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Slack is an excellent and powerful team messaging app with a rich collection of settings and options. While it's the best in the business, it's also the most expensive.

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  • Pros

    Rich set of tools and options. Highly customizable notifications. Integrates with many other collaboration and office tools.

  • Cons

    Expensive compared with other team messaging apps.

  • Bottom Line

    Slack is an excellent and powerful team messaging app with a rich collection of settings and options. While it's the best in the business, it's also the most expensive.

Editors' Choice

Slack makes communication among team members not only easier, but better. The trick to loving this messaging platform is knowing when to use it, how to use it, and what to expect from it. Does it replace email? No. Does it help cut back on needless internal email? Often, yes. Slack remains one of the best team messaging apps because it offers more than any other app in this category, although Slack costs more than any other, too. We use Slack at PCMag, and it's our Editors' Choice for team messaging.

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Plans and Pricing

Slack has a free option as well as two tiers of paid plans, called Standard and Plus. Slack Standard costs $8 per person per month, or a little more than $80 per person when paying annually. Slack Plus costs $15 per user per month or $150 per person per year. Both of those prices are much higher than what other team messaging apps cost. With the paid plans, you only get charged for active members, and if members go inactive midway through the month, Slack credits your account a prorated amount.

Slack Free allows for as many members in your account as you need, but there are limitations, such as only being able to make audio and video calls between two people, not groups, and being restricted to 5GB of file storage for uploads across the entire team. Additionally, only the most recent 10,000 messages are available to search. Free accounts are limited to integrating with up to ten third-party apps. More about app integrations in a bit.

Slack app - December 2017

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The Standard account removes many of the restrictions in the Free account. With Standard, you get the ability to search everything in your message history, and you get unlimited integrations. The file storage allowance increases to 10GB per person, and group calls are supported. Guests may join your account, which is helpful if your team works frequently with external clients or collaborators. Team administrators can mandate two-factor authentication for all users, as well. The Slack Standard account comes with a few more perks, including advanced usage statistics and priority support.

Slack Plus includes everything mentioned so far, and storage increases to 20GB per person. Plus accounts are promised 24/7 support with a four-hour response time. Plus also comes with the ability to provision and deprovision users.

Slack does have an Enterprise option called Grid, but prices are not publicly available. Grid essentially allows very large organizations to have multiple Slack workspaces that are all housed under one umbrella.

As mentioned, Slack charges more than any other team messaging service. Most other apps run around $3 per person per month. A few examples are {ziffarticle id="354927"}}Flock, Zoho Cliq, and Workplace by Facebook, which isn't technically a team messaging app, but it does have many of the same features. Zoho Cliq and Workplace by Facebook charge on a sliding scale based on the number of users, so while they start at $3 per person per month, the fee drops to $1 per person per month once you cross a threshold in the number of users.

Atlassian, the company that makes JIRA, has had a popular team chat app called HipChat, but it is sunsetting the cloud-run version in the near future and replacing it with a new service called Stride. Stride has two tiers of service, Standard, which costs $3 per user per month, and Free. As of this writing, Stride is still quite new, and its infancy shows. It doesn't yet feel like a mature product.

A few team messaging apps cost more than that, but still not as much as Slack charges. Glip by RingCentral costs $5 per person per month for a Standard plan, but it's worth noting that Glip really shines with features and functionality. Twist, an app by Doist, charges $6 per person per month. Microsoft Teams costs $5 per person per month, but that price includes additional Microsoft apps.

Getting Started

Make no mistake; using Slack or any team messaging app for the first time requires an adjustment period. For a team to have success using Slack, there needs to be a company culture that supports it. Teams need time to figure out what are the rules of engagement and how the app will be used. While there are many tips for Slack, there's no handbook because there's no single right way to use it.

Part of getting started is exploring the apps (mobile, desktop, and web), including all the settings and configuration contained within them. Additionally, the team using Slack needs to figure out its rules of engagement. What channels will the team need? How much socializing will occur on the platform? Will the app be used for task assignment? If you are joining an existing Slack team, there may already be some informal rules and etiquette in place, in which case you need to take the time to learn what they are.

Slack gets a lot of little things right, such as the ability to edit a message after you've posted it, decently sized previews of pages when you add links, and adequate use of screen space. Because it's not uncommon to join more than one Slack account, there's a way to set up your accounts so that you can switch between them quickly using the left sidebar. You can also customize each account to appear in a different color theme, which helps tremendously in keeping multiple groups straight.

