitriy.dobrov@dfgholding.com.

          1. 1

            Sure, wrote you an email.

      2. 1

        Did you get a chance to look into https://tribe.so? Tribe is based on a collection of social media best practices and its beauty lies in the ability to deeply integrate into products and websites.

        Apart from that, you get access to a range of direct integrations with third-party tools and modular apps to extend the functionality.

    3. 2

      This looks and sounds a better option.

    4. 1

      Hi, looks great! I'm interested in trying it, but couldn't find any pricing details. Understand you're in beta but would be good to know how it will compare to other options.

      The community I want to build will have things like groups, leadboards, and calendars. Could host these all in an Airtable but do you think it would be possible to integrate the Airtable somehow, or at least use Integromat or Zapier to send data between?

      1. 1

        Sure, let's chat about it. Possible to integrate with Airtable via Zapier. Can you email us at integrations at peerboard.io?

    5. 1

      The main issue I always had with these plug-and-play bulletin boards is that integration with my own user and authentication system is never easy. If Peerboard would make that relatively easy to do, I'd be on board.

      1. 1

        In our case it is seamless. We pick up encrypted info about user session and create our own session based on that. For a user it looks like a just another section of the website.

    6. 1

      What are the advantages over Discord?

      1. 2

        We don't compete directly with Discord and other messaging services and we actually have partners that use both Discord and us, such as Pipeline.gg

        Messaging and discussion boards are two sides of the same coin. Like with Facebook and Messenger, Workplace and Workchat, etc. Messengers work well for small fast-paced groups, discussion boards like Fb or us work great for async longer form structured communication. If you have a small group you may only need a messenger.

        If your group has grown in size to 100 members or above, you may need a better curated and more structured space in addition to the chats.

  2. 5

    100% agree. Slack is the worst community building tool to be used widely for by people who want to build communities 😂

    Facebook is another one that's super bad, but people outside of technical circles default to.

    The thing they have in common, though, is what I think makes them work at all and that is that is they are where people already are. New apps are suuuuuper hard to gain adoption, and people are slow to build habits. People already live in Facebook and Slack for other reasons...healthy or not.

    For me, whatever the tool is, it's gotta let folks interact (both directions) via somewhere they already are. Email lists win for this reason.

    1. 1

      I've been thinking about the email based aspect of communities recently too...Yahoo groups are dead, but what about Google Groups...no one seems to talk about those anymore.

      1. 1

        Mailing lists are great! And then you get independent on how you consume them, be it GMail, Thunderbird, etc.

        I'm still running a Google Groups, but started to be complicated to handle the users. It really looks like abandonware of Google, perhaps they even forgot they had it. BTW, it is not an organic community, but a members-only thing.

      2. 1

        Google let it rot, let spammers overrun it (I moderate a large list that still gets a ridiculous about of spam daily). It's a shame, cuz it's a pretty good product and lots of "new" tools try to get fancy before they get the fundamentals down!

    2. 1

      The thing they have in common, though, is what I think makes them work at all and that is that is they are where people already are.

      Reducing friction in the flywheel :) - I think you're spot on. Unfortunately, that reality is super frustrating. I wonder if it would be possible to use these tools to drive members onto a better platform?

      1. 2

        IMO there are two options:

        1. build on borrowed land
        2. build interfaces via places where people already are (again, email being the most universal, ubiquitous, and free

        I'm amazed that more people aren't building email-first interfaces for community building.

        1. 1

          With all the buzz Heyy made, I'm really excited to see where email ends up in the coming years. I'm a bit worried because I know while I check my emails daily, I kinda ignore them. Further, I'm not sure the habits of Gen Z and email yet. I think they might be IM first.

          When you say email-first, are you suggesting newsletters, or something transcending that?

          1. 2

            Far beyond newsletters.

            Don't think of email as an app or even a format. Think of it more like infrastructure.

            1. 1

              This is an interesting comment, but a bit beyond my understanding. Would you mind explaining this a bit so that I can extend and adapt to my context?

              1. 1

                Most communtiy tools are heavy on text based reading and writing.

                Email is super strong at both of those things, and flexible, and already in most people's hands, and where they spend some nontrivial amount of their day.

