Has this ever happened to you? You block out the world so you can craft a compelling email about a useful resource you’ve developed for chapter leaders. You send it, sit back, and feel pretty good about having a job that allows you to be of service to others.
The next day, you check the email’s open rate. Only 12 percent! That means 88 percent of your always-clamoring-for-help chapter leaders didn’t even bother to open it. A few days later, you check again and discover the “opens” only went up a few percentage points.
It’s so frustrating. You know they would love what you sent if only they knew about it. Arrggh!
Using Technology to Improve Communication
The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) is quite familiar with this problem so they began hunting for a way to improve communication with chapter leaders and between chapter leaders. They found a solution (hold on, we’ll tell you all about it) and watched it take off. This new tool enhanced both HQ-to-chapter and leader-to-leader communication plus it became a membership benefit and marketing tool for chapters.
AIGA invited chapter leaders to be part of the solution
AIGA staff wanted to involve chapter leaders in solving the communication problem.
“They knew chapters were more likely to adopt a solution when they had some say in it.”
At their annual retreat, chapter leaders told AIGA they wanted a way to communicate and share best practices with each other throughout the year—by the way, we hear that at almost every chapter conference we attend. They suggested a platform that most of them were already using: Slack.
Why chapter leaders like Slack
Slack is a team collaboration and communication tool. Once an organization starts using Slack, they end up finding it indispensable. 8 million people use it daily, including the Billhighway team. Slack helps reduce the number of emails in your inbox and meetings on your calendar so it becomes a productivity enhancer too.
Slack was already popular in the designer community so many of AIGA’s members (and prospects) were already using it. It was an appealing choice because users can set up Slack channels for popular topics or geographic areas (chapters).
Users can use Slack to send messages to a group or to an individual—and can easily search for items in those conversation threads. They can also choose the type and frequency of notifications they want to receive. Plus, Slack integrates with dozens of applications that designers use at work and home.
AIGA’s internal adoption concerns
At the start, AIGA staff were concerned about what they were getting themselves into. How would they keep up with responses? What if the volume got out of hand? In the end, it all worked out.
Wherever there’s change, there’s also a lot of scary unknowns. But, AIGA assured us, that initial discomfort was worth it. Slack was the right thing to do because their members were already there. Think about it:
“If you get in the right ballpark, you’ll find your seat. You might sit in the wrong one at first, but you’ll find your seat as long as you’re in the right ballpark. AIGA was in the right ballpark.”
When you’re introducing a new solution or some other type of change, you can always start with a handful of chapters and see how it works. A pilot or beta testing approach will give you a chance to handle daily usage as well as any weird, one-off stuff before you introduce a new tool to a bigger group.
Rolling out Slack to AIGA chapters
AIGA didn’t have to “sell” Slack to chapter leaders who were at the leadership retreat since they were all for it. However, chapter leaders who didn’t attend the retreat still needed convincing. AIGA promoted Slack participation in several different ways:
- On the old chapter listserv, they encouraged adoption of Slack.
- They redirected leaders from the old leadership retreat Facebook group to the more permanent resource on Slack.
- Materials for next year’s leadership retreat were posted on Slack.
- At the next retreat, they made a big push to get people involved on Slack.
- Onboarding emails to new chapter leaders include links to the Slack wiki/workroom page where best practices are shared.
AIGA told us “When we communicate with chapter leaders, we specifically ask them if they’re on Slack. If not, we ask them to join so they can stay up to date on everything.”
One of the best ways to encourage people to join Slack (or any other platform) is to leverage the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Let people know what they’re missing, for example, valuable advice from peers and the chance to grow their own member community.
For AIGA, Slack has become a strategic tool for plugging chapter leaders into the AIGA network and giving them the opportunity to ask questions, make connections, access information, and exchange ideas.
What to consider before jumping onto Slack
Like Facebook, LinkedIn, and other digital platforms, you don’t own your Slack platform or have any control over platform features.
It’s not like an AMS you can customize; you have to adapt to what Slack offers. But the benefits far outweigh any perceived challenges. In hindsight, AIGA said they would still implement Slack. If members or chapter leaders see the value, they’ll work through any hiccups you encounter.
Establish a Process
However, you do need to establish processes for how you will use Slack. For example, decide how you will get new chapter leaders on board, and how you will identify inactive chapter leaders. You need to establish guidelines and standards, like channel and chapter naming conventions.
Because everyone at AIGA has access to Slack, they had to find a way to manage responses, especially to more sensitive questions like “What is AIGA’s stance on issue X?” Like any communication channel, you must have a process in place for who replies, when, and how.
How chapters use Slack
Two years have passed since AIGA and its chapters started using Slack. Chapters create their own AIGA Slack channels. If you search online for “AIGA Slack,” you’ll see pages of them. Chapters encourage members to join Slack and connect with their fellow members. Members can even create their own channels through the chapter’s Slack channel.
Chapter membership is included in AIGA dues. When a new member joins, the Slack moderator (AIGA’s chapter development associate) lets the appropriate chapter leader know about their new member. Some chapters even let non-members into some channels so they can get a taste of the chapter membership experience before deciding whether to join AIGA.
Slack is also facilitating member-to-member networking:
“70 percent of the interaction on AIGA’s Slack takes place in direct messages between members.”
AIGA’s success with Slack for chapter leaders
- Nearly two-thirds of chapter leaders regularly use AIGA’s Slack.
- 95 percent of the Slack channels are chapter-generated with topics like student education, diversity and inclusion, programming, sponsorship, and membership.
- The other 5 percent are AIGA-created channels exclusively for chapter leaders.
Communication between chapter leaders has greatly improved. One chapter leader said on her company blog: “Since our [chapter leader] meeting, we’ve all signed up for Slack, a new tool for messaging and collaboration. It has helped keep the discussion going from coast to coast.”
- Slack has increased communication and information sharing between AIGA and its chapters. AIGA can see what chapter leaders and members are talking about. Chapters can bring their ideas and concerns more easily to National.
- Slack also helps to build excitement for the annual chapter leadership retreat. Chapter leaders use Slack to organize meet-ups or make plans to grab dinner and drinks.
- And what about those discouraging email open rates? Now that chapter leaders receive fewer emails from AIGA, they’re more likely to read what AIGA sends.
If you have a nagging chapter problem, talk to your chapter leaders. Maybe they have ideas for a solution. Create a mechanism to get constant feedback from them so they feel involved in any solutions you propose. Slack is perfect for this purpose, plus it can connect chapter leaders to you and to each other.