First Impressions

When I first started using Slack, the app felt disorganized to me, cluttered in a way that made me worry I'd lose track of what was happening or miss important information. It also seemed very chaotic. Some people never get past those feelings, but it is possible to surmount them as you learn to use the app's settings and tools. It also gets easier the more your group figures out the best way for them to use Slack, such as when to use an @ before people's names to call their attention, or when it's best to send someone a direct message rather than posting a comment that everyone in the channel can read.

The key to making Slack more useful for me was customizing alerts. For example, you can enter a list of keywords in Slack, and whenever someone uses those words, you see a badge count next to the channel in which they appeared. I have yet to see another team messaging app with that particular feature. Slack's do not disturb option lets you automatically silence all notifications between certain hours of the day, like when you're asleep. You can create different settings for Slack desktop notifications and the Slack mobile app. All these customizing go a long way toward making your unique experience with Slack better. Configuration is half the battle.

Slack settings

Slack Apps and Beta Apps

Slack is available for a variety of devices and platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux, web, Android, iOS, and Windows mobile. It's a real-time, cloud-based tool, so you need an Internet connection to use it no matter which app you have.

To be more precise, there are two versions of the desktop apps for Mac and Windows. First, there's a standard one that's little more than the web app in a wrapper. Second, there are beta versions of the desktop apps. These beta apps are freely available for anyone to download and use. The differences between the beta versions and the normal desktop apps are usually subtle. The beta versions are faster in a few respects and have one instance of slightly different iconography, which is likely being tested before wider release. The long and short of it is that you aren't missing out on any major features by not using the beta apps, at least not as of this writing.

Video calls are only supported in the desktop apps and Slack for web in the Chrome browser. If you join a call from a mobile device, you get audio only. Similarly, screen sharing only works from the desktop apps, and sharing control of screen sharing only works in the Mac and Window desktop apps (not Linux). From the web app in Chrome, you can watch if someone else uses screen sharing, but you cannot initiate it.

Most other team messaging apps support audio and video calls, although Twist does not. That said, Twist was built specifically for distributed teams who work in different time zones, so it handles asynchronous communication better than most other team messaging apps. Microsoft Teams and Zoho Cliq do offer video and audio calls, but they don't support screen sharing.

I often work from a different time zone than my colleagues, and when I do, the Slack mobile apps really show their worth. If something important requires my attention at a time when I'm unlikely to be at my workstation, I get a notification on my phone. Because of the nature of Slack as a messaging app, rather than an email app, the message is usually very short. As a result, I can quickly decide whether to reply and how, without feeling like I need to open my laptop for an unexpected half hour of catching up on email. The fact that Slack encourages brief communication is important to understanding why team messaging apps in general have been so successful.

Slack Highlights (2017)

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Interface and Features

Slack Channels are the primary places where people converse in the app. When you start a new Slack account, two Channels are created for you: #general and #random. Channels are always designated by hashtags. Effectively, they are streams or threads. In other words, each channel has a theme. By default, channels are open for anyone to join. Optionally, channel may be private instead, meaning membership is by invitation only.

While it's helpful to see #general and #random as starting points, they aren't representative of how most teams could or should use Channels in a real business setting. You can rename channels at any time and archive them if you want to move all their content out of sight. Better Channel names might be the titles of projects, clients, or departments. Often teams create a Channel for socializing so that banter and off-topic chatter doesn't get mixed in too much with work conversations.

Naming Channels clearly and appropriately is extremely important for helping your teammates understand where to go and why. That's one reason I wish the defaults were named something a little more useful. A typical problem Slack users have is that team members create too many Channels, and team members are lost navigating them appropriately. It's important to think about what Channels should exist and why. It also helps to have informal rules regarding who can create new Channels because by default, anyone can.

The main Slack interface puts Channels, private conversations, and direct messages in a left rail. The center of the screen displays the stream of content for your selection. If you click on #project-x, then the center of the screen shows the latest discussions that you and your teammates have had about Project X, all with date stamps. You can scroll through the history of the channel to read what has been said, or you can search using a search bar.

Private Channels let you have private conversations among only invited people. These threads show up alongside other Channels but they have a lock icon next to them instead of a #.

That listing of Channels on the left is more useful than it first appears. Any time there are new, unread messages, the Channel name appears in bold. The same goes for when your name is mentioned or when you receive a related direct message. A number appears alongside it to indicate how many mentions or messages you have.

