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SLACK, Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams, “Walled Gardens” & Content Marketing

Slack socks

We have talked a lot about the value of communities when it comes to successful content marketing - specifically as it relates to an Inbound Methodology and leveraging Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPs) like HubSpot. As “walled garden” social platforms like SLACK, Facebook Workplace, and Microsoft Teams continue to grow and dominate the attention of productive workers everywhere, so too must a content marketer's approach to serving digital communities. How do organizations navigate these new ecosystems? Over my next few posts, I'm going to look at SLACK from a few different points of view, starting with content marketing, but let's dive in with a look at these work communities in general.

What is SLACK?

For the uninitiated, SLACK (which is an acronym for Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) is a group messaging tool that began as a workplace conversation tool in the thriving ecosystem of technology companies and startups in Silicon Valley and spread quickly since 2013 to the wider working world. Often heralded early on as an “email killer,” SLACK has since been both lauded as game changing and criticized as “yet another place to keep track of conversations.”

DAU Dec2015.gif

Despite the noise of criticism (or perhaps because of it) the platform-as-a-service tool has only grown in popularity with daily active user (DAU) numbers (the loudest KPI of any digital platform) outpacing many more public-facing tools with data from Apr 1st, 2016 showing 2.7 million DAU, 800,000 paid seats and many hours spent on the platform. LinkedIn, by comparison, shows just over a million monthly active users (around 25% of it's total user base).

If you're looking for a good primer on SLACK and it's place in the ecosystem of similar tools, this website evaluates it from the point of view of SLACK as an investment opportunity.

It is certainly hard to compare apples to apples in this instance - in particular because SLACK often gets compared to it's public facing platform peers like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. It does have rising competition in the space, most notably recently from big tech players Facebook and Microsoft. With over a billion (yes BILLION) monthly active users under its belt, Facebook certainly is a force to be reckoned with for any platform, and because there are so many businesses that are steeped so deeply in use of Microsoft products for email and document processing, it make sense that Microsoft's upcoming entry in the space (which at this point has been given the name Microsoft Teams) could also be a formidable opponent.

UPDATE 11/7/16: At this point both Microsoft Teams (launch info for Teams) and Facebook Workplace seem positioned to reduce "outside" collaboration and community - meaning there don't appear to be plans for "public" private communities (communities that have "closed" communication that isn't indexed but that have systems in place for individuals to apply to join who are not inherently a part of the organization). This will likely be where SLACK continues to differentiate itself. 

I'll spend some more time evaluating the nuances of SLACK and its competitors for various applications in future posts, along with some aspects of SLACK that make it unique (such as the development of “bots” or other integrations on the platform, or its rise as a useful business single sign-on tool), but first, I'd like to focus on what it looks like for content marketers now that so much of the vital attention that we compete for is going into a platform that is largely unexplored territory - sort of.

What is a “walled garden” for Content Marketing?

Most of the work we do for clients when we begin helping them with their Inbound Marketing strategies involves helping them understand how their content can begin to add value to the communities they serve and, specifically, to the communities to which the individuals who are their target market belong. We help them through this community identification process (usually in the form of a workshop) and then help them identify content that will add value to those communities (usually by looking at how their existing content has performed digitally). Put simply, the people you want to target with your message hang out and get influenced by folks in specific digital communities, and you want your content to be able to be found as valuable in those spaces to those people.

Aside from very public digital places that community can occur, there are also communities that are, by nature, a bit more closed off to content marketing - or “walled garden” communities. Essentially, if you don't belong to that group in that platform, your content has a harder time finding itself inside. Our SLACK channels at work are great examples of communities in a “walled garden.” If you thought our channels were full of eyeballs that would benefit from your content, you'd have limited points of entry. In a certain way, even a personal Facebook social graph or a group of LinkedIn professional connections are both “walled gardens” of content (depending on privacy settings).

These kinds of walled off environments don't just impact content marketers, but content producers of all kinds. Lewis DVorkin recently wrote an article for Forbes that addressed the issue from the point of view of media content producers and their efforts to gain entry to the increasingly closed worlds of emerging social platforms like SLACK.

“The rise of walled content gardens at Snapchat, Google, Facebook and Apple reminds me of my eight years at AOL.”

DVorkin laments some of the lack of control of content that is in inherent within these closed walls and finds that to be a strong lesson for others to learn.

“My AOL experience taught me a lot — mostly, work hard to control your own destiny”

DVorkin is not alone is his hesitation involving the challenge facing organizations hoping their content will find targeted homes inside these closed or semi-closed environments.

Josh Aberant, CMO of SparkPost, was recently quoted in an article for CIO.com as saying that the role of a marketer is evolving and includes using data to understand customers' actual needs and experiences. Part of that involves a shift in understanding the value of data around the communities your content is designed to serve. Making sure that your content matches those precise micro-communities is essential for attempting to gain the attention of those inside these “walled gardens.”

Where do public SLACKs fit into my Content Marketing Strategy?

Though it may not be possible to join every company's private SLACK, it is possible to gain the attention of influencers in those spaces and to explicitly design calls of action for those influencers to share your content in these increasingly closed spaces.

That isn't the only option content marketers have for SLACK as a platform, however. An emerging trend in the use of the platform involves more public uses of the tool as a community management platform. Organizations interested in fundraising, such as Gimlet Media, have found great value in “narrowcasting” their message by creating their own SLACK group that members of their public can join.

More intimate than a Twitter follow or a Facebook Page like (not to mention sponsored posts in these platforms), participation in SLACK groups has been a great way for organizations to build engagement. Claire Wasserman, an experiential marketer specializing in strategy and event production, recently wrote about SLACK for PSFK, and she detailed her experiences using SLACK to build out community for her organization, Ladies Get Paid. She outlines several lessons she's learned that have shown the value of participating in these public/private SLACK environments, including the speed with which they can scale.

Likewise, as more and more SLACK groups and channels (or Facebook Workplaces or Microsoft Teams) open themselves to public participation, it becomes easier to find the ideal target for your content based on the topics of the group. It also makes sense (in particular for Facebook, considering their already robust advertising distribution infrastructure) for these platforms to offer ways for organizations to enter into these spaces in paid mediums.

There are additional reasons to keep SLACK on the horizon in terms of content marketing within your own organization as well. Deep integration points with tools like Salesforce have already been developing, and that is likely to include public SLACK groups and channels as well. We'll take a closer look at what it means for organizations to deploy SLACK internally, including our own uses of the tool, in future posts.

Where do I find public SLACKs?

In the meantime, it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the existing public SLACK groups to see if it makes sense for your organization to find a representative to join in an authentic way as an entry point for finding a highly relevant community to add value to through your content. Below, we've listed some common places to find public SLACK groups:

Do you participate in a public SLACK? What are your thoughts about engagement there? Let us know in the comments below.

Need some help with your content marketing efforts? Let us make an assessment of ways you could be maximizing your digital strategy!

About the Author

Doug Miller
Doug Miller
When working at WSOL as a Senior Marketing Strategist, Doug provided strategic assistance to our business clients, working with them to implement inbound marketing methodologies. He is passionate about digital social objects and their ecosystems, storytelling, and crafting good user experiences. He believes it is important to treat human attention sustainably, as an exhaustible resource. When he's not working, Doug likes photography, science fiction, making music, hiking, and being a dad of 2 awesome kids.