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Telegram vs Slack, What’s best for your online community?

Telegram and Slack are not direct competitors, actually. In fact, Telegram is a general-purpose messaging app like WeChat or WhatsApp, while Slack is a team collaboration tool like Flock or Wire.

However, both of them are used to build online communities. Here are some notable examples:

Telegram: Work In Progress, Mindful Makers, etc.

Slack: Nomads List, #FemaleFounders, etc.

If you’re going to start your own online community you might be wondering — “which messaging app should I use and why?”

In this article, we’ll compare Telegram and Slack in terms of the following aspects:

  • How Many Users Are There (MAU, DAU)?
  • Supergroups, Replies, Threads & Workspaces.
  • User Experience.
  • Cross-Platform Support.
  • Price.
  • Paywall/Membership plugins.

How Many Users Are There (MAU, DAU)?

It is good to understand just how many users communicate on each platform before starting to build a community there. A requirement to install an app in order to join the community may increase friction and lower your conversion rates.

Here is how the search popularity of search terms for both Telegram vs Slack search terms have been growing in Google throughout the past 5 years worldwide:

Screenshot of Google Trends

In March 2018, Telegram reported 200 million MAU (Monthly Active Users). In May 2018, Slack reported 8 million DAU (Daily Active Users). These are the most recent numbers available at the moment (October 2018). We can’t directly compare these metrics (MAU vs DAU), but it’s still good to know them.

Another metric that we can compare is the number of Android app installations. According to Google Play, the Slack app has over 10+ million installations, while the Telegram app has over 100+ million. This clearly shows that at least in the mobile world Telegram is the absolute winner and has a significantly larger audience.

Supergroups, Replies, Threads & Workspaces

There is a huge difference in how the things are organized in Telegram vs Slack.

In Telegram, communities are basically groups (supergroups, to be exact). Groups appear just like normal chats in Telegram. Your community will be visible among other chats and channels.

If the community is active, there will be a substantial amount of messages and each message will bump the chat up. So, the community will always be there in the top and it will be fairly difficult to lose track of your conversation.

Screenshot of Work In Progress community in Telegram

All of the messages that you send to a supergroup are visible in one large thread.

However, you can reply to individual messages. Then, your answer will be visible with a link to the original one. It’s possible to go through all of these chain replies and make your way back to the first message in a thread, but all these “threads” are mixed together.

In Slack, communities are workspaces. You can have multiple workspaces in your Slack. For example; one for work and one for each community that you joined. You can quick-switch between them, but you can’t see every conversation from each workspace in one location.

Inside a workspace, conversations are organized in channels and direct messages. Channels are similar to group chats in Telegram, and direct messages are similar to private chats in Telegram.

Screenshot of Maker’s Kitchen community in Slack

Each message in a Slack channel/direct message can become the start of a thread. Messages of the thread will only be visible if you open it.

As you can see, Slack provides more features for organizing conversations.

If your community is large, and demands the need for multiple subchannels to organize chats — choose Slack. Otherwise, Telegram is more than enough.

User Experience

Telegram is a bit more casual when compared to Slack, and Slack is a bit more focused when compared to Telegram. This comes from the fact that Telegram is a general-purpose messaging app, while Slack is a team collaboration tool.

Telegram communities are easier to reach, and they get your attention even if don’t want them too (new messages will bump the group higher in the chat list). When you’re in, you can easily become distracted by group chats, bots, channels, and private chats. It takes only one click to switch between them.

Slack communities are a bit harder to reach (one needs to launch the Slack app or even switch active workspace in it to get inside), but when you’re in, nothing distracts you. You can only see channels and private conversations that are a part of your current workspace.

Choose Telegram if your community will be used casually, like multiple times a day for short periods of time. For less casual and more focused usage, choose Slack.

Cross-Platform Support

Telegram and Slack are available on all most popular platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

There is also a Firefox OS app for Telegram. But for the vast majority of users, there is no difference between these two apps.

Price

Telegram is completely free.

Slack has a free tier with up to 10K searchable messages and other limitations. It can become pricey if you require Slack’s full suite of features.

However, if you can make do with the limitations, you can stick to the free tier — your community can still be as large as you need.

Paywall/Membership Plugins

Some online communities are paid and that serves two main purposes:

  1. Provide community managers with resources to grow and maintain the community;
  2. Filter-out trolls and random people.

If you decide to make your community a paid one — you can use both Telegram and Slack. They don’t have any built-in paywalls, but you can easily create a membership community and integrate it directly into the platform using 3rd-party services:

Telegram: InviteMember

Slack: LaunchPass

You can also hire a developer to build a custom integration for you (but that might be expensive).

What Do Experts Think?

We asked some well-known community founders to share their thoughts.

Marc Köhlbrugge, founder of Work In Progress :

To me Telegram feels like a scooter. Lightweight. Easy to use. Quick. Slack is more like a bus. More robust, great for groups, but not as agile.

For me Slack is something that requires your full attention. It’s not something you do on the side. Which is fine for some use cases, but with WIP I didn’t want to build a community where people are chatting 24/7. The focus is on the work, so a more lightweight solution like Telegram, regardless of its shortcomings, felt like a better fit.

Joshua Voydik, founder of Mindful Makers:

Slack is a great tool, but Telegram is more fun. It feels more connected, less business-y, allows to build bots easily and has stickers packs.

Marie Denis, founder of Woman Make:

I started Women Make on Telegram for several reasons. Firstly I was a big fan of the platform which I discovered through wip chat. Then I use Slack for work and didn’t want to mix the two. Slack makes me feel overwhelmed, when I see a message I feel like I need to take care of it immediately. And it seems very slow compared to Telegram.
I wanted something easy to use where you could just drop in and engage with people in the chat if you want to.

Dinuka Jayasuriya, founder of Maker’s Kitchen:

Slack and Telegram both offer an incredible amount of control for developers. This allows us to build apps and bots on top of their platform to facilitate our own products. Telegram offers a simpler way of creating bots when compared to Slack. Telegram’s Botfather system allows devs to take out the time required to build a bot from scratch. However, slack’s wider control over the webhook messages, such as the message format, custom buttons, etc make it fun to build micro-programs inside a workspace. While Telegram is already a mobile messaging system, Slack was primarily built for workspace communication. This gives Telegram an advantage over the existing user base that’s more mobile-centric. When we started out Maker’s Kitchen, we got a couple of messages requesting us to expand the community to Telegram solely because they already use the app. My take is that, if your goal is to build a community, both options are very applicable but it comes down to accessibility. If you want to take advantage of Slack’s workspace app ecosystem within your workspace, that’s your best option. If you want to make use of Telegram’s existing user base and build bots for your community fast, that’ll be your best bet.

Sergio Mattei, founder of Makerlog:

I prefer Slack because it feels much more focused and organized. You have channels and threads that keep the conversation tidy. Second, the amount of integrations available for Slack is massive — there’s a huge selection of apps to pick from. Finally, scale. Slack scales well to handle big groups and notification settings are available.

Summary

Both Telegram and Slack have their pros and cons for online communities.

To choose one of them, you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will my community need a complex organization of conversations or would 1–2 group chats be enough?
  2. How frequently will my community be open? Is it more casual or focused?
  3. Do I need lots of storage space or will I need to access the full message history? If yes — am I OK to pay for Slack’s premium subscription plan?

Whatever you choose, have fun creating and growing your community!


Thanks for reading this! You can follow me on Twitter: @ysmykalov.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +385,976 people.

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