Slack for Beginners

Slack is a shared workspace that empowers large groups of people to:

  • work together in teams,
  • have written conversations,
  • share documents and other files,
  • message each other, and even do call and video calls all within the application.

It replaces much of the chaos and loss of information from email and chat. It helps teams achieve smoother interactions with highly organized communications that are easy to find, sort and configure. Slack allows you to communicate in real time and to have (and keep track of) communications over time.

Together for 2020 has a Slack workspace to enable activists to communicate with each other along various topics.  For more information about Slack in general, you can check out the information on the Slack website.

How Slack works for Together for 2020 and you

When an organization sets up Slack, they are creating what Slack calls a “Workspace”. This guide walks you through the basic functions and components of a Slack workspace and delivers some tips on joining and using Slack. In the slang of Slack, each organization’s separate instance is “a Slack”; if you work with multiple organizations and some of them use Slack as a way to communicate, you might hear someone say “join our Slack” or “it’s in our Slack”. To be able to use an organization’s Slack, you need an invitation; they have to invite you.

You can use Slack from your computer and also from your smart phone. If you’re using Slack on both a phone/tablet and a computer, you will find some differences in the way screens and functions work. We recommend when you join “a Slack” for the first time, you print this guide and then go into Slack. This way you can see what we’re describing on your screen and follow along by clicking on the different functions and features.

Join Slack

Even after you’ve installed the software/app, you must have an invitation to join the specific organization’s Slack workspace.

Join from a computer

If you are joining on your computer, open the email message that contains your invitation and click on Join Now. Enter your full name and then click Create Account.

Join from a smart phone or tablet

If you are joining using your smart phone, down load the Slack App from your app store. Then go to your email invitation, tap Join Now, enter your full name and tap Next, create a password and tap Next

Now set up your profile

Using a photo makes it easier for people to tell who is who, because in larger organizations multiple people have same first names, such as Lisa or Michael. In Together for 2020, or any group that is itself a group of groups, it’s also helpful to let people know what organization and local group you are active with, if any.

To set up your profile:

  1. Select Profile & account by clicking on your name located under the Workspace title.
  2. Select View Profile
  3. On the right, click Edit Profile.
  4. Under Profile photo, click the image to Change your profile photo, then select Upload an image.
  5. Adjust the crop for your photo. Then click Save profile picture.
  6. Click Save Changes.

#Channels = Topic areas

Channels are the heart of Slack. These are the topic areas for shared work and shared communication. In the Together for 2020 workspace, there are channels for:

  • specific states and specific campaigns,
  • specific tactics such as voter registration or texting or phone banks,
  • specific projects such as a website or training guides, and
  • specific groups of people – everyone in a certain geographical location.

Channels focus communication on specific topics and shared work. The posts on a channel stay on that channel in chronological order and are searchable (see later section on using search). Channels use a leading hash-tag (‘#’); anything people refer to in Slack that has a leading # is a channel. There’s a three-minute training video here.

A list of channels always appears on the left of your screen.

Channels can either be Public – open to everyone on the workspace or they can be Private (you join only by invitation). There are a few channels that are “default channels” (everyone who joins the workspace automatically becomes a member of). Except for default channels, you must take an action to add a channel.

You can see all the public channels in your workspace by clicking on the word Channels in the side bar (as in the image). Click on the name of a specific channel to join it. You can also browse channel names by clicking on the Channel Browser that is in the list of short cuts in the Slack sidebar above the list of channels.

Once you’ve joined a channel, you can read all the messages that have been posted in that channel. When you look at your workspace, you see that’s some of the channels listed in the side bar are bolded and some are not. The bold tells you that there is new activity in that channel that you have not yet read. Click on that channel and the new activity shows up for you to read.

Direct Message People

While Channels are subject-driven, Slack also has a couple of ways to have side conversations with one or a small group of people, somewhat like SMS or “Texting” on a phone. One way to do this is Slack is with Direct Messages. Your people you direct message with appear in a separate list below the Channels. You can send a message and conduct a chat with one member or a group of up to 8 members. There’s a video on messaging here.

To send a direct message first click on the + plus icon next to Direct Messages in the left sidebar. Search for the person or people you want to message and click Go. Once you’re in a direct message you can add additional people to it by clicking the gear icon, select invite another member, search for their name and then click the name and then click go. The software doesn’t include  feature to subtract a member from a group direct message—if you want to be conversing with a subset of the people you’ve got in this group, you need to create a new DM group.

Post on Slack

On the bottom of your screen is the place for you to write and post messages. To send a message, you simply click on that channel or direct message recipient and then use the messaging space at the bottom of the screen.

Type your message.

You have the usual formatting options- bold, italics, adding a hyper link, numbering and bulleting. You have a paper clip icon; use it to add documents or files with the post.

Alert people

There is an @sign you use to alert people. Use that to mention a specific person’s name and the system will instantly send her a notification. So, if you want someone to do something or respond or you are responding to someone, click on or enter the @. A list of workspace members pops up and you can pick the names of the people you want to alert to this message.

