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Slack or a Facebook Group for your business community? The choice is clear for us: Slack.
The way we see this “course community” feature typically accomplished in the online course world is through a closed Facebook group.
However, what we dislike about going that route are these two things:
1) Facebook is far too distracting an environment to allow for focused communication around learning. (Even if you’re in a closed Facebook group, let’s be honest, you’re one click away from news article link and baby photos in my feed.) And…
2) We want the community experience to be enjoyable for us, the course creators or community creators, as well, and the idea of spending hours every day on Facebook talking to students or members is NOT enjoyable. Neither one of us has logged in to Facebook for personal use in literally years.
So if Facebook groups are out, how do you get your students or community members to communicate in a private yet easy-to-navigate environment?
Enter: the magic of Slack.
Slack was originally created as a chat app for teams to communicate with one another. Think… AIM or Gchat meets Basecamp.
We had never even considered Slack as a community option for a course or membership until years ago I saw my friend, Paul Jarvis, using it to connect his students in his freelancing course, Creative Class. Paul is a pretty smart cookie so I figured if it was working for him, it could definitely work for us.
Our only hesitation: would our members feel intimidated using an app that they likely hadn’t used before? Though it’s been around for years now, Slack still feels like it’s only widely known in the design/tech/startup bubble. It definitely doesn’t have the mainstream adoption that Facebook has. So, would this hinder usage?
The answer was a resounding NO! The first time I experimented with using Slack instead of Facebook for a discussion forum for my online course on branding, my students LOVED Slack.
Thanks to a proper onboarding process (outlined below), a whopping 70% of my course students made the transition from signing up for the course to signing up for Slack as well.
Much to my surprise, the activity was extremely high in the community AND incredibly motivating. Students would share their course work, get feedback from each other, and I was able to answer questions directly.
Fast-forward to today. Jason and I use Slack exclusively for our Un-boring Coaching Program, as well as our premium community option WAIM Unlimited, and works perfectly for us.
We love the threaded discussions, the way our members can DM with one another (and us!) to ask specific questions, and we have channels dedicated to specific topics which keeps things far more organized than a Facebook group.
The best part is…everyone is happy to be there, without distractions from the Facebook eco-system. If our members are in Slack, they’re there just to chat with the WAIM community.
We get to see everyone cheer each other on, witness first-hand where they get stuck, and we love the feeling of getting to know our members on a personal level that goes beyond email.
One of our members asked me how she could use Slack as an online forum for a local meetup group she’s a part of, which is what finally led me to put together this post on how you too can set up your own Slack community.
But before we get to that, let’s get the basics out of the way…
What exactly is Slack?
Slack is a free messaging app for teams or groups. All the conversations inside the app are searchable and the app syncs seamlessly from your desktop to your mobile device.
Benefits of Slack over Facebook Groups
Before I get into how to create a Slack team, I just want to reiterate why I think Slack is more effective than a closed Facebook group.
👉 Slack is a distraction-free environment.
Slack is a stand-alone app used only for messaging and communication. No ads popping up. No photo albums of vacations being dropped. No twelve million things to click on. When you’re in Slack, you’re focused on the conversations at hand.
👉 Slack makes sharing files incredibly easy.
You can drag and drop files right into Slack. Images, PDFs — whatever you want. You can also comment on files or star them for later.
👉 The entire chat is indexed and searchable!
This is by far one of my favorite features. No more scrolling down a Facebook group trying to find that ONE link that was shared. Search by keyword and find what you’re looking for immediately.
👉 You can communicate one-on-one via direct message with members.
In Facebook, if you want to message people one-on-one, you have to do it through your Facebook Messages, which pulls you out of the group causing yet another distraction. In Slack, your DM’s are just a click away from the main chat which is especially helpful in an online course or membership community where students/members may want to ask you questions without the pressure of everyone else watching on.
What are the basic features of Slack?
Here are a few of the basic features you should know about if you decide to use Slack.
Channels are for the main conversations that take place in your Slack community. Think of these like open chat rooms where anyone can discuss topics. You can name a channel based on a topic which helps keep conversations on that channel focused. For example, in our Wandering Aimfully community, we have channels that correspond to our monthly coaching sessions, our signature course Build Without Burnout, and even a “shameless asks” channel which keeps any/all self-promotion to a dedicated channel where it’s celebrated rather than disrupting the flow of conversation.
Direct messages allow you to have one-on-one conversations just like DM’s on Twitter. The conversations that happen via DM are searchable only to you and the person you’re communicating with.
Private groups can be used to talk about topics that only pertain to (and that should only be visible to) a certain number of members in the community/team.
How do I use Slack?
Slack has a variety of ways that you can use the app, and all of them are equally beautiful and intuitive. Plus, they sync automatically with one another so I can start a conversation on my desktop app, hop in the car with a friend to go somewhere and continue the conversation without missing a beat.
On your desktop, you can access Slack via the web (in your browser) or you can download their web app straight to your laptop (for Mac and PC.)
On your phone, you can access Slack via their mobile app on iOS and Android.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what Slack is, let’s talk about how to set up your own Slack community (for your product, your team or your blog audience!)
How To Set Up Your Own Slack Community
Don’t be scared, setting up your first Slack Community starts with just a few clicks of your mouse (and costs you nothing!)
- Step 1: Visit Slack.com and click “Get Started.”
- Step 2: Sign up using your email address.
- Step 3: Create a Team Name. (For this example, let’s pretend I’m creating a Slack Team for my newest online course on how to train dancing zebras called Dance Dance Zebra. 😂🤷♀️🦓)
- Step 4: Create a custom URL for your team. (This is where you can sign-in to your Slack team when you’re using the web app. For example: dancedancezebra.slack.com.)
