How to Utilize Slack Public Channels

As your team begins to use Slack regularly, you’ll quickly learn the importance of channels.

A channel in Slack keeps things organized, whether related to a particular project or an important topic for the team. You certainly could place every message for your team within a single channel, but you’ll discover that organizing the information through multiple, topic-oriented channels works far more efficiently.

Slack has several types of channels, including private and shared, but Slack’s public channels are the most useful for most teams. We’ll help you understand how to use them efficiently.

Understanding Slack Channels

Your Slack channels appear on the left side of your Slack screen in the menu. Remember, there are three types of channels: public, private, and shared.

Here are some of the basics to understand about public channels:

  • Open access: Public channels allow anyone to join. When you post a message in a public channel, anyone can search through the messages.
  • No limits: You can create as many public channels as you want in your Slack workspace. Unless the Slack administrator changes the permissions, any team member can create a public channel, and any number of members can join a public channel.
  • Used in all tiers: No matter which pricing tier you’re using with Slack (including the free level), you can set up and use public channels.
  • Adding members: You can add team members to and remove team members from channels whenever desired.

Public channels are marked with a hashtag/pound sign (#) next to them for easy identification.

Private channels are different from public channels because, with a private channel, someone who is part of it must invite you to it. Members of the team can create private channels and invite others into the channel unless the Slack administrator changes the permissions. Private channels have a lock icon at the start of the channel name.

You can change a public channel to private after creating it, but you cannot turn private channels into public ones later. You also cannot undo the process if you change a public channel to private.

Shared channels are channels that allow those in separate organizations to work together in a channel. Slack administrators can choose to make the shared channel private or public for those in their own organization. Shared channels will have a double diamond icon at the start of the channel name.

As noted, public Slack channels are the most valuable and productive for the majority of workplace teams since they provide the entire team with a centralized place to communicate and share information.

1. How to Create a Slack Public Channel

Slack team members can create public channels on the desktop version of Slack and the mobile versions. We’ll first discuss the desktop version before adding information on using Slack’s iOS and Android versions.

Click on your company name in the upper left corner of the Slack window. In the popup menu, click on Create a Channel near the middle of the menu.

2. Name the Public Channel

In the Create a Channel window, you’ll be able to add the name of the new channel, along with a few other pieces of information.

  • Name: In the name box, enter the name of the channel. You can use up to 80 characters in the channel name. Slack will add the hash character that appears at the front of all public channel names for you. Slack will automatically add the hyphens between each word for channel names with multiple words.
  • Description: Adding a description is optional. It just provides a brief description of the channel’s planned usage.
  • Make Private: Slide the button to the right to set up the channel as a private channel. Because our channel will remain public, we’ll leave the button on the left side.

Click the Create button to add the channel. It will show up in the list on the left side of your main Slack window.

3. Add Members of the Public Channel

In the Add People window, you can choose to add all members of your organization currently using Slack by selecting the upper button.

To add only a few team members, click on Add specific people. In the text box, add the usernames or email addresses of Slack members you want to add.

As you type the names, Slack will attempt to complete the name for you. When the correct name appears in the invite message, click on it to add it to the list in the box. You can add as many people as you want.

When you finish adding names, click the Add button.

You also have the option of clicking the Add button without adding any names, choosing to add members to the channel later.

4. View the New Channel

To see your new channel, click on the channel name along the left side of the Slack window.

With the new channel open, you can see the description for it in the main section of the window (and you can edit it if you want). If you want to add more people, just click the Add people icon under the description.

Otherwise, start entering messages in the lower part of the main window.

Creating a Public Channel in the Slack iOS or Android App

To create a public channel in the mobile version of Slack, tap the Home icon at the bottom of the screen.

Next to the Channels listing, tap the plus sign, followed by tapping Create in the upper right corner.

In the box on the next screen, enter the name for the new channel, add a description if on an Apple device (the Android app does not allow the adding of a description, but the iOS app does), and leave the toggle button in the left position to keep the channel public. Then tap Create in the top right corner.

5 Great Ways to Utilize Slack Public Channels

Although there are a few drawbacks to using public channels in Slack, you’ll receive the highest efficiency level for your team members when using public channels instead of private ones. Here are five of the best ideas to make the most of public channels in Slack.

1. Searching for Information

Because public Slack channels offer a search function, and private channels do not, utilizing public channels helps team members track down the information they need.

To search in Slack, click on the search box near the top of the main page. Type in your search phrase and hit Enter.

Once Slack returns your results, you can apply filters to the results, helping you narrow them down. Some of the filters you can apply include:

  • People involved
  • Channels involved
  • Limit search to channels to which you belong
  • Date range
  • Messages with a file attached
  • Messages with a link included
  • Pinned messages

Unless you apply filters to the search results to limit the search channels, Slack will search all of your team’s public channels by default.

2. Pinning Messages in Channels

As an option for calling attention to particular messages in a public channel, you can pin an important message.

