Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by communications technology.
From the early “You’ve Got Mail” days of AOL to figuring out how to create and publish web pages in the mid-1990s, I’ve embraced the latest tech tools and used dozens of software platforms.
But one that really hooked me was Slack.
Back in 2016, I had been using it for a couple of years. I recall being an early beta tester. I was impressed by early versions and grew to love the concept of a tool that allowed for multiple ways of interacting with others—whether through group messaging, private chats, or sharing files in a central place.
One of my challenges at the time was not having others to use Slack with. As a solopreneur, I was a team of one. Occasionally, I would add someone else who was working with me on a project into my Slack, but there wasn’t much activity.
The Slack Community I Started—That Inspired Slack To Build Their Own
It occurred to me that I could start a public Slack channel, and post it on social media to see if others were interested in joining. I decided to call it Learn Slack. My idea was to create a “community” of sorts for others like me who wanted to have an active instance of Slack to use, and a place to post Slack tips and tricks—that sort of thing.
It took awhile, but people slowly discovered it and signed up. At some point, it made it onto one of the early “best Slack communities list,” which was flattering—though perhaps a bit premature.
Nevertheless, I was always thrilled to get notifications of new members. I welcomed most of them personally. I did my best to answer questions, and when I didn’t know something I reached out to Slack support myself and posted back to the person.
Eventually, Learn Slack grew to more than 3,000 members. I urged one of the most vocal and enthusiastic people, Melissa Mosher, to manage the community with me. She was and is a better community-builder than I ever thought about being.
Then one day out of the blue, I got an email from several people at Slack. They wanted to speak to me about Learn Slack, and I thought: Oh boy. The lawyers are going to make me cease-and-desist using the word Slack.
Instead, when I joined them on a call, they were supportive and curious about how the community had grown. They said there were no legal letters on the way, and they had no issues with it. They even joined Learn Slack and encouraged me to keep doing what I’d been doing.
Slack Launches Its Own Community
What I didn’t know at the time was Slack was thinking about starting their own, similar community. Shortly after the online call, they informed me that had launched something else, which I figured that would instantly eclipse Learn Slack. Interestingly, though, despite months of effort, their first community attempted failed.
However, they regrouped and developed a much stronger concept. They called it Slack Platform Community, later dropping the word platform so as not to seem too developer-centric.
The concept behind Slack Community was so novel that I did a double-take when they told me about it. They were going to recruit volunteers from cities around the world to essentially start Slack Community chapters. Slack would support them in lots of ways, but these would technically be locally-run chapters, with leaders given autonomy to plan their own events.
It sounded to me like Tom Sawyer handing out brushes and a bucket of paint and convincing kids in the neighborhood to paint a fence for him.
I had two thoughts about their new approach. First, I was highly skeptical that a large tech firm would actually let their fans build and run a community. Second, I figured if anyone was going to start a chapter in Charlotte, NC, I was the person to do it!
I applied, and was asked to interview with Elizabeth Kinsey, the new community manager. We hit it off instantly, and she could tell I was a Slack fanboy.
After I landed the Charlotte chapter, I eagerly planned our first meetup. This was pre-COVID, so I didn’t think it would be too hard to recruit others to check it out. Sadly though, the night of the first meeting, I was afraid no one would show up. I sat in a fancy office with a bunch of Slack swag, anxiously looking at the clock.
Fortunately, one person did show up. His name was Anthony Del Campo, and he too was a big fan of Slack. I asked him if he wanted to co-lead the new chapter, and he was in.
All it took was that one spark—two people meeting over a shared love of technology.
Over the next year, we slowly built an audience of local Slack fans—until the pandemic hit and everything went virtual.
But there were bigger stories unfolding.
The most amazing to me was the access that Slack provided through Slack Community. It meant instantly being able to contact dozens of Slack employees, all of who were approachable and embracing.
Another evolution we saw were the local chapters coalescing into a global group. Slack Community started to take on a life of its own. Everyone was welcome—not just hardcore developers who knew how to use Slack APIs, but non-technies who embraced sharing common experiences.
Telling My Slack Story (And Anthony’s) In Video
In the spring of 2021, Slack contacted Anthony and me. They said they were considering shooting a video about some of the chapter leaders, and Elizabeth had suggested us.
Anthony and I immediately called each other, and again skepticism reared its ugly head. There is no way we are worthy of this, we said. After we were both grilled by the people tasked with this potential production, we again called each other and said, There is no way they think we are interesting enough to come all the way to Charlotte to do this.
But they persisted. In July, their crew showed up. It looked to us like something out of Hollywood. A massive truck full of equipment. Two sound and lighting specialists. Two camera operators. A producer on sight. A remote producer. Teleprompters.
Slack spent three days—first filming with Anthony at his house and the Whitewater Center, where he showed off his mountain biking skills. The second day, we recreated our first meetup at Union, a digital marketing agency. The third day, they filmed with my family at our house, followed by hours in the hot sun as my son, a friend of his and I fished for crappies at nearby Lake Norman.
The sun was setting as the filming wrapped. Everyone was exhausted. But we all felt like they had done something special.
The Slack crew had made us look and feel important. And they showed how just a few passionate people can start a community.
They showed us that they were real people, too. Even though they work at a big tech company based in San Francisco, they know they are making a difference worldwide—from Atlanta, Georgia, to Sydney, Australia.
They sent us a link to the final video a few weeks ago. They also told us the video, along with a few others they produced, will “officially” debut at their annual Slack Frontiers conference from November 16-17, 2021.
I also was honored to be asked to be a member of the “Slack Pack,” a group of influencers helping to promote the conference. (Full disclosure: I am being compensated for my involvement, but I’m free to post whatever I’d like).
I have grown from viewing Slack as just another “work” tool to one that helps anyone connect and start their own community. I’m excited to see what new features they introduce this year, but even more excited about making new connections in faraway places, through Slack.
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