A pendulum wave
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slack on slack

Moderating in moderation

How to keep community-oriented channels in Slack alive and engaged

Author: Tylar Dykman, Senior Customer Success Manager at SlackFebruary 22nd, 2021Illustration by Chris Gash

Early in my Slack career, a customer asked me how to make channels more engaging. At the time, I was pretty naive, thinking that because a channel had a purpose, it was therefore inherently engaging.

When I first started at Slack, I found it incredible to see the amount of energy in all the channels. People in channels like #dogs, #cycling and #sf-kitchen-snacks were engaged in discussions that seemed to be thriving. But then the pandemic hit, and it became harder and harder to find the time and energy to check those social channels.

The height of the pandemic was a dark and relentless time. We were emotionally drained, change was constant, fatigue was setting in, and we were all missing human connection. This unique backdrop paved the way for a new channel to be born: a channel called #social-yelling. Now, Slack had a few iterations of an ALL CAPS channel—we had #rage and, quite literally, #ALL-CAPS—but something was different about #social-yelling. We crafted the channel on April 22, and by July we had grown to more than 100 members. October brought us over the 250 threshold, and now, in January, we are 350 and growing by the day.

A message in the Social Yelling channel

The virality of the channel stems from the tone and tenor of those who moderate it. Successful community channels need moderation, norms and evangelists in order to be active and engaging.

Some may ask, isn’t moderating a full-time job? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that it can take time away from your day in the early parts of creating a movement; however, in time others will become co-moderators, and patterns will emerge and evolve to keep the channel going. I’ll also say, once you’ve garnered critical grassroots mass, it is always helpful to have an executive or two pop in to show solidarity.

Robby Kwok's first message in #social-yelling

Robby Kwok, the chief of staff to our CEO, found the channel while searching for something else. While I panicked initially seeing his first post, I realized he was showing support for something that had the potential to be a true culture builder.

I think there’s a strong misconception that work and play are at odds. I’d argue that the most successful teams and organizations have a healthy mix of both. A social channel allows people to bring their whole selves to work and have a little fun with colleagues, especially during these remote times.

The five lessons below are an excerpt from a post I shared in our special Frontiers #social-yelling channel, where we re-created the same fun, exuberant, supportive vibe with a large group of total strangers during 2020’s virtual Slack Frontiers conference. Moderating in moderation is critical to making social or community channels stick. Happy experimenting!

“Successful community channels need moderation, norms and evangelists in order to be active and engaging.”

Tylar DykmanSenior customer success manager, Slack

1. NOBODY WANTS TO BE THE FIRST, BUT SOMEBODY HAS TO BE

IT IS SO SCARY TO BE THE FIRST PERSON TO DO SOMETHING ZANY. BUT SOMETIMES TAKING THAT LEAP OF FAITH WILL SPUR OTHERS TO JOIN IN ON THE FUN. ALWAYS BE AUTHENTIC. ALWAYS BE KIND. AND ALWAYS MEET PEOPLE WITH EMPATHY. THIS WILL HELP TO CREATE PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY AND A SPACE TO PLAY.

2. IN THE EARLY DAYS OF CREATING A COMMUNITY CHANNEL, FIND 1-2 PEOPLE WHO CAN KEEP CONVERSATIONS GOING IN THREADS

NOBODY WANTS TO BE YELLING INTO A VOID (UNLESS THAT’S THE PRETENSE OF THE CHANNEL). SO RESPOND TO FOLKS. I TOOK CARE TO ANSWER ALMOST EVERY SINGLE THING POSTED HERE IN DAY 1. THIS WAS TO MODEL BEHAVIOR AND SHOW HOW WE WANT TO KEEP DISCUSSIONS GOING IN-CHANNEL. IT WAS ALSO TO LET FOLKS KNOW THEY’RE BEING HEARD. THIS IS SUPER-CRITICAL WHEN BUILDING COMMUNITY!

3. PEOPLE WILL PICK UP WHAT YOU THROW DOWN, YA DIG?

BE A CULTURE STEWARD. PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW SUIT BASED ON WHAT THEY SEE IN CHANNELS. SHOW UP AS YOUR ORGANIZATION WANTS YOU TO SHOW UP. BUT ALSO DON’T BE AFRAID OF A LITTLE FUN! HIGH-TOMO (TOTAL MOTIVATION) ORGANIZATIONS ARE FULL OF POTENTIAL, PURPOSE AND PLAY. WE ALWAYS FORGET THE PLAY—BUT I THINK NOW, MORE THAN EVER, IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO HAVE A LI’L FUN WHILE WE WORK.

4. GET CREATIVE!

ASK PEOPLE QUESTIONS. GET A LITTLE CURIOUS. DIG INTO SOMETHING THAT WOULD SPUR DISCUSSION. ALSO, DON’T SHY AWAY FROM REINFORCING NORMS (HOW MANY PEOPLE DID I ASK IF THEY WERE WHISPERING?) IN A HUMOROUS WAY. GO NEXT-LEVEL CREATIVE WITH WORKFLOWS AND BLOCK KIT BUILDER. WHY NOT USE A COMMUNITY CHANNEL AS A WAY TO BETA-TEST INNOVATIVE WAYS OF WORKING?

5. SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER

WE ARE BIG ON EMPATHY AT SLACK. LIKE … REALLY BIG. AND WE ARE ALL GOING THROUGH, ARGUABLY, THE TOUGHEST YEAR ANY ONE OF US HAVE EVER LIVED THROUGH COLLECTIVELY. BEFORE THIS WEEK, WE WERE LEGITIMATELY ALL STRANGERS. BUT WE ALL GELLED SO WELL IN HERE BECAUSE WE WANTED TO CONNECT, TO SUPPORT, TO PLAY, TO THRIVE. I LEARNED THIS LESSON BACK IN MY THEATER DAYS—AND I LIVE BY IT: SUPPORT YOUR FELLOW ACTOR ON STAGE WITH YOU. IF YOU FOCUS ON THEIR SUCCESS AND SUPPORT THEM, THEY WILL DO THE SAME FOR YOU. WE FOCUSED ON SUPPORTING ONE ANOTHER. AND I WAS SO TOUCHED AND HUMBLED AS I WATCHED IT ALL UNFOLD.

Moderating a channel should be fun. It should encourage experimentation, fast failures and triumphant successes. If you’re looking to build culture in Slack remotely, I encourage you to try something out—you can borrow our #social-yelling concept or create your own space and idea. All it takes is one person to start something big. Be that person! 

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