One of the newer features in Slack (as of 2017) is the ability to create a conversation thread. Explaining it requires a little context. Let's say Julia asks a question in a thread, and her question goes unanswered for the time being. Later the same day, other people post unrelated comments in that same channel. A few hours later, Serena, who works in a different time zone, wakes up sees Julia's question because Slack shows her all the unread comments that her colleagues posted while she was asleep. However, it's awkward for Serena to reply to Julia in the Channel because there are so many other comments now that are unrelated.

Serena should start a conversation thread. A thread allows Serena to reply directly to Julia literally to the side of the first comment, rather than at the bottom of the Channel stream. While I like the option to create threads, I think they could benefit from some more design work, as they still can get buried from view easily. The app Twist has a completely different layout scheme than Slack in which every conversation is in its own thread. It's much more organized and orderly for people who are working asynchronously. But it also looks a lot like email and ends up having some of the same problems as email.

Slack thread (2017)

Customizing Slack

The most important way to customize Slack is to be selective about the Channels you join, as you don't have to subscribe to every single one. If you don't work on Project X, there's little reason for you to follow its Channel. However, if you are unaffiliated with Project X, but highly involved in keeping Client Y happy, you might set up an alert so that you're notified anytime someone mentions Client Y, including in the #project-x Channel. That way you can ignore the Channel generally while still knowing when to pop in and catch up on the conversation.

Click around and many more options and menus appear. Every corner seems to have something. The top-left corner lets you invite more members to your Slack team, adjust the team settings and administrator settings, switch teams, and more. A bell icon in the same general area lets you snooze notifications for a period of time, which is different from the do not disturb setting I mentioned previously. (This one is for snoozing notifications when you need to focus or take a meeting, while the other is better for silencing notifications while you sleep.) Buttons in the top right help you filter discussions by messages you've marked with a star, recent mentions, files you've added to conversations, and all files, as well as reaching a team director and opening an activity feed.

Notifications are what eventually won me over to Slack's true utility. When the app first became popular, it was touted as a more efficient alternative to email, which isn't necessarily true. Slack isn't impervious to frivolous conversations. But if you make use of the right options and settings, it can be a much better tool for communication.

Slack lets you tell others when you're in a meeting, out sick, on vacation, or whatever else you need to convey, with a simple and customizable status update. Unfortunately, it's not immediately noticeable and therefore prone to being under used. I wish it were more visible somehow or that Slack prompted people to update their status more often in some subtle way. Twist is better at handling statuses because it shows them more prominently.

Slack status (2017)


Slack is not a one-stop workforce collaboration tool. Rather, it's meant to be cobbled together with other tools to form a Voltron of software, if you will. Integrations with other apps and services let you do that, and Slack's support is very strong.

One example is to integrate with email. Let's say you want to send an email into Slack so that others in a particular Channel can read it. Slack lets you generate a custom email address for that purpose. Or, you can set up an integration such that things you type into Slack get sent to another app, such as Trello, JIRA, or GitHub, to name a few options.

Slack works with a long list of tools, including Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. If you're looking for an integration that isn't immediately obvious, you can always turn to Zapier for help, because Slack is a supported service. Zapier is an online service that creates integrations between other apps and services, without you having to know any code to make it happen.

That said, if you're in the market for collaboration tools, you don't have to go the Voltron route at all. Some workplace management platforms already offer chat, video calling, task management, and everything else you could want in one place. Editors' Choice Podio is a great example. Podio is a hub where work and collaboration both happen, and it has its own app store so that you can include everything you need natively, whether it's invoicing tools or an app for meeting agendas. Podio and other workplace-collaboration platforms usually have calendars, to-do lists, reminders, and many other work tools already included.

The Best Backchannel?

Slack is a PCMag Editors' Choice for online communication because of its breadth and depth. It's a highly customizable service that plays well with others. Be warned that its price tag is significantly higher than that of its competitors. Make sure you understand what Slack does and doesn't promise to deliver before adopting it for your team. It's an excellent place for conversations and discussion, but if you're looking to manage tasks and workflows, you need more than Slack alone.

About the Author

Jill Duffy Icon Jill Duffy Contributing Editor Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email

Jill Duffy is a contributing editor, specializing in productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the weekly Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Her first book, Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life is available for Kindle, iPad, and other digital forma… See Full Bio

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