This is critical for letting people know you want them to do something or pay attention to your post. If you choose @channel,you are choosing to notify everyone who is in that channel that there is something you want them to read. Everyone in the channel gets that notification whether they are currently in the Slack or not. If not, they get the notification when they log in.

The @here works a little differently. If you have a very time sensitive message that you want everyone who is currently on slack and in that channel to act on, you can choose @here and the system notifies only the people then on Slack and in that channel.

Finally, you also have the emoji icon. On Slack, you can use emojis for all the normal reasons, expressing how you feel about something. They are useful for giving Thumbs up or Thumbs down quick votes.

Please note: when you hit the enter key on your keyboard you are sending your message. You can add more lines and then hit enter and that will automatically be added to your message. To create a new line without sending the message, hold down the Ctrl key while pressing the enter key.

You can edit a message that you have sent by immediately pressing the up-arrow in the empty message space.

There is a useful short cut box for any posted message – hover your cursor on the upper right of the message. The shortcut box will appear and provide you with a emoji icon for a quick emoji response, an icon to reply be starting a thread ( see below for threads) , an arrow icon for sharing the message , a book mark icon for saving a message, and three dots for more—click on the dots and you will see.

Get Notifications

Just as you can alert individuals or groups of people, you can have Slack notify you of others’ alerts and other messages you specify. While you can configure notifications with lots of options, Slack comes set up by default to notify you whenever someone:

  • uses the @ sign with your name on it (a “mention”) in the Slack,
  • sends you a direct message, or
  • includes in a message a keyword you’ve defined.

Notifications appear by default even if you are not currently in Slack, momentarily in a small pane and with a chime. The benefits: you don’t have to log into a website and can keep track of conversations “in real time” as it unfolds. The downside: on a busy Slack, the unrelenting chatter can be distracting or even stressful, especially when there are lots of conversations going.

To tweak your notifications settings, use the Notifications controls.

1.  Choose the down-caret next to your Slack’s name.

2.  From the menu, select Preferences.

3.  Slack brings up the Preferences window, and from here you can specify the conditions that trigger when the system sends you notifications:

For deeper exploration of notifications, there’s a video you can watch.

Threads – Keep information organized

Since the content on Slack grows rapidly and its value is in keeping information well-organized, we strongly urge you to use the “Threads” feature.

If you are reading a message in a channel and want to reply to that message, you do not need to simply enter a new message. Instead, you can create a thread that contains only the back-and-forth that relates to the specific topic. To create a thread, hover your cursor over the message and when the small icon menu comes up, click on the talk bubble icon Start a thread.

Slack opens a new messaging window on the right side of the screen. Consider the thread a sidetrack dedicated to one of many topics people are currently discussing in a channel.

The messages you create in a Thread always stay associated with that post. So posts should start a topic. Threads should contain all the responses to a specific post. Threads allow you to have a well-organized conversation on a topic. When people use them properly, threads keep a channel from being overrun with disjointed posts as people respond to posts from two hours ago at the same time others are having a conversation about a different topic from five minutes ago.

To respond to a thread message , use the Thread pane’s own Reply… text box.


Slack has an easy to use search function.  Find the search box at the top of your Slack screen in the dark border.

Search can find either a topic or a name. You can click on search before entering anything and you will see additional controls that support narrowing your search from anyone or to a specific person, as well as your most recent searches. You can find additional background on Salc’s search capabilities in this video.

Short cuts in the Slack side bar

You’ll find a list of shortcuts in the side bar above the #Channels.

Clicking on the message icon opens a new message pane.

Threads – This lets you know if there is a thread you have not read and clicking on it will bring up ALL threads you are involved with.

Mentions & Reactions – Clicking on this brings up the @yourname messages or posted a reaction emoji to something you wrote.

Drafts – Slack automatically saves messages you’ve started a message but not sent. Access the unsent messages by clicking on Drafts.

Saved accesses all messages you have marked saved.

Channel Browser brings up a list of all channels in the work space, how many members each has and a brief purpose description for the channel.

People – brings up a directory of everyone on the workspace. You can then click on an individual to read the activist’s profile.

Apps brings up a list of apps integrated into your workspace. You can browse the App directory to see if you want to link to another linked app.

Files brings up a list of all files posted to your workspace.

Call with Slack

You can make a call or launch a video conference within Slack by inviting other members of the workspace.

To call, click to open up a Direct Message with another member of the workspace. There’s a small phone icon in the upper right corner. Clicking on that icon immediately launches your call.

In practice it is wise to first send a direct message to the person so she knows to expect a call. Once you’ve launched your call, the system opens a window and you have the option to go to video conference by clicking the camera icon.

Further Slack Resources

Swing Left Greater Boston hosts weekly videoconference “Office Hours” to support users every Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. Contact @Susan Labandibar to get access.

The Slack developer’s somewhat useful Help Centre uses a decent search function for finding topics. Sometimes it serves well, but be prepared to scroll down through a lot of topics you weren’t looking for before you find the one you hoped for.

If you are the kind of person who learns well from training videos, the vendor that develops Slack maintains a You Tube portal with over 100 offerings.