                Don't make folks go somewhere new if they don't have to, or if the incentive to isn't already strong.

                1. 1

                  Right. I understood this part.

                  It is the "Don't think of email as an app or even a format. Think of it more like infrastructure." that I'm not sure I understand. What does that mean? Can you give an example you have in mind?

  3. 5

    I've been on Slack for about three years for my small community Unreal Collective. It's a great community, but I've had to keep it small intentionally because I have not seen Slack groups above 200 people that aren't noisy, stressful, and largely turn people away.

    I've tried EVERYTHING in some degree and hate or hated it all. I even tried Tribe.so and kind of liked it but its pricing structure is silly.

    I'm moving soon to Circle.so soon and am really, really excited and bullish on it.

      1. 1

        I've been a part of other MN communities; I was pretty close to making the switch before I found Circle.

        1. 1

          I am on the waiting list so I hope I can get in soon :) Thanks for sharing @jayclouse

    1. 2

      @jayclouse congrats on launching your podcast. I love your attention to details at both the design level, and the quality of the content! Kudos. I am developing a SaaS platform for podcasters to be a one-stop-shop for engaging with your audience, embedding merchandise, courses, gated extra features, etc. Have a few ideas/questions. Do you mind having a quick chat about your pain points with current tools?

    2. 2

      I'm on Circle as well - it's great. Sid, Andrew & team are crushing the needs of their early users.

    3. 2

      @jayclouse You are in the beta group for Circle.so?

  4. 4

    I agree, but also people aren't willing to change their behavior much. I'd be wary of competing with slack in this area. Even people with a significant audience have failed.

    Totally agree that people should change their habits if they are deciding on a community (check out PlayGroupHQ!), but be careful about it if you're thinking of building in that area.

  5. 3

    Kinda surprised nobody mentioned Telegram. Lots of communities there, also broadcast options for news.

    1. 1

      OOF! Good catch. I actually use telegram for messaging, I haven't dived into larger groups yet.

  6. 3

    I think Discord is a lot better than Slack for community building.

  7. 3

    Slack is the worst. Discord is much better and friendly. On slack channels, people only post and advertise but don't engage. They don't even look at previous messages, whereas on slack there are a lot of friendly channels with lots of great people. Slack's design is also the worst.

  8. 3

    Some good points here @IdentityTensor. I do think Slack has some merits with regard to real time chat that I struggle to find in other community tools. Most other community platforms use forums and posts as default. It would be nice to have the ability to use a slack like real time chat with the added benefit of posts and forums all in one tool.

    I put together this list of community tools last week:

    Some of these may help; although not many of them are self-hosted.

    1. 2

      Great list!! Thanks for sharing this!

      1. 1

        +1 to the list!

        i agree 100% on slack... it's paid limitation kills community short and long-term. i'm looking to solve this problem...!

      2. 1

        You are welcome @IdentityTensor. Glad you enjoyed it!

  9. 2

    I totally agree. I always find myself frustrated with slack, so I have been on the hunt looking for a new community tool. Something similar to Discord, but without the UI clutter and game vibe. I found this platform called AirSend not too long ago. I have been testing it out these past two weeks, and they are continuously updating the product, which is really cool. I hope this helps!
    https://www.airsend.io/build-community

  10. 2

    I understand your points. Information getting lost was one of the reasons I built https://getlowdown.com to ensure key information is seen.

    The problem for me is with chat-based communities you have to pay attention all the time or you run the risk missing something useful.

  11. 2

    I came across this right when I was about to launch a community around my online course and I'm so glad I did! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    I decided to go with Tribe because I wanted an interface that was in between that of Slack and a forum. It doesn't have realtime chat like Slack but I prefer the way it organizes content unlike a forum. Discourse and Mighty Network were other contenders.

    1. 2

      Thanks, @kimgoulb! You'd happy to know the private messaging and realtime chat are getting released this month.

  12. 2

    I've discussed it on this other IH Post.

    I, personally, would go for Discourse. It's easy to scale, much cheaper than Slack, and is really for community building, intended in the sense of a public forum where ideas are exchanged. Slack, in my opinion, works best for chit chat.

