Slack: Social Media for the Office

Historically, social media has often been thought of as a very personal and casual outlet. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and more recently Instagram, are prime examples of this phenomenon.  Consequently, most people would find the use of social media in the workplace to be inappropriate and unproductive.  However, the advent of online professional networks such as LinkedIn may be changing the social media landscape and making way for a slew of new applications.

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Typical perception of social media in the Office

Currently, the most popular social platform for businesses is Slack, a cloud-based social media tool used for communication and collaboration among teams.  The purpose of this tool is to facilitate easy and stress-free communication among coworkers, and to eliminate the hassles associated with email. The company is aptly named using an acronym for Searchable Log for All Conversation and Knowledge.  Initially released in 2013, the app consists of two key features; Teams and Messaging.  The Teams feature allows for admins to invite their coworkers or employees to join a team.  Once a part of the team, members can send digital messages to the whole team, individuals, or a select subgroup of individuals.

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Slack Screenshot

When I walked into my internship this past summer, I had never heard of Slack before.  Nevertheless, it would play a critical role in my experience and would come to give me an extremely personal insight into the application of social media in the workplace. During my time using slack, I was able to identify several key strengths and weaknesses about the product, as are outlined below.

Firstly, I found that Slack fully served its purpose as an extremely efficient method of communicating within the office.  While formal projects and important tasks were still sent via email, the vast majority of communications happened over slack’s easy to use and highly efficient digital messaging app.  This significantly helped to streamline communications and provided opportunity for important conversations that otherwise would not have been had.  For example, the app served as a great way to bridge the gap between questions and comments that were not important enough to ask via email, but definitely needed to be answered.

Let me elaborate on that last point. Given my relative inexperience, I very often had clarifying questions about my work that seemed to be too insignificant to send in a formal email.  Being able to easily ask these questions on Slack helped me to be more productive and less of a burden on the full time analysts who would have had to answer them over email or in person.  And even though mere seconds were saved for each question, the time certainly added up over the course of a whole summer, and definitely helped to improve the efficiency of communication in the office.

Another strength of Slack was its casual nature relative to the more formal email.  This casual nature made the platform a great place to facilitate conversations that were not necessarily about work, yet helped to enhance my performance on the job.  The best example of this was how Slack allowed me to coordinate my lunch breaks and coffee runs with my fellow interns, as well as with some full time analysts.  As I became closer with my coworkers, I enjoyed my internship experience more and more.  As a result, the relationships I currently have from my internship this past summer are some of my most valuable takeaways from the experience, and I owe them in part to Slack.

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All that being said, there were some issues I experienced with Slack.

While the casual nature of the tool had its benefits, it also was a breeding ground for (ironically) Slacking off, as well as general unprofessionalism.  The group we had set up for our group of interns was often full of memes and irrelevant videos/articles, and my fellow interns often used profanity in ways they would certainly not have done in person around the office.  This is largely due to something we’ve already explored in detail; online disinhibition.

Furthermore, the freedom of members to form their own Slack groups inevitably lead to the forming of a clique, which served to negatively discriminate against one particular intern. Out of the five interns, one was particularly a strange character who had poor social skills.  To avoid his random and unusual comments, one of the interns made a new Slack group with all the interns except him.  This was not done in malice, and he was never mocked, yet it still excluded him from the group in a way that was fundamentally wrong.

Another issue was the conflict that emerged between the lower level employees and one of the higher ups regarding the use of the app.  The lower level employees insisted that the company should pay for the full membership so that they could search back through their entire messaging history if necessary.  However, the higher-up in charge of the decision consistently fought this extra purchase in an effort to save valuable resources.  As a result, the lower level employees were unable to properly search their messages and locate valuable information.

In spite of these issues, I believe that Slack is an incredibly valuable tool, and the world seems to agree.  The apps user base has exploded in a viral sensation usually reserved for cats and K-pop music.

slack-users-paid-seats-chart

As a result, Slack was awarded Founder of the Year in 2015, Fastest Rising Startup in 2016, and Best Startup of the Year for 2017 at “The Crunchies,” the annual awards of TechCrunch.com.  There have even been add on applications, such as this one by PayPal which allows individuals to send payments directly through slack.

