How Slack’s Content Strategy Expanded from a Single Page to a Media Company

An investigation into Slack’s websites, social media presence, and content strategy reveals:

  • How Slack repeats itself constantly, and why
  • How Slack operates its marketing arm like a media company would
  • The quantitative and qualitative ROI on Slack’s content marketing

Before we dive in, I looked at a few versions of Slack’s websites to make these observations. I call them, V1, V2, V3, V3.5, and V4.


“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This analogy applies to the ideas we so painstakingly put together. If nobody can access the words conveying ideas, does it make an impact?

For example, content strategist Gerry McGovern did some digging for Microsoft, and realized a whopping 30% of its 10 million pages at its website went completely unread. Missed opportunities like these are the ones that competitors like Slack must identify and exploit, in order to compete and win.

Here are three ideas that every CEO, product marketer, and wordsmith needs to consider for their business’s content strategy:

1. If It’s Important Enough, Say It More than Once

People read through skimming. Saying the most important things at your site just once is not enough. Repetition is no longer tiresome. It’s essential, because most readers might miss it if placed sparsely.

The more careful reader will notice this repetition, but no feature description, testimonial, or any other other phrase are exactly identical. Instead, each adds to an overall point…

A throughline threads together sentences that convey each of these points. For example, at the third version of Slack’s homepage (V3), there’s a slider with three panels that highlight Slack’s most important features — “Channels,” “Integration,” and “Search” — above the fold.

Each of these features have their own throughlines, but “Integration” is particularly important to potential users for convenience, organization, and consolidation. Let’s dive into how Slack constructs the “Integration” throughline:

Full version (July 23, 2015)
Integrations
Plug the tools you already use into Slack and get all your notifications in one place

“Integration” is on the second panel of the slider above the fold. Let’s say someone carelessly scrolls past before the slider changes. Their eyes jump right into the product features section grid:

Over 80 integrations
It’s not ‘yet another app’ you have to use. Slack works with all the tools you already use; set them up to post notifications directly to Slack in a single work space.”

Slack opens with a quantity, “80 integrations.” It’s visual and lets the reader know Slack’s not full of hot air. The first sentence anticipates the reader’s objection, and re-explains “integration” in different words, “notifications… in a single work space.” Now, let’s say they even if they miss that, since it’s buried along with five other points…

Like your team’s collective brain.
Slack integrates with over 80 external services to help you pull information from outside tools in a way that’s timely, relevant, and always searchable. No more switching between apps. Bring it all together in one simple place.

Assuming the reader keeps scrolling, there’s no way they can miss this. It’s a featured blurb on its own, capturing the imagination with a simile, “Like your team’s collective brain.” I suspect it’s a residual thought from Slack’s first homepage (V1), a header preceding testimonials, describing Slack, “It’s like an infinite brain for your whole team.”

Notice the repeated quantity from the produce feature grid, the emphasis on “timely, relevant, and always searchable,” and ending in, “all together in one simple place.”

To Slack, the “integration” point is clearly far too important for the average reader’s careless reading habits. So, they repeat some variation of it three times on their home page. At their Tour page, they dive deep into types of notifications, to paint a very concrete picture for the reader:

All your tools in one place.
Connect all the tools you use to Slack and avoid all that constant switching between apps. Set up your integration so that you get all your notifications directly within Slack — from support requests, code check-ins, and error logs to sales leads — all of them searchable in one central archive.

As you may guess from previous observations, ideas like “all in one place,” “notifications,” and “one central archive” come up. The most interesting thing is that in the final point on the Tour page (“All your tools in one place”), this point also ties into the “Search” throughline.

Repetition ensures careless readers leave with an impression things you want to tell them. It also reinforces these important ideas to more careful readers. Strong content strategy ties throughlines together for readers across different pages and properties, each reinforcing the other.

2. Slack as a Media Company

One of the most interesting aspects of Slack is neglected by most other startups — their brand. Slack invests heavily not just in the aesthetics of their product and website, but also into content that conveys larger ideas, tying in stories with their brand. The adage goes, “Every company is a media company.”

Some companies, like Peloton and Tonal, take this to heart, integrating media with their product’s soul. Slack ultimately sells “organizational transformation,” so it invests heavily in media to support the change in mindsets. With the exception of Slack’s podcasts, here’s each one at the time of writing (notice how each of their media channels has its own name and domain):

  • Blog: Several People Are Typing, which prior to July 2018 received on average 150,000 pageviews per month according to Similarweb. It was hosted at Medium before the Slack team migrated to WordPress.com in July 2018, because they wanted more custom tools and workflows (and more granular reporting). Medium served as a solid host for two years for Slack to draw readers and operate with few design and development resources.
  • Engineering blog: Several People Are Coding is still hosted at Medium, and receives a widely fluctuating 45,000–120,000 pageviews, according to Similarweb.
  • Design blog: #slack-design is hosted at Medium. It does not yet receive as much traffic as its main blog or engineering blog.
  • Job board: Slack at Work is a job board, also hosted at WordPress, where Slack customers can post their jobs.
  • Store: The Slack Shop is a Shopify store that sells Slack merch, like branded socks and stickers. It’s also a branding and corporate responsibility play, donating proceeds from the store to a new charity every month.
  • Twitter: @slackhq is where much of their support and brand interactions take place. People talk with and to Slack on Twitter. This is their two-way channel, whereas the aforementioned resemble broadcast.
  • Podcast #1: Slack Variety Pack, distributed over Soundcloud and iTunes.
  • Podcast #2: Eventually, Slack deprecated the slack Variety Pack and made a second podcast, entitling it “Work in Progress,” and distributing it on SiriusXM and iTunes.

