You scoped out an online course and the sales page mentioned “access to a Slack group.” Or maybe you’re already invited to a Slack team by someone you freelance for or collaborate with.
You’re probably wondering…what the heck is Slack?
If you’re old enough (and nerdy enough) to remember the days before social media, you might have talked to people on the internet via Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Geocities or Yahoo chats, anyone?
Slack is basically a chat room with a pretty interface and a lot of useful features built in. Conversations in Slack teams are organized in channels, and members participate via a desktop application, web app, or phone app.
Why Is Slack Awesome?
It’s organized, flexible, and private. I don’t have creepers who haven’t spoken to me in fifteen years sending me “friend” requests or rifling through my personal life. I don’t have to keep up with constantly changing privacy settings or algorithms to know who can see what.
Slack was originally created for small work teams, and it makes collaborating with others easy and effective. Because content in a group is organized by channels, you’re not forced to wade through information that isn’t relevant to you. Also, Slack archives messages and files and provides a search function so you can find them again when you need to.
Another great feature Slack provides is privacy. Need to have a conversation on the down low? You can create private channels or use the direct messaging feature. No one can join your Slack team or private channel without an invite from you, so you have complete control over who sees what.
Finally, Slack has endless customization and integration options that let you see information, participate in conversations, and receive notifications on your terms.
Now that you know what Slack is and how you might use it, here’s my tips for getting the most out of it.
See All Mentions In One Place
Need to catch up with your conversations in one place? Click the @ symbol in the upper right-hand corner of the Slack window to see conversations you’ve been mentioned in.
From there, click on Jump to be taken directly to the channel where the conversation is taking place, or star the message for later. (More on stars below!)
Make A List Of Your Favorites
When you hover over a message, channel, or file in slack, a small star appears to the right. Use this feature to save important information for easy access.
To access your starred items, click the star icon in the upper right-hand corner of the interface. You’ll get a list of your most important stuff.
Starred channels will appear first in the channel list under the team name. Don’t want something in your starred list anymore? Click the star again and remove it.
Are you a lover of shortcuts? Slack comes with 20+ built-in commands that help you get things done on the fly. And surprise, surprise. These are customizable, too. Are you seeing a trend here?
Type / in the message window of the Slack interface and a helpful list of commands will appear.
Some of my favorite commands are:
- /remind me to [thing] at [time] — set a reminder for yourself and get a message at the appointed time to do that thing you need to do
- /remind list — get a list of reminders you’ve set for yourself
- /who — see a list of people in a channel
- /dnd — start a do not disturb session
- /msg — send a direct message to a user
- /expand and /collapse — expands or collapses inline images, files, gifs, and videos in a channel
Customize Your Notifications
When you join a bunch of teams and have a lot of conversations, it’s possible for Slack notifications to get out of hand. But don’t worry, I’ll show you how to customize which notifications you get and how you get them.
Click on the team name in the upper left-hand corner of the interface and choose Preferences.
Under notifications, you can customize how and when you receive notifications. You can even choose what sound notifications make or turn the sound off.
Two of my favorite features are setting up highlight words and do not disturb hours. I’m notified about conversations that interest me and I’m not bothered by notifications when I’m trying to sleep or binge watch Netflix.
To set up highlight words, type a list of keywords you want to be notified about separated by commas under Highlight Words.
Format Your Messages
Give your messages extra interest and context by using the formatting options built in to Slack:
- Bold (asterisks around the word(s) you want to be *bold*)
- Italic (underscores around the word(s) you want _italicized_)
- Strikethrough (tildes around the word(s) you want to be ~strikethrough text~)
- Quotes (> before your text for a one-line message and >>> before your text for a multiple-line message)
- Inline Code (Back ticks around your code. Two back ticks for one line of code “ and three back ticks for multiple lines of code “`code“`)
- Lists (Start your message with a number or bullet point to create a list)
If you’d rather use keyboard shortcuts to format your text, Slack supports it! Check out this this page in the Slack Help Center on message formatting. I keep it bookmarked for the times I need a refresher on how to format my messages.
Plow through your to-do list and stay organized with the huge list of integrations that add more features to Slack. Your ability to add integrations to a Slack channel will depend on the permissions you’ve been given by the group administrator. In my experience, most group administrators will add integrations for you if you can demonstrate their value to the group.
Some of my favorite Slack integrations:
- Poncho the Weathercat (Personalized weather forecasts from a cheeky kitty)
- Giphy (Sometimes a gif says it all)
- Asana (Track tasks and projects)
- Trello (Another way to track tasks and projects)
- Google Drive (Access documents, spreadsheets, and presentations)
- Pomo (Start a simple Pomodoro timer)
- IFTTT (If This Then That — adds lots of ways to get notifications, make apps work together, gather information, etc.)
I hope this post turned you on to some new ways to organize your information and collaborate with others in Slack.
There’s so much more Slack can do, and if you’re interested in doing a deeper dive, definitely check out the documentation in the Slack Help Center.
I’m a Tucson, Arizona-based web developer. I’ve been blogging since the mid-1990s and I’m knowledgeable in all aspects of maintaining an online presence from design to code to SEO and content creation. I live in an RV with my husband and in my spare time I enjoy photography, hiking, drawing, and playing video games.