At ClearFeed, we specialize in helping companies scale their Slack Connect channels with customers. Being practitioners of what we preach, we leverage these shared Slack channels to engage and support our customers. Slack Connect can be a tad complex to understand and set up for unfamiliar people. In this article, we're sharing a brief overview of how Slack Connect works and some of the best practices we've gained from managing many shared channels.
To make the guide easy to read, we have broken it into different sections, with some frequently encountered questions within each. The sections are listed below (readers can jump directly to the one of interest):
- What Is Slack Connect
- Understanding the Invitation Process
- Security in Slack Connect Channels
- Managing Applications in Slack Connect Channels
What Is Slack Connect?
Slack Connect is a powerful feature that builds upon Slack's core capabilities, enabling more than intra-organizational communication. At its essence, Slack Connect is designed to foster collaboration between multiple organizations within the familiar Slack interface. Beyond just messaging, Slack Connect allows file sharing, app integrations, and all the other functionalities you'd expect from a Slack channel, but with the added benefit of cross-organizational collaboration.
Slack Connect allows different organizations to create shared channels. One organization creates a shared channel (the Channel Owner) - and invites others to it.
How many organizations can participate in a Slack Connect channel?
A single Slack Connect channel can host up to 250 different organizations. This makes it a potent tool for large-scale collaborations, joint ventures, or any situation where multiple external partners must be in sync.
How many Slack Connect channels can two Organizations have?
Two organizations can create as many Slack Connect channels between themselves as they want. It is a common misconception that there can only be one Slack Connect channel between two collaborating organizations. Different channels can be very useful for collaborating on projects or between different teams between the two organizations.
Does Slack Connect cost money?
Unfortunately, Yes. To participate in a Slack Connect channel - an organization must have a paid Slack subscription. That means both the creator of the Slack Connect channel and any invitee to it - must be on paid plans.
What are some alternatives to Slack Connect?
If your partner organization doesn’t have a paid Slack workspace - you can invite them as Guests to your workspace. Note that inviting guests are also a feature in paid Slack workspaces only. Single-channel guests do not cost any subscription fee in Slack. Just like in Slack Connect - direct messages between the host organization members and the guests are also possible.
What are the advantages of Slack Connect over Guests?
Slack Connect was an evolution of Guest functionality in Slack that provides many advantages. It has many advantages in terms of Billing, Cost, Security and managing Applications:
- Billing and Cost: Each participating organization pays for their members in Slack Connect, unlike Guests - where the host organization must pay for guests participating in multiple channels.
- Data Control and Security: Slack Connect channels allow granular control over what profile and message data is visible to external users. Similarly, Slack Connect doesn’t allow external users to use the apps installed by other organizations. This prevents the possibility of unauthorized data access using shared Apps.
- Applications and Workflows: A guest user in Slack has access to the apps of the host organization - but they can neither install apps nor have access to apps they are used to in their workspace. Slack Connect solves this problem by allowing external users to install and use apps on the Slack Connect channels.
- Management Overhead: Managing guests can become cumbersome, especially in a large organization. Regularly reviewing and updating guest permissions, ensuring they're in the right channels, and setting expiration dates require consistent oversight. By contrast, once a Slack Connect channel is set up, management overhead is often reduced since each organization manages its members.
Understanding the Invitation Process
How to invite your Partners and Customers to Slack Connect?
According to Slack's official documentation, inviting partners or external organizations to Slack Connect is relatively straightforward. Here's a brief guide:
- Open Slack and Choose a Channel: Start by opening your Slack workspace. Go to the channel you want to share or create a new one.
- Click on 'Add People': In the top right corner of the screen, you'll see thumbnails of the current channel participants. Click on those thumbnails and then click on ‘Add People’.
- Enter the Partner's Email: Provide the partner's email address you want to invite. This should be the email they use for their Slack workspace.
- Send the Invitation: Once you've entered the email, click 'Send'. An invitation will be sent to the partner's Slack workspace.
Who can send a Slack Connect invite?