  13. 2

    For my particular community (weekendclub.co) it's built around Saturday working sessions, so having live chat is critical. Forum type tools like Mighty Networks or Circle aren't fit for purpose.

    Telegram is like a Whatsapp group chat and feels very difficult to keep up with, which basically leaves Discord.

    I haven't used Discord much and am curious - what are the benefits over Slack? I find the idea of voice channels pretty appealing, but the familiarity people have with Slack trumps it so far.

    1. 1

      @charlierward Hello. What is the Circle app or community you are speaking of?

  14. 2

    The thing with building a community on Slack is that it's closed off and not viewable by anyone outside of that community. The only way for people to know if the community is for them if to observe the content and value that the community offers. Today we see more closed user communities because there's a miss-conception that it's a special thing aka "Only the cool kids can join". Only once you join their program or xyz do you get access to the community.

    Slack works great for that, but If you want that community to be discoverable Discord is the better option. Unfortunately, Slack is built for teams so it might not be what you're looking for.

    Some other great text based options I've seen for building a community are Comradery.com & Flarum.com.

    If you'd like to have a different way to engage with your community, you might like what I'm working on producthunt.com/upcoming/space. We're are enabling communities to have their own space and audio first community. Which we've seen has created authentic content and engagement. It also offers no pressure that other image and video platforms create with the feeling that everything has to be perfect. Another key things we noticed about text based communities is that anyone can share their thoughts but as consequence community members can also hide behind a keyboard.

  15. 2

    Why has no one mentioned Reddit. I see Notion uses it for their community.

    1. 1

      Yes, not only Notion!
      What I've seen, especially when it is a community around a product, is that a lot of users offer support to each other, so effectively the overhead for support from the companies themselves is much lower.

      Does Reddit allow you to control who joins a sub reddit?

      1. 1

        Yes 3 options for creating a community

        Public - Anyone can view and post
        Restricted - Anyone can view this community, but only approved users can post
        Private - Only approved users can view and submit to this community

  16. 2

    @IdentityTensor Agreed! We're using Mighty Networks and, so far, totally love it. It really encourages interaction (and it has events, courses, groups, topics, etc. built in). The only place it falls short is in the creation of a repository (in our case, Knowledge Center), so we added a Notion.so component we link to from the Mighty Network.

    1. 1

      Nice! Is your community product focused, or interest focused?

      1. 2

        We're providing services and community as a service through the platform (it's paid)

  17. 2

    I'm currently looking at alternatives where I can set up a "help centre" / community / chat support for my app.

    Gitter: I'd love to use this but sharing screenshots is such a pain.

    Discord: Easy to jump in on a one-on-one call with video / screen-sharing. The downside to me is that the whole feel of Discord is that it's meant for hardcore twitch Gamers only.

    Slack: signing up is a bit of a pain and it's hard to keep track of your workspaces but i'm so familiar with Slack from my day to day job that it would be easy to setup and manage.

    1. 3

      You should check out AirSend.io. From my experience, it is like Slack and Discord combined. It has a public community feature, private channels, built-in audio calling with screen sharing, and it has a super simple UI design.

  18. 2

    I wish people just went back to old fashioned forums

    1. 1

      Discourse? I'm getting so old, I think of Discourse as "a better phpBB" haha

  19. 2

    I use Telegram extensively for community building.

    1. 1

      @shv_prbhkrn, do you see adoption among US members lacking? I can barely get my friends in the US to download telegram. Once, they do though, they love it.

      1. 1

        Yes there is some resistance from US based members while Canadians are more receptive. Somehow people seem to have an impression that Telegram is not mainstream.

        1. 1

          Somehow people seem to have an impression that Telegram is not mainstream.

          Yeah, that drives me nuts. It's far superior to Messenger in my opinion. I had a few people say "Well, I don't really care about privacy" after looking at the website. How is that a strike against the product lol?

