Hacking Growth: How Slack Did It

Hacking Growth: How Slack Did It

How to ensure top-of-the-mind recall for your B2B tech product when you’re not Google or Amazon

Virality. We’ve all heard about it. We even think we know it. But what lies behind virality in marketing? What makes a marketing strategy so good that the brand becomes a multibillion-dollar success? And, let me throw another spin on this – how about virality in the enterprise space?

Consider Slack, the messaging and collaboration platform. This company has come out of nowhere and garnered 8 million Daily Active Users(DAU) in 4 years, 3 million of them paying customers. They’ve also managed a valuation of $7 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b). Slack solves a pressing problem in the modern-day workplace: email fatigue. If you’ve searched desperately among your thousands of emails in your inbox for that one email with some keyword that you kinda-sorta remember, you know what I’m talking about.

Slack’s success has bred a whole slew of competitors, from giants like Microsoft with its Teams product and Facebook’s Workplace to Flock, Chanty, Fleep and others. There are lessons in Slack’s rise from zero to 8 million DAU for all B2B entrepreneurs, big or small.

PIC: From Zero to 8 Million: Say VA-VA-VOOM!


So, just how did they do it? Let’s start with this tweet:

Pic: The tweet that launched a million DAUs

Talk about influencer marketing! With friends like Marc Andreessen (ex-Netscape) tweeting for him, you might argue that Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield had it good from Day 1. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see that this tweet was just the last outcome of a fantastic “pull out your pocket diary and call friends and family” effort.

Butterfield has a prestigious background. The co-founder of photo-sharing app Flickr, he walked out of Yahoo when they got bought over and started up again creating an online video game. When that effort went by the wayside, Butterfield and a skeletal crew examined the debris – they had hacked up a messaging app to wade through the various versions of the game and found value in it. This eventually became Slack.

This brings us to Slack-Hack-#1 – Beg your friends and family to test your product. Butterfield fell back on his Flickr-Yahoo network and word spread about the “preview release” (note: marketers please note, NOT beta) of this hot new collaboration tool. “Begged and pleaded” was what they did, per Butterfield. They also used testimonials from these early users to burnish the brand. All this resulted in an incredible amount of organic traffic to the site, a trend that persists to this day with Slack.

PIC: Slack traffic circa 2018, with a whopping 91.35% organic traffic

Let’s now examine Slack-Hack-#2 I scratch your (marketing) back and you scratch mine! Slack has a huge number of tools integrating into its platform. Think of the gamut from Google Drive to Wireframing apps such as WireframePro to analytics apps such as Pushmetrics. Of course, this makes the platform more usable, but sample how Slack has used this interoperability in their marketing:

Pic: Say whaa..? Slack’s incredible rankings for partner ecosystem keywords

That’s right, Rank 7 in global listings when you type in “Google Drive” goes to a Slack URL.  Look at the last column for all other similar searches to see how hard Slack’s SEO team has worked to land these rankings. This is organic gold. No promo budget, no shouting from the rooftops. Plain ol’ SEO work.

Talking of shouting from the rooftops, let’s look at Slack’s work in the social media space – a space many B2B enterprise CEOs I’ve interacted with sniff at, saying it’s just not for them. To all of them, I say, “Look at Slack!”

More specifically, look at their Youtube channel – 23,687,095 views, yes, that’s 23 million+ views for a total of 103 videos. Even more specifically, look at this video, accounting for 15 million+ views on its own.

This brings us to Slack-Hack #3  – It’s the cute animals, darnit! Videos increasingly account for most of the internet traffic. If you don’t have those explainer, demo, cute animal and other videos on social media, do so pronto.

But seriously, Slack’s biggest social media channel driving organic traffic is arguably YouTube, with Twitter being a close second. Beyond the corporate @SlackHQ handle, look @SlackStatus – a Slackbot that provides a steady stream of bug resolutions, status updates and customer support responses. Slack sure has hacked customer support via Twitter.

If that is not enough, Slack has, outrageously, put out @SlackLoveTweets – RTs of people who love Slack. Bold, do you say? Risky, some would aver. But Slack has put their Twitter handle where the customer is, and invited love – 2796 followers with 10.9K tweets is nothing to sneeze at!

All this love can only generate something else that is gold for B2B enterprises – case studies!  These seem to pour in from not just customers, but partners too, all only too happy to feed off the attention and mutual admiration. This brings us back to collaboration, that is the core of Slack-Hack #4 – Collaborate the love!

Pic: Nuzzel loves Slack and Slack says “Right back at ya!” – Screenshot from @SlackLoveTweets

Slack today has 1000+ SaaS partners from GitHub to Zoom and SurveyMonkey, all vying to serve the 8 million DAU and 70,000+ teams. The partner list spans virtually all of the tech industry, all of them happy to collaborate on integrations, social media and mutual marketing. A virtuous (and profitable!) circle indeed.

Talking of video, I must mention Slack’s awesome podcast campaign. Sample the Slack Variety Pack –  a podcast about work, people and teams. Covers pretty much the entire world, doesn’t it? Indeed, that’s Slack-Hack #5Fun, breezy podcasts about work and life that don’t promote Slack. As a marketing tool, podcasts are so hot that they’re vaporising as we speak. If you’re not on the podcast bandwagon (hosting, speaking or listening to one), get on it now! If you’re a B2B enterprise marketer and don’t have it in your roadmap for 2019, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Do it right, though – make it interesting; make it about your customers; make it about topics that interest them. No hardsell – just plain ol’ storytelling.

That brings us to what Slack could have done better on this journey. Let’s hear it from the man himself:

“If there’s one piece of advice I could go back to give myself, it is concentrate on that storytelling part, on the convincing people. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how good the product is, it doesn’t matter how good the idea was for the market, or what happens in the external factors, you don’t have the people believing.” ~ Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack.

I think his “Slack”ers are listening and their podcasts (the brand new one is called Work in Progress and is all about “…the meaning and identity we find in work”) are surely proof of that.

There are tons of other hacks Slack marketers have employed, and (I’m sure), slaved over for thousands of hours. But it sure is a pleasure to watch these campaigns unfold and learn from them!

What Slack-Hack fits your enterprise the best?


  1. https://medium.com/the-mission/slacks-epic-marketing-strategy-and-stewart-butterfield-s-thoughts-about-storytelling-c971fcccd8a8
  2. https://mashable.com/2015/12/07/marketing-strategy-slack/#O2plyLXr7uqs
  3. https://sumo.com/stories/slack-marketing
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-slack-flickr-founder-stewart-butterfield-twice-mastered-hoffman/
  5. https://twitter.com/search?q=%40slacklovetweets&src=typd
  6. https://slackhq.com/work-in-progress
  7. https://slackhq.com/the-slack-variety-pack
Padmaja Narsipur
Padmaja Narsipur
An Entrepreneur, Marketer and Storyteller, who loves weaving stories for her clients. In her hands, your brand stories come alive like never before.

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