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How Slack Maintains a User Base of Over 10 Million

Laura MacPherson May 2, 2019

In the “Under the Hood” Series, we look at how popular apps have grown loyal usage through behavioral design. Seeing the techniques in action should give you practical ideas for ways to use behavioral design in your own products.

Slack could be called the favorite productivity tool of today’s workplace. The app gives coworkers a way to take control of messy office communications (and yes, send the occasional meme). It has over 10 million users, with 3 million on its premium plans. Astoundingly, its paid user retention rate is 98%.

A Workplace App Success Story

The company’s last round of funding (in August 2018) set its valuation at $7.1 billion. Earlier this year, Slack announced its intention to go public (via a direct listing rather than an IPO), and analysts are saying that it could be valued at $13.1 billion when the listing happens. By any definition, Slack is a success story.

Helping Workers Take Back Control

The typical worker not using a communication management tool deals with myriad notifications from multiple apps that they can’t easily control. These notifications are coming from email, project management tools, workplace instant messaging apps, and more. Few of the apps offer a way to control what you’re seeing when, making it nearly impossible to focus without fearing you’ll miss something important.

Slack saw this problem and invented a solution that gave workers precise control of their notifications while maintaining many of the elements that keep users coming back for more.  

With Slack, you have access to multiple teams, multiple channels (topics or groups) within each team, and private instant messaging for team members. Everything is well-organized, so you always know where to look for what. And Slack gives users the ability not only to set your overall status, but also to set an “away” status for a particular team and to precisely manage notifications for each team so you can choose what notifications you receive when. You can also set preferences or mute notifications for particular channels. In other words, Slack gives you ultimate control of your notifications.

What about all those notifications from project management tools and other apps? Integrations allow you to bring these notifications into Slack so you can precisely control them too.

Building a Better Habit Through Behavioral Design

But Slack maintained the essentials of a habit-forming product. The notifications workers want to receive serve as cues to keep them coming back to the app.

The social nature of Slack creates rewards that trigger when someone opens up the app. Seeing messages from coworkers that deliver valuable info, kudos, and yes, entertainment, give the brain a little dopamine boost, making it more likely that you’ll be back for more.

Slack Users Share the Love

Slack also makes it easy for users to generate more users. People who use Slack want to get everything onto Slack, so they invite other coworkers and lobby to get their other teams using it.

Slack has found the balance of giving users control while guaranteeing consistent usage, which is the secret to a successful software product.

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