All workspace members (other than guests) can send invites by default. However, depending on your workspace settings, this may be limited to the admins and/or specific members. In this case, the administrators must approve the external invitation.
What happens to a Slack Connect invite after it is sent?
All workspace members (other than guests) can receive and accept an invite by default. However, admins of the receiving organization can limit this permission - in which case specific members of the receiving organization must accept the invitation.
What if a Slack Connect invitation Is not accepted?
One common issue we've observed is the "expired invites" phenomenon. Because invitations may require an approval process, or partners might overlook the initial invitation due to the myriad of emails they receive daily, invitations often go unresponded. Fortunately, Slack provides a notification of expired invitations (as shown in the screenshot below):
We advise users to watch for these expired invitation notifications and resend invitations. In our experience - sending the invitation multiple times is often required before successfully connecting.
What is a Channel Owner in Slack Connect?
The workspace that initiates the invite becomes the owner of a Slack Connect channel. This is important to understand because the owner of the Slack Connect channel has additional privileges. The channel owner can be seen in the channel details (from Desktop ->Right Click on channel name ->View channel details) as shown below:
Who should initiate the invite in a shared channel?
Many Slack Connect channels are between two collaborating organizations. A vendor (or an agency) often collaborates with their customer (or client). While either party can create the channel and the invitation extended to the other - we recommend that the vendor start the channel and extend the invitation to their customer. There are a couple of key reasons:
- One is ensuring the vendor is the channel owner and can install important apps (like ClearFeed) to manage Slack Connect channels. If the customer initiates the connection and is the channel owner - they can turn off the ability of the vendor to install apps.
- Equally importantly - we have found Slack Connect to be an outstanding tool for customer engagement, and it’s in the vendor's interest to initiate these connections as soon as they engage with a prospect.
Security for Slack Connect channels
When it comes to inter-organizational collaboration, security remains paramount. Slack recognizes this and has integrated various controls for admins regarding Slack Connect channels. Let's delve into the specifics of these controls:
What Profile information is visible in a Slack Connect channel?
By default, only the Email address, Name, and Profile pictures are visible to external organizations in shared channels.
- Admins can decide whether additional profile information like title, status, and pronouns are shared with external partners.
- They can also turn off Email information being visible to partners.
This article contains instructions for controlling these options. The default sharing options for profile information are shown below:
Can External organizations access internal data or channels?
No! External organizations can only access the Slack Connect channels they are members of. External users of these channels can send direct messages to other members of these Slack Connect channels (unless this is disabled) They cannot send direct messages to members who are not on any shared channel with them. And they cannot access the internal channels of other organizations.
Who can add members to Slack Connect channels?
The channel owner of the Slack Connect channel (i.e., the organization that initiated the invite) can add any member they want. By default, partner organizations can also add members freely - however, this can be changed by the channel owner.
How can we prevent partners from adding members and apps to Slack Connect channels?
One can do this by
- From Desktop: ‘Right-click’ and go into ’Channel Details’
- Scroll down in the details to where the partner organizations are listed.
Click on the ‘...’ menu next to a partner organization and change their privileges as shown in the screenshot below:
By restricting the partner organization to only posting privileges - one can ensure that they cannot invite additional colleagues or apps to the channel.
How long are messages retained in a Slack Connect channel?
By default - messages shared in a Slack Connect channel are retained forever. However, each participant organization in a Slack Connect channel can control the retention of messages sent by them in the channel. This can be changed by one of the two following methods:
Method 1: Either the message retention setting for the entire workspace can be changed. This can be done by changing the ‘Message History’ settings in the Workspace settings as detailed here.
Method 2: However - the above option is not very practical as admins may want a different setting for Slack Connect channels (as opposed to internal channels). This can be done, at a per channel level, via a two-step process:
- Firstly, by allowing individual members to override the message retention settings at the channel level. This can also be done in the ‘Message History’ section described above, as shown in the screenshot below:
- With this change affected, individual channel owners can now go to a specific Slack Connect channel, open its Settings (via ‘Right Click’ -> ‘View Channel Details’ ->‘Settings’ from the Desktop), and then change the ‘Message History’ setting as shown below.