Looking forward, I would not at all be surprised to see Slack continue to grow and eventually become a staple of the American workplace on par with the email.

10 comments

  1. I really found this blog interesting because I found myself having the same issues of formal email for little questions throughout my summer internship. Working in such a large company and having so many people to answer to with different tastes and expectations makes it difficult to meet all expectations without asking questions so I can see where this can definitely help. I also think that one of the most beneficial things that I did was set up meetings with all my higher-ups at least once throughout the summer so that I can get to know them on a more personal level and something like Slack will be more effective in setting these kinds of interactions up. However, I also see the potential to Slack off and not actually use it for business reasons.

  2. I wasn’t familiar with Slack before I read this post, so it was interesting to get your perspective on the effectiveness of this tool. I found it interesting that you said it was used for memes and irrelevant videos/articles. In previous jobs, I found colleagues were careful about what they used Office Communicator or Google Chat for (perhaps they were conscious that HR were monitoring them; but I have worked in very bureaucratic organizations).

    I worked for an organization that had over 30 international offices that essentially served as a relationship broker for technologies companies looking to find partners, distributors, venture funding etc. We used Yammer; this was great because users would post things like “Does anybody know somebody working in Google?” or “I am working with VC fund that is looking to invest in clean technology companies”. This platform worked well for this purpose, but truthfully what we needed was a new CRM system. Interesting to hear about Slack; always looking for tools that might reduce the number of emails!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Yammer seems like a similar app with similarly (generally) positive results.

  3. Wow, I found this post very interesting because I’ve never heard of Slack before. It definitely seems like an efficient means for communication in the office, and I think that it is important for certain simple conversations to have that informal feel to it since not every topic is formal. I definitely can see how this can lead to those memes/inappropriate conversations, but honestly that is the workers fault because they should know better not to interact in that way on a work platform. In my past internship experience, we used a similar messaging system in the office, so it is interesting to see how many different communication services are out there. I’m curious what makes companies choose one over the other.

    1. Interesting point regarding memes and such, although remember to consider the effects on online disinhibition: In this case, people who generally do know better than to act inappropriately in person still do so on the app because they feel disinhibited.

  4. I’ve heard Slack mentioned in a few different business environments, but never personally used it. Even in a corporate setting email is often used in ways that seem much more fitting for an instant message rather than a large email chain that’s only a “reply all” away. With the success of group messaging apps like GroupMe in a college setting, I can’t imagine how large businesses cold function without some sort of group instant messaging. I would definitely look forward to an increased adoption of apps like Slack in workplaces.

  5. Like many of the other commenters, I too had never heard of Slack before reading your post. I find it interesting that this application is around as it must help answer those less urgent emails in a more informal manner. However, how is this different from say an app like GroupMe? Does this app have specific discussion boards? I also wonder if these apps end up taking away from vital interaction within a work place. It can be easier to just message a question or write a comment in a group chat but tone can also be lost. This could create miscommunication and a loss of clarity. I wonder if due to these potential negatives, some companies would dislike the use of apps like this and prefer face to face conversations.

    1. To quote a review from Slant.com, “When comparing GroupMe vs Slack, the Slant community recommends Slack for most people. In the question“What is the best team chat software?” Slack is ranked 1st while GroupMe is ranked 42nd.The most important reason people chose Slack is: Slack integrates with tools like Trello, GitHub, Dropbox, Mailchimp, and dozens of others, so you can have a centralized event feed of your project right alongside your chat. This is tremendously useful for keeping context with your discussions.”

  6. Nice post. I’ve really wanted to like slack, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. As with many of these tools, they are really a servant to the company culture in which they are used. They can be used to slack off and discriminate, or to be more efficient and bring people together. It just all depends on how they are used.

    1. Definitely agree about the reflection of culture. The immaturity was entirely exhibited by my fellow interns, while the use of slack by full time employees was professional and very helpful.

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