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Slack 101: Our Favorite Messaging System

Why We Love Us Some Slack

Here at Tuna Traffic, we’re a bit obsessed with communication – making sure our Tuna Team’s talk is clear, productive and easily understood. That’s why we use Slack everyday as our primary real time team communication tool. Don’t have Slack yet? Get it on the App Store! (free)  It’s also available for pretty much every other device. Not only does Slack make our conversations look great, it also offers some really great features that really help optimize our communicational efficiency. If you’re interested in boosting your team’s internal communication, read on.

Search

One of the core benefits of using Slack is that everything we say is “on the record”… and this is good. This makes it so if you can’t remember where someone said [that thing you’re looking for], you can usually find it quite easily by using the search field at the top of the app.  Keep in mind that the search will only return results that are available to you.

Direct Messages

These are 1-on-1 conversations between team members. Not much to say here, except if the conversation is project/client related, it should probably take place in a channel for everyone to see, including others who join the channel later.

By default Slack will notify you for all direct messages. If you want to get someone’s attention in a chat, simply @ mention them as you would on twitter or the like.

In a message, once you type @, Slack will give a popup/dropdown of possibilities to choose from, or you can start typing someone’s name to filter it down.

Slack 101 - Lori and Evan DM

Channels

Channels are like the chat rooms of yesteryear, where we congregate to communicate for a common cause. Channel names start with a pound sign or hash # followed by the name.

If you type a channel name, anywhere in your message, Slack will make that into a hyperlink to that channel.  Clicking the link will then change to that channel.  A great way to move a conversation that started on one topic that should resume in a different channel.

In Tuna Traffic Slackland, our staple channels are:

  • #general – Any/all things for the whole team.  Great for notifying the whole team at once – @channel … – use responsibly.
  • #blogger_updates – All things blogger clients.
  • #sales – Really exciting stuff.
  • #random – Seizure-inducing animated gifs and other silly things.  Everyone enjoys a good laugh.  If you think you’re gonna spew, type /collapse

Slack 101 - Mad Love channel

Client/Project Channels

Every substantial project/client should have its own dedicated channel. These generally start with#project_ or #managed_ depending on whether it is a project or managed subscription.

Channel Tip:  Star the channels you use the most to keep them visible all the time! To star a channel, open it, and click the star to the left of the channel title at the top. It will now appear at the top of your sidebar in Slack. Private groups and direct messages (team members) may also be starred and will show in the same place in the sidebar.

Channels vs Private Groups

The difference between channels and private groups are:

  • Anyone from the team can join/leave a channel whenever they want.
  • Private groups are by invitation only.
  • Private groups are not searchable by others.
  • Private groups may not support all integrations.

Channels are preferred over private groups, primarily because there should be very little conversation that happens that should really be private. The official WordPress Slack group does not use private groups at all, because it goes against the open nature of the organization.

Integrations

Integrations are what really take Slack to the next level beyond being “yet another chat app”. Just about every modern web/tech-related tool and service under the sun offers a native integration with Slack these days, and others that don’t can even be done manually in most cases, but that’s beyond the scope of this article 😉 .

Most integrations are for feeding information about a particular event into a specified channel. Ex:  rss blog post, git commit to repository, or code deployment status. These are all events that would be relevant to a particular channel, and so some channels are dedicated to these, rather than for inter-team communication.

For example, when this post is published, there will be a notification about it in the #general channel, so everyone will go and read it!

Integration/feed channels

These are channels that are for aggregating information from various integrations:

  • #911 – Important feeds from various sources:  hosting status, events, website uptime/availability changes, security updates, etc.
  • #support – Support ticket feed – information from new tickets as they come.

Commands

Slack has a plethora of commands you can see by typing a forward slash / into the message input where you will see all available commands with their usage and a description.

I’m not going to list them all here, but one of my favorites is the /remind me in X to Y command.

Ex:  /remind me in 30 min to PACK UP!

In 30 minutes, I will get a notification from slackbot letting me know that I asked it to remind me to “PACK UP!”  This is especially handy when you tend to block out the rest of the world when you work and you don’t want to (or will forget to) keep looking at the clock.

Slack Your Own Style

In case you’re not a fan of the stock look, Slack gives you several nice themes to choose from out of the box.

To find these, click on your name at the bottom of the sidebar and choose Preferences and then Sidebar Theme.  You will find 6 themes to choose from (at the time of this writing).

Being the slick piece of chat app that it is, Slack also gives you the ability to create your own custom theme by choosing your own colors! To do this, click the link at the bottom of the preferences panel mentioned above to reveal 8 hex code color pickers. You can play with these to tweak slack’s style in real-time.  Pretty cool huh?

You’ve Got the Inside Track on Slack

Now that you’re in the know on Slack, bring on the improved communication and Slack away!