Unfortunately, at this moment, there does not seem to be a global setting specific to all Slack Connect channels. This is one of the ways software like ClearFeed helps companies by applying global policies and actions across multiple Slack Connect channels easily.
In conclusion, Slack makes it very easy to collaborate - and that means it’s easy to send messages and attachments - including ones that may be confidential. Businesses are naturally wary of sharing data outside the company firewall - and Slack Connect channels expose yet another potential point of confidential data leakage. Slack offers a comprehensive suite of security controls, allowing organizations to balance collaboration and security. It's always essential for admins to familiarize themselves with these controls and adjust settings in alignment with their organization's security policies and requirements.
Is it possible to disable Direct Messages in Slack Connect?
By default, members who join a Slack Connect channel from external organizations can send direct messages to other members in that channel. This can be difficult to manage (DMs can go unattended) and represents another vulnerability that allows information sharing across companies without visibility to the rest of the organization.
Administrators can Disable Slack Connect DMs. However, it is also extremely useful to be able to send private messages in Slack (not everything can be discussed in shared contexts), so admins may want to check with their team on whether limiting DMs is an appropriate choice for your team.
Managing Applications in a Slack Connect channel
Applications can greatly enhance the functionality and productivity of a Slack workspace and play a significant role in Slack Connect channels. But who can install these apps and how they behave in a shared environment differs from regular channels.
Who can install Applications in a Slack Connect channel?
By default, workspace administrators or members with specific permissions of each organization in a Slack Connect channel can install apps in that channel. However, if the Channel Owner has restricted an organization from inviting users, it won’t be able to add applications.
Can different organizations install the same App in a Slack Connect channel?
Yes! The same application can be installed individually by different organizations, and its functionality can only be used by that organization. Let’s take an example:
- Acme Corp and Beta Corp are both members of a Slack Connect channel, ABC
- Acme installs the Giphy app in channel ABC
- Beta Corp can also install the Giphy app in channel ABC
Acme and Beta Corp members can use the Giphy app now (say - using its shortcuts). But when they use the app - they are using their installation of the Giphy app.
How do we see all the Apps installed in a Slack Connect channel?
All the applications installed in a Slack Connect channel can be seen from that channel's Integrations tab (from the Desktop - Right Click -> View Details -> Integrations). As the Slack documentation says
Apps added by another organization will include that organization's Slack icon next to the app name. Only people from the organization that added an app can remove it from a channel.
Can Apps installed by one Organization be used by another in a Slack Connect channel?
The general answer is no, with one exceptions:
- The shortcuts for an app are only visible to the organization members who installed the app in the Slack Connect channel. For example, to interact with the Giphy app, one could use the /giphy shortcut. If only one of the organizations has installed the Giphy app, only they can use this shortcut.
- Similarly - apps often publish actions available via a “three dots” menu that is available next to every message. Those are also only available to the organization that has installed the App.
- However, messages posted by Apps on a shared channel are visible to all participants. So one must be careful with Apps installed on such channels - while they may not be directly accessible to external participants, the messages they post are.
- Workflows are also available to all participants on the channel.
Remember that even if the same app is installed by both the organizations in a channel - each workspace can only interact with it's instance of the application.
Slack Connect is an amazing tool for inter-organizational collaboration. It offers more depth and flexibility than traditional guest access and is vastly superior to Email for its speed, ease of use, and inbuilt apps. However, as we've learned at ClearFeed, it's often difficult to understand some of its key concepts around invitations, apps, and security. Our experiences, shared in this blog, aim to guide other organizations in making the most out of Slack Connect.
ClearFeed has helped numerous organizations scale up and manage Slack Connect channels for customer support. Beyond mastering Slack Connect - we have also captured our learnings for effective Customer Support and Engagement on Slack in this Guide. Do you have any questions about Slack Connect or scaling CS on Slack? You can connect with us on our Community Slack, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us at https://clearfeed.ai.