  20. 2

    I completely agree Slack is a nightmare for communities. Occasionally I'll hop on a large Slack channel for a language or framework if I have an urgent question that I need to be answered. I generally find that the response rate, although usually faster, is much worse than Stackoverflow. Also, if my question is one that has a lot of value to other people (not always the case but sometimes), I feel like putting it in Slack is a disservice to people who could benefit from the answers in three months or a year.
    In my opinion, forums are the best community building option, the communication can be near-real-time if you need it to be but things can also sit for a few days or weeks but the content is there forever as a permanent archive. There is a lot of good forum software out there but Discourse seems to be the de facto choice in 2020. Personally I think the greatest forum builder of all time was PHPBB circa 2007 but that's just me.

    1. 1

      🙌 completely agree on phpBB! Where did it go?! We all got addicted to Facebook and IM!

      1. 1

        Yeah, web forums died around 2010 but I think they are making a resurgence. Discourse is not nearly as good as phpBB but at least it has helped forums get some traction in the past decade.

        Two things that I think need to have a huge revival (and I think are) are forums and blogs.

  21. 2

    Slack originally isn't for community building, but for internal communication. Until people took it an use it for community communication.

    For example, Slack used to allow people within a channel to see other member emails. It makes sense for people within a company get and send email to their colleagues. But with any community, their email would be scrape and spammed.

  22. 2

    I agree about Slack, however between Discord and Slack they seem to be the best out of the box quick solutions available. Maybe there is an opportunity in that in itself.

    But the most frustrating experience I had was with the self-hosted option of Discourse. I tried to load it once on AWS, after 4 days of unsuccessful trying I just gave. No one in their own community chat could assist with the problems I was having.

    1. 1

      Ugh, thats the worst. Curious, what made you pick Discourse over something like phpBB?

      1. 1

        phpBB felt dated, Discourse had a more modern feel.

  23. 2

    I agree and disagree with you.
    I agree that slack is a great tool. And when there are few slack teams, each team is very valuable because your interactions with it have depth. When you get to a point where you have 10 different slack teams, one for each topic that gets your attention fragmented. Add to that the fact that instant messaging is ephemeral and expires fast (the opposite of your example with stack overflow): the message from last month is already out of date and you're unlikely to get much value from it as it will, as well, get deleted over time.

    My point is:
    Slack is very good when user attention is plenty. If you're the only game in town for a niche, that can be really good. But, seriously, who needs one more Nocode slack team? or one more digital marketing slack team?

    Still, that does not remove the need that some business models DO require you to have an IM-like interface with customers to provide a sort of support/community. Regardless of the tool you use it is about the need: when you have a complex product, such as software integration, you may want to give people a high touch support option (which Instant messaging fits in perfectly)

    But community building is a tricky and somewhat of an emerging field. sometimes you do need the slack for your company, but other times a facebook group is a better choice.

    and it's actually funny how community building was the strategy of some great companies, but when everyone is doing it, no one can benefit (apart from the support case I pointed above).

    I'd love to hear the input of people who are deeper into community building on this. I feel like the tools have evolved but it has become harder and harder to bootstrap a community

    1. 2

      I'm not so sure community building truly is an emerging field, I think us IndieHackers are just a bit slow on the getup here! Ok, actually I'm still trying to put together the last pieces of the puzzle..

      What do you think about all the old great phpBB and VBul forums? If I was trying to create a community for Bakers - these solutions should suffice no?

      Still, when given the option between Realtime messaging, or use of forums, users will always pick RTM.

      Whats driving me nuts is it seems like the entire world wrote off traditional forums almost overnight. @mattcrail brings up a good point below that slack is already a part of his workflow... maybe that removes so much friction from the engagement flywheel that there isn't even a comparison to be made.

      Yet still, facebook groups have become so prevalent, and they're also just a discount forums.. However, I guess it could be said that facebook is a part of a lot of our workflows lol.

      1. 2

        What I mean by new is the fact that now as a larger share of all companies and economic activity is digital / knowledge based the community manager role is much more common.

        Communities always existed but not as part of a deliberate strategy of user engagement: think of this does it sound right coca cola building a forum? Yet if you take some of the top brands in brand equity nowadays many do make a lot of sense to have a community around.

        Airbnb hosts vs kellogs cerel eaters.

