‍With Slack having so many amazing features, it can be easy to overlook some. One feature we love that doesn’t get talked about as much is User Groups. User groups are a great way to make sure your team sees the messages they need to while keeping channel noise to a minimum.

Slack User Groups first appeared a little under four years ago, in October of 2014. Think of user groups like an email list. They allow you to communicate with many members at once, but don’t limit you to communicating within a channel. You can @ a user group’s name – @engineers, @marketing – anywhere, and everyone is notified no matter where you send the message, originally.

Getting your messages to the right people is one great feature of Slack User Groups, but there are a few others you should know about, too. In this article, we’re going to cover how to set up user groups and a few ways you can use them to your advantage.

Setting Up Slack User Groups

For those not yet familiar with Slack User Groups, this section covers how to add them in your organization. As long as you’re on a paid plan (Standard, Plus, or Enterprise Grid) user groups are an included feature.

To set up a user group, first, click on the “More Items” menu in the upper right-hand corner of your Slack window. From there, select “User Groups” from the menu. After doing so, click “Create New Group.”

From here, you can choose a name for the user group, a handle, and also set a purpose for the group. The purpose is visible to everyone in the group, as well as in your Slack directory. At this point, you can also dictate what channels you’d like members of the user group to get added to automatically.

Next, click “Create Group.” The last step in the process is to send invites. Go through your directory and select those you want to invite to the channel and then click “Invite” to finish the setup process. By default, only admins and workspace owners have the ability to create user groups. If they’d like, they can open up permissions so others can create user groups too.

Utilizing User Groups

Now that we’ve covered how to set up user groups, we are going to cover how you can best utilize user groups. Though there may be many different use cases, we see two main categories: team communication and onboarding.

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1. Team Communication

We tend to think of channels, direct messages, and threads as the ways to segment communication in Slack. All those features are very useful on their own, but can have downsides.

Channels, especially at larger organizations, can end up having lots of “noise,” meaning lots of messages that may not apply to everyone in the channel. Direct messages are usually meant for one-to-one communication. You can start group chats, but they can be cumbersome to set up if they include a lot of people.

With both channels and groups messages, you need to be invited to participate. In some cases, it may be fine to invite someone to a new channel, but in others, it won’t be. Using user groups allows you to get around that issue. In any Slack channel, you just need to @ the user group name and it notifies all the members of the user group. Below are a few use cases where user groups could be useful.

  • Crisis Communication – One use case for user groups is crisis communication. Since crisis teams usually involve people from different parts of the organization, it’s difficult to make sure they all see alerts for a crisis situation. You could create a channel for crisis situations, but then you have to make it a public channel, and those are generally places you want to have only essential communication.
    Using user groups means others in the organization are capable to alert those team members, but then there isn’t any worry of a channel getting overcrowded, or “noisy” due to too many members trying to talk.
    For example, if a monitoring system that you’ve integrated with your Slack channel starts alerting you to errors, someone can quickly @mention the @crisiscrew and know that all relevant people will have seen the issue.
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  • Announcements – Sending out messages to entire groups can be a little tricky. For example, you may need to contact all your engineers at once to let them know about a new tool they need to install. In larger organizations, it would be tough to confirm that all engineers are in a shared channel since they might be segmented by what section of the business they work in, or the projects they are on. Individuals can also join and leave channels at will.
    As mentioned above, you can simply @ the user group handle and send out the message to everyone. Using this process you don’t need to worry about forgetting channels, or team members missing important messages.
    User Groups are also great when you have a message to send to just one office or location. Everyone who’s worked remotely or in a satellite office has felt the pain of getting an email that there are donuts in the lunchroom. User Groups ensure that only the specific people in the group get notified.
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  • Cross Team Communication – Have you ever needed input from marketing, but no one is responding to your direct messages? People get busy, so it’s something that can happen quite easily. Or, perhaps you’re new to the company and aren’t quite sure who works where. As long as you know the user group handle, you can tag it in your message and all the group members are alerted.
    It’s not always going to be the right method to go about getting your question answered, but it is a very powerful use for user groups. It removes the guesswork from communicating and gets your team answers quickly.

2. Onboarding

Adding new team members is a large undertaking. You need to make sure they get all their equipment, attend all needed trainings, and are connected to the rest of the team.

If Slack is a primary communication tool at your organization, a portion of onboarding will be dedicated to getting your new employee access to their needed channels. Keeping track of all the channels someone may need to get added to for each team is very difficult to manage.

User groups allow a way around that. When you set up different user groups you can also set what other channels to add that user to automatically.

Your admins and developers will also really love user groups since it’s possible to do programmatic group creation using the SCIM API. Programmatic group creation means one less manual task for teams, which is always a win. The feature allows you to map your organization’s structure in other tools to your Slack set-up.

If you’re on the Plus Plan, you can use groups to control provisioning accounts from your SSO tools. If you use Active Directory in OneLogin, PingOne, PingFederate, or Okta you can take advantage of this built-in user provisioning support to add employees automatically into Slack User Groups matching each employee’s existing group rights, roles and permissions in your internal directory.

Slack is full of so many functions and features, it can be tough to keep up with it all. Though there may not be a ton of content on Slack User Groups, it doesn’t mean they’re not incredibly powerful and useful.

In large organizations, sometimes making sure all the right people see the message in the first place is half the battle – user groups help manage that problem. Your onboarding process will also be improved by automating the addition of new team members to their needed channels.

Once you start using user groups, you may find it’s the feature you never knew you needed.

Questions? Comments? Share them with us in the Halp Community!

Why Slack user groups are awesome and how to utilize them