A couple of months back I heard a podcast and they casually made reference to a new tool they were trying called Slack. They didn’t say much, but it basically sounded like Whatsapp for businesses. I didn’t think too much of what they said and carried on listening to the rest of the show. Then I noticed another podcast talking about it, next thing I know Slack is being mentioned everywhere and everyone who drops its name not only likes it, but absolutely loves it.
What on earth could be so special about a messaging tool that people like Michael Hyatt, Jeff Goins and more podcasts than I care to list are all so enamoured about it? Well thanks to a couple of projects I’ve been part of (ahem—ChurchMag) I’ve had the chance to use Slack up close and personal and I am now in love with this tool as well.
What is Slack?
Slack is a team communication tool that runs on multiple platforms. It has a web interface but also apps for Macs, Windows, Android, iOS and Windows phone (some of these are just we wrappers though). Slack provides you a space for your team to communicate in private. This can occur directly, between two individuals, or between a group within a channel. So practically for a church, you could have your church team all on Slack and then have a channel for finance, a channel for the worship team, a channel for the youth work etc. It also has a great API with some nice integrations with different services.
Before I even get into the features let me address one of the key issues people might have with a tool like this. Slack has an incredible free option. You can have unlimited members for free, you just don’t keep all your message history and you’re limited to only 5 external service integrations. To get that and other features you’ll need to pay $6 a month per user. I suspect many churches will be able to get away with the free offering and if they need the premium offering, they can afford it!
From the off, Slack looks great. The interface focuses on the messages that you are sending and gets the interface out of the way, with traditional menu options for your mobile apps to bring them back into focus. It’s hard to comment too much on the interface as it does change from platform to platform, but one really nice feature are the rich content snippets when you post a link or file. If you share a webpage then an extract will appear, if you share a video, it can be played from inside Slack, and so on.
Slack also has incredibly integrations with other services. For example, you can see live subscriptions/unsubscribes from your MailChimp newsletter, or get notifications about your Twitter interactions. This lets you coordinate who should take what action on those services.
Slack also has great notification options, you can get notified for every message in your channels, get notified only when you are mentioned, or not get notified at all. You can easily change them depending on your situation. Great to make sure you are constantly in the loop during critical moments at work or you aren’t bothered while you are off work.
Although this is a brilliant tool. It is still just a tool. If you have people who aren’t clear in their communications, infrequently communicate, do everything themselves, do nothing etc… then you are still going to have these problems. Also the ease of logging into Slack can encourage poorer work/life divide of your time and mentality. The common blessing of modern technology.
More specifically to Slack, some of the apps are just web pages loaded onto your device which as Facebook experienced from their flirtation with HTML5 apps, are slower than native apps. There are certain features my teams have thought would be nice to have in Slack such as being able to reply to tweets from within the Twitter channel which shows all the Twitter activity (great if you have a team handling the Twitter account). Perhaps the feature I’d most like to see is the option to have an action list for members of the team. It would be great to conduct a meeting in Slack, then come to a conclusion and have a written action plan with who will do what.
At present, you could upload a document or create a standard post, but you can’t assign actions or have a specific category. Of course you could use a tool like Asana or Todoist for this and the lack of a feature like this does aid simplicity.
In the past we had used Socialcast for ChurchMag backchannel communication, which as Phil describes it, is more like Facebook (with threads you can track) to Slacks more Twitter like feel. Those threads are very handy to keep track of a topic, where are Slack can be harder to follow as you often are presented with the latests comment first and have to scroll back to see previous comments.
Hipchat is a Slack competitor, it has many of the same features but there are a couple of key differences. Firstly, you can deploy it on your own server so that you have that extra level of privacy and security. Also the pricing structure is very different. Unlike Slack, you only have two tiers, free and plus. Free gives you unlimited users, messages and integration (Slack limits you to 5 integrations), but with a limit on messages that are saved (25,000) and file storage (5gb).
The plus version only costs $2 a month (unclear if this is per user, but it is certainly cheaper than even the first tier on Slack which is $6.97 per user) and adds video chatting, screen sharing and the option to search through ALL your messages. Definitely a compititor to check out and probably save your church some money.
Socialcast is the tool we used before Slack. It comes with mobile apps as well as a webpage. As I mentioned before, it is more akin to your own Facebook group where you can start a topic, share files and private message other users. It is starting to look and feel a bit older than Slack and doesn’t feel as smooth to use. For some reason, all of ChurchMag Staff Writers preferred Slack to Socialcast, but that might not be the case for you.
It also lacks the integrations with services like MailChimp, Twitter and other services which really help set Slack apart.
Basecamp is another group collaboration tool. It’s a bit more like Socialcast in that you can start a thread and add comments or files to that thread. Each thread is more closed than the channels. This is great for developer work as you can discuss specific bugs and keep a record of work. However, I have found it more difficult to discuss an issue on. I wish I could define a specific reason, but it may even be as simple as each comment takes up more space on the screen leading to more scrolling.
Slack is an impressive team communication tool for organisation with a free level many will love. It can help cut down on your email, communicate in real time, and get things organized for your church. Considering many church volunteers may never all be in the same ace at the same time, a tool like this can help greatly to share some of the workload and get more members more active within the church. Of course, this also relies on the good leadership and communicative skills too.
— Value for Money
Slack supports iOS, Android, Mac, and just about anything that will load a web app.
You can find Slack here.