With Slack becoming the operating system of the workplace, it is increasingly important to integrate more and more workplace tools with the platform. Leading the charge, is fully integrating internal knowledge and documentation with Slack.
Let’s first take a moment to consider what one would ideally like out of a Slack wiki or knowledge base. Building knowledge bases is a well-travelled path, so
- Keyword search
- Authoring tools with rich content
- Content validation
- Accessibility (content links, previews and sharing)
- Reporting and Analytics
We’re not going to mince words here. If you’re trying to build a knowledge base or wiki in Slack or at least Slack accessible with its native functionality, at the very least, its going to be an uphill battle .
Slack is built for communication and collaboration, but even though its a place where increasingly knowledge is being captured and shared, it has sub-optimal knowledge management tools. That said, there are probably more than you think… and here they are:
Pinning is a small but underutilized feature of Slack. You can attach up to 100 important messages to a channel for quicker access without searching for them. This can create a micro store of FAQs for consumption. Using this feature depends on people’s ability to remember that the knowledge is stored in a particular channel.
You can create a readme file and pin it to a channel, much like the previous strategy. This sounds promising, but the file contents are generally not discoverable by Slack’s search algorithm, so this strategy fails unless people know exactly where the file is stored.
Dedicated Knowledge Channel
You can stuff a dedicated channel with knowledge or content, but Slack’s search algorithms isn’t designed for this use case. It’s much better at finding parts of conversations that are relevant to a search and not for structured data. A better approach, with native tools, is to stick with pinning (mentioned above).
Possibly one of Slack’s best kept secrets is its mini text editor that they call Posts. It is actually a very tidy way to create public or private content that a can be shared within a channel or via DM. Posts allow for basic text styling and hyperlinking, but no rich content. Posts have a timestamp that shows when content was created and edited, which serves as a basic content validation tool. They are also discoverable via the Slack search bar. The main drawbacks of Posts are that they can’t really be organized nicely and they can be somewhat obfuscated since they are stored together with all other files shared in Slack, which is accessed through Slack’s File Browser.
Even with Posts, Slack’s native tools really don’t achieve all of the objectives that are required by a veritable wiki or knowledge base solution – but it is a starting point. With that in mind, let’s expand our scope to third party tools.
Third Party Integrations
With the native tools exhausted, this opens up the opportunity to bring third-party integrations to Slack to bring wiki-like access.
Many organizations utilize authoring tools like Confluence or Google Drive to store company knowledge, templates and documents. Wouldn’t it be great if you could bring those into Slack? You can… sort of .
If you store any form of documentation in third party tools like Google Drive, Confluence, Dropbox, Box the good news is that you can integrate them with Slack to bring a richer experience for interacting with those files. The good news is, these types of integrations address issues around knowledge accessibility , but that is pretty much where it ends. The bad news is, these integrations are quite limited, highlighted by these shortcomings:
- No search for filenames or contents
- No authoring tools
- Content validation may be limited to update notifications
- No reporting or analytics to understand how content is consumed
While many of the knowledge or storage related integrations facilitate some sharing and accessibility constraints of the Slack platform, they do have some significant drawbacks.
Third Party Deep Integrations
The final consideration for how to create a wiki or knowledge base in Slack is by utilizing a deep integration app, like Obie. The features that are missing from the first two strategies were: search (arguably the most important), comprehensive authoring tools, content validation, security considerations and reporting/analytics.
We have written a blog that delves into great detail a comparison of Slack wiki alternatives, but for now let’s limit our focus to how Obie allows teams to build a wiki in Slack.
Slack conversations can be a tremendous source of untapped organizational knowledge. Obie allows you to turn any message into a stored, validated, accessible, snippet of knowledge just by clicking on any message – called an Obie FAQ. This powerful capture mechanism creates a lightning-fast way to build a knowledge base right from a workflow. Obie treats FAQs as snippets, much like Slack Posts. Styling is limited in the interest of delivering relevant knowledge fast directly within Slack.
Rich Text Editor
Obie also offers a robust rich-content knowledge base authoring solution. This is delineated from FAQs in that it is designed to deliver a more structured and content-rich medium. Obie Knowledge Base documentation is organized in “Books”, “Chapters” and “Pages” to deliver a structure that suits documentation in a workplace setting .
The ability to search for keywords in a knowledge base or wiki is absolutely mission critical to productivity . While Slack’s capability search can find keywords in conversations, it is limited to files that are shared in public channels. For this reason, one can’t rely on Slack’s native search capabilities to source unshared knowledge.
Obie takes search to another level. Obie provides federated search to provide visibility to the various silos where knowledge might be stored, which can be in Obie’s native knowledge base or FAQs. You can search all connected knowledge silos by providing a few keywords to Obie via Direct Message (DM) or by using the
/obie command with the relevant keywords to search for knowledge, wherever it lives. Of course, it can be conveniently shared directly in the channel if a solution is found.
Knowledge eventually becomes out-of-date , so validation is a big part of keeping a trusted source of information available to all. Obie provides both timestamps on content and search results, as well as reminders to validate knowledge (via Slack notifications) to ensure that the most up-to-date knowledge is shared.
Reporting and Analytics
Analytics have increasing importance particularly as companies scale through employee headcount. Analytics help identify knowledge gaps and confirm the suspicions that company leadership might have about product issues or organizational bottlenecks. Obie has an analytics tool suite that can identify trends and surface underlying issues before they become massive problems.
Security and privacy is a primary concern for more and more teams. Obie respects your privacy and does not make any copies of content that you may store in siloed knowledge (eg. Google Drive, Confluence, Dropbox, Box). This ensures that your competitive advantage is kept within your company.
While creating a robust knowledge base or wiki in Slack with its own native tools can be achieved, ultimately, they are not optimized for this function. Instead, consider pursuing a knowledge base solution that bears all of the features of a robust wiki solution AND is built with a deep and purposeful integration with Slack.