        Anyways,

        I agree with you that forums are a bit neglected today even though we end up in apps that look a lot like forums. I think it's a branding issue. Marketers today were in forums when growing up thus they want their community to sound a bit more fresh and new.

        On the other hand, fb groups replaced many forums as they are much easier to set up and manage.

        Telegram groups resonate with some verticals (for as strange as it may sound, even for development related things)

        Well... Crazy world we're in.

  24. 2

    Totally agree that Slack isn’t the best fit to build a strong community. But in a way, it’s clearly the best one today.

    I’d to see GitHub launching something here.

  25. 2

    I agree. I find Slack's UI frustrating for multiple groups. I often forget to check-in with groups for long periods of time. I also find it overwhelming to keep up with multiple groups. Sites like IH and PH do a much better job.

  26. 2

    I disagree. I think most people who run these Slack communities don’t know how to take it vantage of readily available in moderation and automation tools to make content relevant, save it and then deliver in the appropriate engaging format.

    1. 2

      Agree - some are really good, most are not.

      More importantly for me, Slack is already part of my workflow so easy to hop over and get involved in conversations. Indie Hackers is one of the few communities I actively go to b/c of having that friction.

    2. 2

      So, I would agree with you. However, IIRC there was an indie hacker trying to solve this issue with a backup bot that would mirror the messages into their product. Slack ended up contacting them and explaining it was against their TOS.

  27. 2

    I agree with this 100%. Slack is great for interoffice communication but is terrible for a community. I like MightyNetworks as a Facebook Group alternative.

  28. 1

    What leads you to believe content generation is the most important output of community building?

  29. 1

    I'd check out https://www.mightynetworks.com It's what I am using for communities and I am a fan. It works like most social media, but you can create groups and courses within the community. Has some great features. I prefer over Slack for communities.

  30. 1

    Check out https://genevachat.com/ -- just launched and I'm loving it. Was designed for this purpose of community-building.

    Also might be some in here:
    https://www.commsor.com/post/mapping-the-ecosystem-of-community-tools

    I host a show where I speak to the creatives and entrepreneurs behind some of the most kick-ass communities today. If you wish, sign up to get alerted about the episodes and get the content as it is likely to cover this territory. You can do that here--

    https://www.digitalcampfires.co/jointhenext

    TX!

  31. 1

    Spot. On!

    Ephemerality. Fine for chit chat. Terrible for long-term value.

    A lot of the things that distributed work teams learn (like Slack is terrible for finding answers to questions three years later) apply to digital communities.

    One option that may not work for everyone given all the new options out there, but I thought I'd share anyway, is the P2 Theme for WordPress. It's a discussion board theme. WordPress.com uses P2's across their organization to do non-ephemeral communication. They use hashtags and @ to enrich the searchability.

  32. 1

    This is why I use Spectrum for my project Mockoon https://spectrum.chat/mockoon.
    It's thread based, and act more like a knowledge base.
    I was acquired by GitHub a while ago. Apparently GitHub Discussions that will be released soon looks a lot like Spectrum, and would be a great addition to my project!

  33. 1

    Sounds great and signed up! Would probably like to hear how it's different from Tribe, Zendesk (?), etc.

  34. 1

    AirSend (https://www.airsend.io/build-community) is an another good option. In-addition to messaging it also offers wiki and built-in file management for long term knowledge sharing.

  35. 1

    Hey would you mind drop the different slack groups you're in haha

  36. 1

    Hey there! I'm building my own messaging app to deal precisely with this issue. Any chance we can connect for 30 min? I'd love to hear more about your thoughts.

    A bit about me: I spent the last 5 years building my company's internal platform for our 6,000+ network members. Every time somebody would ask us "Why not just use Slack?" I'd basically point them to exactly the points you make.

    1. 1

      Hey Naco, I'm most def not the person you want to talk to on this, but hopefully someone else will see this and take you up!

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    This comment was deleted 4 months ago.

    1. 1

      It's definitely not, but it provides unlimited message history for the server / doesn't prohibit migrating the messages to an external source.

      I think it might be "good" because it removes some friction from the engagement flywheel (provided the people have discord installed)

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    This comment was deleted 5 months ago.

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    This comment was deleted 4 months ago.

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