A pinned message appears in the Details section of any channel. You also can see any pinned messages in the channel by clicking the pin icon at the upper left corner of the channel window, just below the name of the channel. Clicking on the pin icon opens the Details section on the right side of the channel window.

Pinned messages can provide instructions for team members using the channel, helping you keep the information in the channel well organized and on-topic.

3. Use Prefixes for Channel Names

When creating new public channel names, making them as descriptive as possible will help team members decide which channels are most relevant for them. Using a system to name public channels, including using a prefix for each channel, can be a massive benefit in this area.

All channels having to do with project creation should use “project” as the first word in the name. Marketing channels should use marketing as the first word. Then add more words to describe the channel fully.

For example, you might have “marketing-general” as a general channel for the marketing team and “marketing-new-product-launch-Jan-2021” as a project-specific channel for the marketing team.

As a Slack administrator, you should create a document that explains how your team members should name channels to follow the desired system of using prefixes and other naming rules you want to use.

4. Browsing Channels

If you are using a naming system for all of your Slack public channels, it becomes easier to use Slack’s browsing feature to find the channels you want to join.

To find the browse option, click Browse Slack at the top left corner of the main window, followed by Channel Browser.

In the Channel Browser window, you can type a search term in the box at the top of the page to find channels that match the term. If you’re using a naming system with prefixes, using search terms in this window will be more effective.

You can use the filter options on the right to limit further the number of channels displayed, helping you find the channels you want.

As another convenient feature, the Channel Browser window has a Create Channel button. If you determine when searching through the channels that the channel you want doesn’t exist, you can quickly create it through this button.

5. Limiting the Number of Team Members Per Channel

Some organizations enjoy the most success using Slack public channels by limiting the number of participants in each channel to no more than around 15. Larger groups tend to create more off-topic messages, leading to wasted work time. Discussions of ideas can become unwieldy with huge public channels, too.

If you find that a particular channel has too many participants to allow for efficient use, you may want to split it into two or three subchannels, splitting up the group to help a smaller number of team members focus a little better on a topic in the new public channel.

4 Common Problems When Utilizing Slack Public Channels

Although there are quite a few advantages to using Slack public channels, some instances exist where teams have problems using them. Here are four of the most common problems organizations encounter when using public channels and some potential solutions.

1. Public Channel Conversations Are Public

Although Slack’s primary function is to allow real-time or asynchronous text conversations among all team members, some conversations need to maintain privacy.

In a public channel, anyone on the team could join the channel at any time, so even if you think the conversation is private to certain team members, someone else could join the channel later and see the information.

You can create private channels to have those types of conversations in Slack, but remember the information is no longer searchable from a private channel, so make sure anything the whole team needs to know gets included in a public channel as well.

2. Organization Can Be a Challenge

Depending on the size of your team, keeping the number of public channels manageable can be a challenge. If you don’t use enough channels, conversations within the ones you have will jump off-topic far too often, leaving your team far less productive.

If you use many public channels to keep the conversations focused, team members may be unable to find the channels they need, leaving them uninformed.

Finding the sweet spot on how many channels to use will make your team’s time spent with Slack far more successful. We would suggest starting with a small number of channels and only adding new public channels when a need becomes apparent.

Additionally, make sure your team members know about the channel search and channel browse functions, so it’s easier to find the channels they need.

3. It’s Easy To Join Too Many Channels

With the ability for team members to join any public channel in Slack, you may find that some team members end up with information overload by joining too many channels.

They may not be able to keep all of the conversations in the channels straight, leading to confusion. Keeping up with dozens of new messages in dozens of different channels leads to reduced productivity.

This is an especially common problem for new members of the organization, who may have the temptation to try to learn everything they can and connect with as many team members as they can as quickly as they can.

The Slack administrator may want to suggest which public channels new team members should join for the first 60 or 90 days, just to allow them to focus on a few areas until they become more familiar with their duties.

After a probationary period, the newcomers should have a better idea of which public Slack channels they will need to join to stay informed.

4. Staying On Topic Can Be Difficult

Slack is such an effective communication tool that team members may begin to use it for all communications. Rather than picking up the phone or visiting a co-worker’s office, Slack may end up hosting conversations about weekend plans in the same public channel where team members are discussing a project.

Organizations with concerns over whether Slack is making the team members less productive may consider adding a catchall off-topic Slack public channel to manage these types of discussions. For example, some organizations use #random or #social for a catchall where users share personal achievements or happy hour invitations.

However, Slack administrators will have to weigh the potential for the off-topic (or social) channel to become the go-to channel for team members. Because it’s a fun channel, team members may prefer contributing to it, spending less time on the work-oriented channels.

You’ll have to think about the makeup of your organization. Will the team members have the discipline to focus their off-topic text chats in the off-topic channel, all without spending too much time with that channel? Will team members police each other to take off-topic discussions to the appropriate channel?

Your organization’s personality will play a key role in determining whether a public social channel in Slack will be beneficial.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira