How Slack Channels Work
Before you become a master at using Slack, you need to understand how channels work.
Channels are what separates Slack from regular instant messaging apps like Skype and Whatsapp. You can think of them as subsections within a workspace.
Slack channels are found on the left sidebar of a Slack workspace page. Public channel names are next to a “#” symbol and private channel names are next to a lock symbol.
Quick note: How Slack channels work for you may vary slightly depending on your type of account, role in a workspace, and device.
With that being said, it’s okay to be a newbie at first. But if you follow our easy Slack tips, you’ll be a proficient Slack user in no-time.
Create a channel
Before we dive deep into how Slack channels work, first, learning how to create them is a must.
Creating different channels organizes your team, and helps ensure the right members receive your messages.
How to create channels on Slack:
There are a couple of ways for you to get started, and they’re all pretty straightforward.
But let’s go over the easiest.
On the left sidebar, click on the “+” sign next to “Channels” and then click on “Create a channel” in the pop-up box.
Here, you can give your new channel a name, description, and choose to make it public or private. After typing in a name and description, click the “Create” button.
Now that you have a new channel setup, it’s time to add the right team members to your new channel.
Add a team member to a channel / remove team member
There’s not much of a point in using Slack unless you have a team to collaborate with and manage. After all, it is a collaborating communication platform.
In each channel, you can add the members you need and remove members when you want. If your channel is public, members can come and go as they please. However, if your channel is private, you’ll have to manually add them to the channel.
How to add a team member to a channel:
To add a team member to a channel, you’ll first want to open your desired channel.
Then, click on “Details” in the upper right corner of the channel.
After that, click on “Members” and click “Add People.”
For public channels: Once the “Add people” box pops up, you can add any team member you want, and choose whether you want new members to automatically join the channel.
For private channels: There are two options. You can add members directly to the private channel and include all of the old files and messages. Or you can create a new clone of the channel with all of the same people without any old files. The old private channel will be archived (more on archiving later).
After you choose the option best for you, click “Continue.” Then simply add the people you want and click the “Done” button.
How to remove team members from a channel:
Regardless of whether the channel is private or public, the removing process is all the same.
First, go to the channel you want to remove a member from, click on “Details” in the upper-right corner, then click “Members.”
Click on the member you want to remove, then click “Remove from [channel name]” at the bottom of the pop-up box.
Archive a channel vs delete a channel
When it comes to getting rid of channels, you can archive a channel or delete a channel. These options are entirely different, so make sure you choose the best option for you.
- Archive a channel: This is for when you only want to remove a channel but want to save all of its messages and files. Members will automatically be removed, but archived channels can be restored if you wish.
- Delete a channel: Deleting a channel is permanent and cannot be undone. All messages and files will be lost forever.
How to delete a channel:
To delete a channel, open the channel you want to delete, and click “Details” in the top right corner.
After that, click “More,” then click “Additional options…”
Once you open “Additional options…,” simply click on “Delete this channel.”
Double-check to make sure you’re deleting the right channel. Next, check the box next to “Yes, permanently delete this channel,” and click “Delete Channel.”
How to archive a channel:
To archive a channel, open the channel you want to archive. Then click-through “Details,” “More,” and “Additional options,” just like we did when we deleted a channel above.
Double-check to make sure you’re archiving the right channel, and click “Yes, archive the channel.”
How to unarchive a channel:
Sometimes you may decide to bring an archived channel back to life. This is when you can unarchive an old channel.
First, click on the “+” symbol next to “Channels” on the left sidebar. Then click “Browse channels.”
Click on “Filter,” then “Channel type,” and select “Archived channels” from the dropdown menu.
To finish the process, click on the channel you want to unarchive, then click “Unarchive” under “Details” on the right sidebar.
Rename a channel
Naming channels is the first step to organizing your channels, but you may eventually need to rename a channel. This can be done to any channel at any time by owners, admins, and sometimes members (if they created the channel).
How to rename a channel:
First, open the channel, and click on “Details” in the upper right corner.
Then simply type in the new channel name and click “Rename Channel.”
Do you want to know how to merge channels on Slack? Unfortunately, a “Merge” option doesn’t exist. However, you can utilize Slack’s import and export tools to combine workspaces and channels.
But here’s the catch:
They don’t make it that simple (so pay attention closely). We’ll have to export channel and user data, then import it together.
If you want to merge a private channel, you’ll have to make it public first.
How to manually merge Slack channels:
To begin, you’ll have to make your way to “Workspace settings.” To do this, click on the little down arrow next to your workspace name. Then click on “Settings & administration,” and click “Workspace settings.”
You’ll be sent to your workspace’s “settings” page. Click on the “Import/Export data” button on the top right of your screen.
Click on the “Export” tab.
Choose “Entire workspace history” as your “Export date range” unless you don’t want to merge the full history of your channels.
Go ahead and click “Start Export” and wait for your workspace to download.
Once your download is ready, click on the “Ready for download” link in the middle section of the page to download the zip file.
Save your file somewhere on your computer where you’ll remember.
Now that you have your exported workspace saved, you’re ready for the importing phase. Click on the “Import” tab under “Import Data” on the “Import” page.
Scroll down and click on the “Import” button next to “Slack.”
Read or skip through the imports guide (it wouldn’t hurt to read, but it’s not necessary).
For the next step, you’ll need to upload your export zip file to a cloud service (such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box).
Copy the link to the file on your chosen cloud storage service and paste it under where it says “Direct download link.”
Next, you can simply select “Merge users” in the dropdown menu under “How would you like to import users?”
If you prefer, you can choose a different option to manually select the members you want in the merged channel.
After, click on the dropdown menu that says “Show (#) channels.”
Note: We recommend merging the channel with less data to the channel with more data to simplify the process.
For all of the channels that you do not want to merge, choose “Don’t import” under “Action.” But for the channel that you do want to merge, select “Merge with existing channel” under the “Action” column.
Select the channel you wish to merge to using the dropdown menu on the right like the image above.
Finish the merge by clicking “Next,” and then clicking the “Import” button. Wait for the merge to finish and check your channels to make sure everything went smoothly.
You can delete or archive the old channel that you merged into the other.
Find a channel
For the most part, you can find your channels on the left sidebar under “Channels.” All active public channels and private channels that you’re a member of can be found under the collapsable drop-menu. Just click the little arrow to the left of “Channels” to use the menu.
But what if you aren’t a member of a public channel or need to find an archived channel?
How to find a channel on Slack:
To find these channels, all you need to do is open your Channel browser. To do this, click on the “+” sign next to “Channels” on the left sidebar. Then click on “Browse channels.”
At this point, you’re in your Channel browser and can search all public channels from the search bar.
If you need to find archived channels, click on “Filter” to the right of your screen and filter for “Archived channels” under “Channel type.” You can also use the filter feature to filter through private channels.
Having trouble looking through all of your channels? Use the “Sort” option to reorder your channels by age, members, and alphabetically.
Slack channels vs threads
While Slack channels are fantastic for keeping a team’s messages and projects from getting mixed up — messages within your channels can get even more organized.
Enter Slack threads:
Threads keep conversations organized within specific channels. So this way, teams can have multiple conversations at one time without confusion.
You can think of threads like Twitter threads or comments under Facebook posts. Slack channels act as individual homepages and threads are individual posts with comments.
How to start a Slack thread:
To start a thread, you first have to send a message in one of your Slack channels or start one using your fellow team member’s message.
After a message is sent, hover over the message bubble on a message and click “Start a thread.”
A thread will appear on your right sidebar where you can keep the conversation going.
Public channel vs private channels vs shared channels
Public and private Slack channels are going to be your best friends while communicating with your team on Slack. Public channels allow anyone in the same team to share files, send messages, and collaborate. And private channels are perfect for owners, admins, and selected members to work together for niche projects.
But what if two separate organizations or “workspaces” need to collaborate on a project together?
This is where shared channels come into play.
For the most part, shared channels look and work like a typical public or private channel — except for a few visual differences to indicate it’s a shared chat.
Shared channels allow members of different organizations and workspaces to send direct messages, share files, use apps, and make calls together. Teams can either share pre-existing channels or start new shared channels with an outsider company.
Keep in mind: New channel members can see all previous messages and files, so you might want to create a new shared channel to protect sensitive information.
Besides creating a shared channel, you can also join one if another company invites you.
Note: Only owners and admins can create shared channels, and you must have a paid Slack Standard or Plus account.
Slack has a helpful guide on starting and managing shared channels if you need help setting up shared channels.
Convert a public channel to a private channel
Although most of your channels may be public, there may come a time when you need to make a channel private.
Private Slack channels come with privacy advantages over public Slack channels (obvious, right?). They’re also excellent for owners and admins to talk amongst themselves, or for projects that are only relevant to specific team members.
So how do you convert a public channel to private?
Note: Regular members cannot convert public chats to private. And private channels cannot be converted back to public channels.
How to convert a public channel to a private channel:
Open the public channel you want to make private. Click on “Details” in the upper right corner and click “More.”
Once the pop-up menu shows up, click “Additional options…” Then click on “Change to a private channel.”
Finish up the converting process by clicking “Change to private.”
Organize Your Slack Channels
Now that you have the basic rundown on how Slack channels work, it’s time to dive deeper and learn how to organize your channels.
Organization is key, so you’ll want to take note of these tips to keep your team operating like a well-oiled machine.
Let’s start nice and simple.
Introduce guidelines for channel names
Every Slack channel begins with a channel name, which should reflect your organization’s unique mission and needs.
The last thing you want is team members discussing the wrong topics in the wrong channel. That could get pretty annoying and be flat-out confusing. That’s why sticking to guidelines when you name your channels is critical to staying organized on Slack.
When you create a Slack workspace, you’ll start with a “# general” channel and “# random” channel. The “# general” channel is great for communicating with your entire company about broad subjects. And “# random” is useful for miscellaneous messages that aren’t really relevant to any projects. You can rename either of these to better fit your company.
You’ll want to use naming conventions to keep channels even more organized (we’ll cover that in a moment).
Using the right names for your channels is the start of establishing a solid channel structure, which brings us to our next section:
Establish a channel structure
Channel structure is vital for excellent organization on Slack. The next five subsections we’ll be covering are all about keeping your channel structure squared away.
Structure will be simple at first or if your team is relatively small, but as your team grows, it’ll become even more important.
When you start out creating a channel, it’ll be a good idea to start with broad channels before getting more specific.
Labeling channels with names is your foundation of Slack channel organization, but you’ll want to get more niche than that.
Use naming conventions
Creating specific naming conventions, and then niching down into “subchannels” can help you go more in-depth with your organization. If a new channel doesn’t yet fit into a specific naming convention, it’s smart to create one for future channels.
Using conventions is excellent for creating categories for different projects, subjects, and teams.
Develop channel prefixes
A built-in feature for naming conventions in Slack is channel prefixes. Channel prefixes are naming conventions at the beginning of a channel name.
Slack automatically starts you out with three main prefixes that you can use to categorize channels together.
You can keep these prefixes, but it’ll be a good idea to create your own to fit your company’s unique needs.
How to delete and add prefixes:
Click on the little arrow next to your workspace name on the left sidebar. Then click on “Settings & administration,” and “Customize [workspace].”
You’ll be taken to the “Customize Your Workspace” page where you can select the “Channel Prefixes” tab. Here you can delete old prefixes and make new ones.
Utilize the channel description and create a channel purpose
Now that you know how to structure your channel names, it’s time to add a channel description to clear up any confusion with your team.
Whenever you create a new channel, you should give it a clear description. This way, you can let your team know what should and shouldn’t be posted in the channel, along with any other rules.
If you need to go back and add or edit a description, you can do so easily.
How to edit a channel description:
Open the channel with the description you want to change or update. Click on “Details” in the upper-right corner, then click on “More,” and then “Additional options…”
Next, simply click on “Set the channel description.”
To finish, just add a description that describes the exact purpose of the channel and click “Update Description.”
Sort your channels
Having your channels labeled with clear descriptions will be vital for the next key part of organizing channels. Now, let’s go over sorting channels on your sidebar.
Your sorting options will be more limited if you use the free version of Slack rather than the paid versions. Free users will have their channels automatically in alphabetical order. But paid Slack users can choose to have channels sorted “scientifically,” which means your most-used channels will show up first.
One simple way any user can prioritize a channel or direct message is through starring. We’ll go over how to star channels towards the end of this article.
For Slack users with paid plans, you can click on the three dots to the right of “Starred” to create new sections for channels on the left sidebar.
How to separate private channels:
Click on the little down arrow to the right of your workspace name. Then click “Preferences” in the dropdown menu.
To finish, click “Sidebar” on the left of the popup screen. Then check-off the box to the left of “List private channels separately.”
Make separate channels for bots
One aspect of Slack that makes it unique is its incorporation of bots. Slack bots have names, profiles, and pictures, just like a human user would. You can find your bots under “Apps” on the left sidebar.
These nifty little bots run on code to automate certain tasks. Needless to say, bots can be a HUGE time-saver.
You can either add an already-made bot to your workspace or create your own (if you like fiddling with coding).
Once you find the bots you want, you can add them into separate channels of your choice.
How to add bots to specific or separate channels:
To begin, create a new channel or choose a pre-existing channel to add the bots.
Go to the left sidebar and click on “Apps” and click on the bot you want.
Then click on “Details” in the upper-right corner, then click “More.” Now, you can select the channel you wish to add the bot.
Use Slack Effectively As Your Team Grows
Online businesses are always changing, so your Slack workplace will be no different. Whether you’re adding new employees, freelancers, or collaborating with agencies, your Slack workplace will need to stay caught up.
Now that you have a solid understanding of how Slack works, let's discuss how to manage Slack as your team constantly evolves.
Let’s start with how to utilize your default channels to help new employees.
Utilize default channels for new employees
Regardless of who you’re bringing on board, you’ll want to bring them up to speed ASAP.
So how do you do it?
You guessed it — default channels.
Establishing useful default channels will give new team members quick access to essential company information, along with company culture, policies, and benefits.
In your default channels, you can welcome new members, and post information covering everything we just discussed above.
How to set up (or remove) default channels:
Note: For a channel to be a default channel, it must be a public channel. Private channels cannot be default channels.
To add and remove default channels, visit your “Workplace settings.” To do this, click on the little down arrow to the right of your workplace name. Then click “Settings & administration,” and then click “Workplace settings.”
Scroll down your “Settings” until you see “Default Channels.” Click on the “Expand” button to the right of “Default Channels.”
Now, you can click the “X” next to any channels of which you want to remove its default status. Or you can add a channel to the list of default channels by clicking within the box to select your channel of choice.
Decide how to organize channels as your team grows
Main default channels should be the first channels you set up. But let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to keep your channels organized when your team starts to grow.
Like we previously mentioned when discussing channel name conventions — you want to start broad in the beginning, but create more niche channels as more topical discussions come up.
Consider adding new channels if a specific subject is creating enough conversation in a channel. However, be careful about creating channels for topics that aren’t evergreen for your company and will disappear in the long term. For more temporary projects or subjects, a group chat will easily suffice.
Establish the right number of channels
How many channels you need will depend on your team size and the number of projects your team handles. Too many channels and your workspace will be harder to navigate. But with not enough channels, your channels will become cluttered with scrambled posts and messages.
The last thing you want ruining your Slack channel organization is cluttered or inactive channels that aren’t serving an active purpose.
Before adding a new channel, ask yourself:
- Is there already a channel that serves this purpose?
- Will there be enough active members in this channel for it to be necessary?
If you answered, “no, yes,” go ahead and create that channel.
If you notice there are duplicate channels, you can delete or archive the channel clone. However, if you want to keep the messages and files in each channel, you can merge them as we did in part one of this Slack guide.
Add shared channels to communicate with agencies, freelancers, or outside vendors.
Shared channels will probably be the best route for you whenever you collaborate with or hire agencies, freelancers, or other outsiders.
Shared channels work just like normal channels, except they’re shared workspaces for two separate organizations.
Creating shared channels is great for collaborating with other organizations, but what if you’re working with independent freelancers or contractors?
This when you can add guests.
Multi-Channel Guests vs Single-Channel Guests
There are two different types of guests you can add to your workspace:
- Multi-channel guests are guests who can join multiple channels, which you selected (they’re billed as regular members on paid plans).
- Single-channel guests are guests who are limited to a single channel, which you selected (you get five free for every one paid member).
Multi-channel guests may be more fitting for freelancers and contractors, while single-channel guests may suffice for sharing progress with clients.
Owners and admins can change guests’ permissions, set the expiration date for their accounts, and manage guests’ channels.
Consider including social channels (for non-work-talk)
We’ve discussed managing your workspace, but what about managing your fun-space for your team?
Business is business, but business can be fun sometimes (woohoo). Creating a designated social channel will help your team’s morale and add a hint of fun to your workspace.
A social channel can also boost productivity by keeping your team’s memes and jokes separate from work-related channels.
Create Specific Slack Channels
Sure, your team is a team, but that doesn’t mean you need to all be in the same channels.
Chances are your team can be put into categories.
Your content team won’t need the same updates and messages that your developers do. And your marketing team doesn’t need reports about the details of coding. (Most of the time.)