Every startup has a slightly different way of building trust through its brand and eventually driving sales. For example, Buffer’s hypothesis is transparency builds trust faster than all other methods, so they built a transparency dashboard. Drift’s hypothesis goes a step further, in saying authenticity builds trust faster, so they build their own reality TV show.

I believe that Slack’s less deliberate, more organic, hypothesis is that humanity builds trust faster than all other methods. It’s a core part of their voice (clear, concise, and human). It’s also the antithesis to Microsoft’s — and many other company’s — voice and brand. And even with these qualities, part of Slack’s magic is in how they represent it…

The human experience is incredibly wide. Slack chooses to share emotion with their readers (e.g., Wall of Love), and convey it through quality work by investing heavily into its content creation. In principle, it’s not dissimilar from art.

For example, both their podcasts explore the nature of work (e.g., a corporate retiree re-entering the workforce), because people spend more and more time doing it (and, at times, finding meaning through it). Their blog does the same. So does their job board — as people’s work locations could affect their personal lives immensely (long distance relationships, travel opportunities, commute, etc.).

Slack hires experts like Pacific Content to create their podcast. They also hire illustrators to create unique art accompanying each blog post. They reach out to people outside of the company to conduct interviews that they publish at their blog, similar to what a magazine would’ve done.

Without overlooking their core communications product, all this content accelerates people’s trust in Slack, and builds up Slack’s credibility and favorability. To varying degrees, each of their properties are now a defensible marketing asset that they can control and own, especially after they started hosting their own blog (which can be exported from WordPress). They’ve also got a ton of real estate online, a lot of it distributed at platforms (e.g., Twitter, their design and eng blogs at Medium).

Consider also the beginning of each initiative — only the Slack at Work site required dev resources (to set up WordPress to be a job board). Their blog started at Tumblr, then moved to Medium. Their support and brand interactions are expanded by Twitter’s platform reach. They bring their Twitter interactions back to their website by linking to their Wall of Love list in V2, and embedding Tweets from this account in V3 (Archive doesn’t load it well).

Full version (October 20, 2014)

With any other organization, I’d suggest that they set up a mailing list. This is typically the anchor of all owned content properties, because email lists can be downloaded and stored. However, since this is Slack and their whole goal is to kill email, they’d be better served building a large community of Slack users (e.g., friends.slack.com).

All said, Slack’s content has an incredible amount of integrity and taste. I love it. If you told me there was a Slack magazine, to me it would look like Airbnb’s Pineapple (and not their dreadful new one…) This admiration, and respect, is a difficult “feeling” to replicate in an advertisement. Blended in with trust, these feelings might just be enough to give up email.

Trust is a priceless asset, but the question of direct ROI inevitably comes up. Their blog (slackhq.com) hosted at Medium didn’t seem to bring many people back to their main site (slack.com). At the time of writing, Similarweb reporting that 0.57% of their overall website’s overall traffic comes from referrals.

However, an old screenshot from Openview, highlighting Similarweb stats from a year ago, reports slackhq.com drives 2% of referral traffic:

My guess is Slack didn’t care much for their content’s SEO, or “content marketing” success metrics, in conventional terms. They just wanted content that would educate people and build trust. In fact, it seems they’re just hiring for it now, at the time of writing. Their word-of-mouth marketing, SEO through integrations, and app ecosystem, all feed user acquisition and conversion much better than content did…

But their content makes Slack most favorable and trustworthy than their current competitors (Microsoft, IBM, etc.). And, their content ushers in a new way of thinking about work, retains loyal brand users, and lays the foundation for their company’s future.

Final Thoughts

Slack’s content strategy grew with their business, going from a single page in the first version of their website (V1), to a media company by the fourth (V4). And yet, the principles stayed the same. They weren’t afraid to repeat the important things, they told human stories, and they invested heavily in distributing their content through their “media company” arm. But if you’ve had a look at their sites, you’ll realize there’s so much more I could cover.

At the end of the day, Slack focuses on humans. They speak with candor, politeness, and courtesy. Consciously or not, they align themselves with how we’ve consumed content in the past. They apply the format of variety shows into their podcast, and like a magazine they combine beautiful illustrations with in-depth interviews into their blog. They invest not just in their technology platform, but in communicating their product’s value through education. Even the world’s most powerful tool is useless without an understanding of its possibilities or how to actually use it.

Metaphors run rampant in content strategy, partially because of the creative nature of the workers, and partially because it’s such a new discipline that nobody understands it. Beyond the attribution, the CMS’s, and the information architecture, it’s very simple:

Create ideas worth talking about, and figure out how and where to talk about them.


Special thanks to Joey Loi for his thoughts on early versions of this.

Thanks for reading! I’m Herbert, the creative director at Wonder Shuttle. We’re a marketing studio that works with clients such as Shopify, Wattpad, and Twilio on websites and content. Our content canvas is a framework that marketers and strategists use to create useful, contagious content.

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