- Step 5: Pick a personal username for yourself and click “Finish.”
That’s it! You just created your Slack account AND a brand new team for your community! Slack will then email you an account confirmation with a link to set your account password.
Once you’ve created your Slack team, I recommend taking the tutorial within the app which will walk you through the main functionality, including channels, direct messages and private groups that I mentioned above.
Now, let’s add members to your team.
Once you’ve created a team, you probably want some people to join you, huh? I don’t blame you. The good news is, there are a number of ways to accomplish this and invite members to join your team. I take you through a couple below.
If you’re a beginner when it comes to technical know-how and you want to add people as simply as possible, I recommend inviting people manually (see below.)
However, if you don’t mind a little extra effort on the setup, and you’re using your Slack team as a community feature to your digital product, I recommend trying something a bit more automated.
By using an intermediary service called Heroku, I can show you how to create a private portal link to your Slack team which will allow only your customers to join your team once they’ve purchased your course or signed up for your email list. No manual invites required!
First, let me start by walking you through how we add members to the Wandering Aimfully Slack team for our coaching members.
Our workflow for adding members to our Wandering Aimfully Slack Community
Let me walk you through the onboarding process for our Un-Boring Coaching Program members, in case you too want to use Slack as a community feature for an online course or membership site.
When someone signs up for Un-Boring Coaching on our site, they automatically get a Welcome email that gives them details on how to get started with the program.
In that email, we give them a special link to our login portal for the Slack community. (We also offer them a “Getting Started with Slack” PDF that tells them how things are organized and our general etiquette guidelines.)
This login portal is incredibly convenient because new members essentially request their own invites and we don’t have to manually invite them every time. All they have to do is enter their email address address and the app fires off an email that looks something like this.
Boom, they click through, create a password and they’re added automatically to the team and can start chatting.
Now, if you’d like to set up this method for your own community, skip down to the Advanced how-to below. If you’d prefer to begin by adding members manually, start here:
Beginner: Adding Slack members manually
- Step 1: Click the down arrow next to your team’s name in your app.
- Step 2: Click “Invite People.”
- Step 3: Enter the email address and details of the person you’d like to invite. If you want to send multiple invitations, you can click “Add another” or you can also send invites in bulk by clicking “Invite many people at once.”
- Step 5: Click the “Send Invitations” button to send.
Ta-da! Easy peasy. Your new members will get the invite email and they can set up their accounts.
Advanced: How To Setup An Automated Slack Invite Using Heroku
Warning: This is going to seem a bit technical. If you start going through the steps and find it confusing, I recommend starting out by adding slack members manually. Don’t worry, I don’t understand stuff like GitHub and deploying web apps and such either, but if you try to ignore all that and just follow the steps as I’ve written them below, I promise you’ll be able to create your portal and never have to bother with the technical stuff again!
People will be able to add themselves to the community if they have the portal link and you won’t have to manually enter email addresses every time.
This is especially helpful if you want to create some sort of Slack community around a topic and people will be wanting to join on a regular, ongoing basis.
Also, truth be told, I have no idea what Heroku is other than it’s a “cloud application platform” for developers. The only important part to know is that it basically gives you the ability to deploy your own “app” (this Slack portal), which a kind developer has already built and published on GitHub for other people (like you and me) to use. Another shoutout to Paul Jarvis for helping me set this up initially.
Okay, let’s get started.
Creating your automated invite app in Heroku:
Step 1: Visit this link — https://elements.heroku.com/buttons/outsideris/slack-invite-automation — and ignore everything else except the purple button that says “Deploy To Heroku.” Click it!
Step 2: You’ll be re-directed to Heroku’s signup page where you want to quickly create a Heroku account (don’t worry, it’s free!) Enter your info and confirm your account via the email they send you. Set your password and complete account setup.
Step 3: You’ll be brought to this page where it will ask you to configure your settings for your new “Slack Invite Automation” portal app in Heroku.
Configuring your app settings in Heroku:
Step 3 (continued): To configure those settings:
Name your app. Keep in mind whatever you choose will also be a part of your portal URL in this format: APPNAME.herokuapp.com. (So, for example, you can see below I’ve entered “dancedancezebraslack” which will make my portal URL “dancedancezebraslack.herokuapp.com.”)
Select your region.
Your Slack Team name: Whatever you named your Slack Team, enter that here.
Your Slack url: Whatever you typed as your Slack subdomain when you created your Slack team above, enter that here.
Your INVITE_TOKEN: You can leave that blank.
Your SLACK_TOKEN: First, visit this link — https://api.slack.com/custom-integrations/legacy-tokens — and scroll down to the Legacy Token Generator. **IMPORTANT NOTE: Slack no longer recommends the use of these tokens and may phase them out in the future so be aware of that risk if you decide to proceed to create the automated invite portal. If you want to proceed, click “Create token.”
Once you create your token, copy that long string of letters and numbers and paste it into your Heroku settings.
BOOM! Once you have these variables in place, click Deploy App! You’ll see Heroku do its thing and in a few moments, you should see a message saying “Your app was successfully deployed.” Click the “View” button to see your new portal page.
All you have to do is copy your private portal URL on this page and send the link to people for whom you want to grant access to the community. That will allow them to invite themselves!
When they click “Join” on this page, they’re sent an email inviting them to join like I showed you above.
Phew! We made it! That was quite the doozy of a post!
I can’t even tell you how much this one app has facilitated community for our Wandering Aimfully members. The level of conversation and personalized help we’re able to provide with Slack as a tool is amazing.
As far as we’re concerned, Slack is the future of online communities.