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Are We Sleeping on Slack?

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How Slack can be used to build thriving digital creative communities.

Words by 

Megan Hill

Published on 

April 1, 2023

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Creativity is continuous experimentation, imagination and learning—all enhanced by social interaction.

Creatives benefit from community. Naturally, social media sites were used to host community interactions but somewhere amidst algorithmic updates and relentless reels, creative communities were left scattered and disillusioned. Instagram is designed to build audiences, not communities.

If only there were a digital platform that champions interaction, invention, and education to allow these creative communities to thrive...

Creativity and community

Creatives have long understood the benefits of community—access to support, procrastination deterrence, exposure to new perspectives, and opportunity for collaborative learning. Workshops, like those hosted by Creativity Explored, and conferences, as held by In/Visible Talks, are examples of how creatives have come together to capitalise on these benefits.

Creative Mornings is another example—a New York-based brunch club for local creatives, that grew into an international network. But as they scaled, Creative Mornings began supplementing in-person events with a permanent online directory for their community. Moving online allows communities to stay connected regardless of distance. Digital alternatives make networking logistically viable for everyone—opportunities and creative conversations should not be limited by geographical, social, or financial barriers.

There is demand for a platform that allows creative communities to interact as authentically as they would in real life, whilst embracing the inclusivity and convenience of the internet.

Slack as a solution

Enter, Slack.

Slack is a messaging service designed for internal company communications. However, Slack's OOO potential remains largely unexplored. Slack workspaces dedicated to creative industries do exist, but they are largely lying dormant—communities brimming with potential, simply waiting to be activated.

However, other industry-based communities have more readily adopted Slack into their communications. Wordsmiths—a Slack community created by Sonder & Tell—functions as a space for writing professionals to develop their craft. Channels are dedicated to discussing notable copy (the good, the bad and the ugly), sharing inspirational prompts, gathering advice, and advertising job opportunities.

Another Slack community gaining traction is the Freelance Schmeelance group, founded by Harling Ross. Harling works as a freelancer in the brand consulting space and has become a de facto 'connector', often referring brands to other freelancers for stuff that doesn't fit her area of expertise. "I love referring people for jobs, especially fellow freelancers. It's fun to play a small role in giving talented folks the opportunity to do their thing." Harling further explains, "I'm conscious of how significant a privilege it is as a freelancer to have a platform on social media where brands can find me, and I want to pay that forward as frequently and widely as possible." And so, Harling built her Slack community. "It's grown into more than just a job referral platform, there's quite a bit of general advice-sharing that happens here too—which I love. I also love hearing about connections people have made through Slack, and jobs people have been hired for. The definition of a win-win."

Building a playground

Slack has termed itself "a playground for your creative process", but how exactly can a messaging tool evolve into a playground—a space characterised by experimentation, interactivity, and entertainment?

To turn Slack's blank canvas into a fruitful space for collaborative thinking, ideation, and creative exploration, we searched for lessons from infamous playground equipment.

Sandpit: laying foundations

A child looks at a sandpit and sees an opportunity to build something from scratch. Creatives can look at Slack in the same way.

Create a solid structure

When building a sandcastle, it is important to lay strong foundations. When this theory is applied to Slack, that means getting your channels in order.

Channels can be tailored to the needs/interests of the community. These channels act as "performative silos"—focusing discussion on a specific topic. Yet avoiding the limitations of siloed thinking, because ideas can then spill out into other channels and collide with supplementary conversations to create great new ideas. Wordsmiths' #copyofnote channel consistently receives engagement—why? It has clear guidelines, is open to interaction and is a little bit playful! Specificity provides clarity, interesting topics capture attention, and activities offer delight.

Use all the tools available to you

Slack is simple. But simple features can make a big impact—namely, apps and audio. Audio had a moment last year with the launch of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, and Slack also has audio-chat capabilities—known as Huddles. Hosting live calls is a good way to add the "human touch" to a digital space. Active engagement with live conversation is concrete evidence of an invested community.

It is also possible to integrate apps into your Slack channels—try Mural, a virtual collaborative whiteboard and Lucid Spark, a space for digital brainstorming.

Seesaw: give and take

Collaborative learning theory implies that we learn best through working together. We are more likely to process, compound and build on teachings when we work in collaboration with others.

A common channel in many Slack communities is "gives and asks"—participants are encouraged to ask for help and offer solutions where they can. Make it clear that this is a safe space for the community to share their work and opinions but that all participants should welcome the suggestions and critiques of fellow designers—viewing them as an opportunity to grow.

Climbing frame: the element of challenge

Risk-taking

A creative mind enjoys risk and experimentation. Though, of course, a degree of stability and predictability in daily work is reassuring, creatives need to be challenged in order to grow.

Slack channels could act as risk simulators—all the challenge, stimulation, and fun without any consequences. Pose thoughtful questions, work through problem-solving scenarios together, and set design challenges. A Slack community can become a gym for the creative mind.

Think outside the box

Many Slack communities are built around a common discipline or profession (marketing, graphic design, etc.) but what if they were a little more abstract?

Interdisciplinary thinking is in high demand. Slack could function as a space to bring together expansive thinkers from across creative disciplines to tackle complex problems. A digital think-tank, if you will. Breaking convention could position your Slack channel as a breeding ground for innovation, problem-solving, and ideation.

Merry-go-round: optional participation

Whilst we are used to having our attention farmed on social media, Slack can be different.

Just like on a merry-go-round, members of a Slack community should be able to hop on/hop off as and when they choose. Avoid pestering, setting time limits, or imposing 'obligatory' activities. Communication should be frequent and consistent, but be careful not to overwhelm the community with challenges, advice and questions—they'll switch off their notifications.

Swings: keeping the momentum

A Slack community should ultimately be self-sufficient—participants will be invested enough to keep the community running without too much maintenance. However, there are things you can do initially to build that loyalty and investment...

Break the monotony

Remember, you're dealing with a highly visually responsive demographic. Social media takes advantage of the engaging nature of visual imagery, so take that lesson and combine it with genuine value-adding content. Utilise gifs, videos and other visuals to break up text and keep conversations digestible and fun.

Collective encouragement

Collective encouragement is a great community-building exercise. In the Freelance Shmeelance community, Harling Ross created a channel titled #shmeelance-wins— a place for celebrating achievements. When people feel encouraged and valued by their community, they are more inclined to contribute.

Visualist is a software empowering creative professionals to work, earn and scale their businesses. Learn more here.

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