Creating specific Slack channels for your team's different sectors is a good strategy for keeping your team in-line.
You can create specific channels for owners and admins to discuss leadership topics (it might be best to be a private channel for this). Then you can give different sectors of the rest of your team their own channels (i.e., marketers, designers, developers, etc.).
Collaborate successfully in channels
Utilizing all of the organization techniques that we’ve just discussed will be the bread and butter of creating and using channels. However, now we’re going to dive into the fundamental features of Slack channels.
Learning how to use these more advanced channel settings will keep your workplace running extra-smooth.
Utilize Advanced channel settings
Team messaging tools like Slack, are supposed to make your life easier, but if channel settings aren’t managed right, things could get crazy.
Managing and changing channel settings will help you control the volume of messages in a channel and prevent irrelevant jibber-jabber from rambling on.
A common complaint from large teams is the overload of notifications you can receive if you don’t manage your notifications. Learning how Slack notifications work and mastering them will save you a ton of time filtering through notifications.
How to use Slack channel commands:
To make things easier for you, Slack has built-in channel commands to do simple tasks.
Commands let you do everything from inviting users to a channel — to renaming a channel.
Ready to see the list of commands? Click the message box in a channel and type “/”
How to manage posting permissions:
Remember how we said it’s great to set guidelines for each channel? Well, sometimes guests and new-comers, might not get the memo right away. It could get irritating, but that’s okay because you can edit posting permissions for members.
Note: Free Slack users can only manage the “# general” permissions.
Start by opening the channel you want to manage. Then click on “Details” in the upper-right corner and then click “More.”
To finish, click on the bubble of the permission that you want.
You can also check whether you wish to allow threads under posts in the channel.
Click save when you’re done.
Star channels / Mute channels
Two simple Slack channel features that will save you endless headaches are the starring and muting features. Both can be accomplished in a couple of clicks.
How to star Slack channels:
Like we previously discussed in this guide, starring channels is a great way to stay organize and get easy access to your most-used channels.
Starred channels will show up in a section of their own on the left sidebar under “Starred.”
If you right-click on a channel and then click “Star channel,” you’ll categorize the channel under “Starred” on the left sidebar.
Any user can also easily separate private channels from public channels. Although both will still show up under “Channels.”
How to mute Slack channels:
Is there a channel in your workspace that’s blowing your device up with notifications? Mute it. It’s easy as 1, 2, 3.
Note: Muted Slack channels will be pushed towards the bottom of your listed channels on the left sidebar.
All you have to do is right-click the channel you want to mute and click “Mute channel.”
Notify a channel
Whenever there is an urgent post or message you want out to get to a group of members in a channel, you can @ them. Notifying a channel is like making an announcement, in which everyone gets an alert.
You have several options for how specific you can get when notifying a channel.
But before you go gung-ho sending announcements to your team, let’s consider some notification etiquette: A lot of your team is going to have Slack on their mobile device, so please send notifications to everyone sparingly. Remote work is awesome, but separating work from your personal life is essential for balancing-out your life.
3 ways to notify a Slack channel:
Open the channel you want to notify and type one of these in the message box, along with the message you wish to send:
- Type “@everyone” to notify everyone in the “# general” channel.
- Type “@channel” to notify everyone in a specific channel.
- Type “@here” to only notify the active members of a specific channel.
Set reminders to a channel
With so many moving parts in your online business and workspace, it can be easy to forget about deadlines, meetings, and other things on your to-do list.
There are three main ways for you to set reminders for yourself through Slack.
One of the ways is through slash commands like we discussed in the “Utilize Advanced channel settings” section.
Slackbot will send you a direct message when it’s time for your reminder.
Let’s go over the other two main ways to set reminders.
How to set reminders to a channel:
Click on the little box with the lightning bolt symbol near the bottom-left of the message box. Then click on “Set myself a reminder.”
To finish, select the date on the calendar, pick a time, and add a description, so you remember what the reminder was for.
How to remind yourself of a message or file:
Find the message or file that you’d like to be reminded of, and hover over it with your mouse. Then click the three vertical dots that say “More actions.”
Then click “Remind me about this,” and then select when you want to be reminded. Click “Custom…” to be reminded at a specific date and time.
Learning how to use Slack channels the right way will make you and your team run more efficiently. Feel free to come back to this Slack tutorial as a reference if you ever get lost navigating your channels.