After creating Techquería, an organization for Hispanics in tech, David Silva and his co-founders decide to make groups on Facebook and Slack so members could connect. The Facebook group had a healthy amount of weekly engagement, as Silva had expected it would. What he didn't predict was how the group on Slack exploded. Members created numerous channels and chatted on a daily basis.

Silva's takeaway: Slack "creates a lot of engagement." Techquería's Slack has more than 150 active members, while the organization's Facebook group only has about 20. "We have daily activity on Slack--several messages at any time of the day. The Facebook group gets two or three posts per week."

Groups like Techquería exemplify how Slack--Inc.'s 2015 company of the year--is beginning to pose a meaningful threat to Facebook. Although Slack is largely still used by teams within companies for collaborative productivity and communication, more and more groups based on social activity are starting to hop on the service. Silva, for example, finds himself in nine different Slack groups.

"The more interesting the member base becomes, the more people participate," Silva says.

This kind of online social activity is one reason Facebook is preparing to launch Facebook at Work next month. That product will compete with the likes of Slack and other enterprise communication tools.

The purpose of Facebook at Work is to make it easier for teams to work together. Facebook has been testing the product in beta since early 2015, and it has more than 450 companies piloting the product. The company plans to charge companies for the service on a per-user basis, and Facebook has sent out invitations for a London event on Oct. 10 where it is expected to formally launch the product.

"There's a big chunk of people's time that Facebook really doesn't address at all today, and that's the time they spend working," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "Facebook at Work is a way to open up a whole new addressable market for Facebook, with fairly significant potential revenues. It's also a nice hedge against what's an almost entirely advertising-driven business today."

While the enterprise offers Facebook a vast market opportunity, this move is as much a defensive strategy as it is an offensive one, Dawson says.

That's because in the world of work, Slack has emerged as the go-to service for employees to chat and collaborate. And Facebook may be sensing a threat as groups like Silva's begin using Slack as a way to stay connected with others who are in their professional networks but outside of their companies.

Many of these tend to be groups focused on professionals who are in the same field, such as writers, women in tech or small businesses. If you search on Google, you can easily find lists with tons of professional Slack groups. As these groups grow, more users are beginning to use the software as a way to stay connected with the non-work-related groups in their lives. For example, there are now groups dedicated to shared interests, such as music festivals, TV shows, and gaming.

Additionally, Slack groups are beginning to be used as a way to stay in touch with the social groups in one's life. One friend of Silva's uses Slack to communicate with the people she goes hiking with. Some people use Slack for their fantasy football leagues. And some are simply using it to chat with friends.

"There's already evidence that people who use Slack at work are coming home and using it in their families or with their friends or with their sports teams, too," Dawson says. "Facebook has to guard against an encroachment onto its home turf from Slack and other tools which people might bring into their personal lives from the workplace."

The differences between Facebook at Work and Slack are stark. Facebook at Work is just like the Facebook you are used to. Team members leave posts which you can interact with by writing a comment or giving a Like. Slack, on the other hand, is like a chat room. Conversations happen quickly, and you can tell when someone is typing. You can talk one-on-one, have group conversations, or chat in channels that are created for various topics. Techquería, for example, has channels based on geography as well as others dedicated to certain topics and interests, such as job openings, food, and music. Unlike Facebook, however, the free version of Slack does not archive users conversations, which is one reason teams pay for the company's premium products.

By no means does Slack present an insurmountable challenge to Facebook. So far, Slack counts just 3 million daily active users, which is peanuts compared to Facebook's more than 1 billion daily users. But what Slack lacks in users, it makes up for in usage.

The average Slack user spends 10 hours per weekday on the service, 2.25 hours of which are active, the company told Inc. By comparison, Facebook users spend 50 minutes a day on the social network's various services.

Slack remains focused on the workplace, and it is still not the easiest service to use--creating a group, adding people, and marketing it are all tall tasks that Slack has yet to simplify. But the platform's success with groups like Silva's shows that it has the potential of moving beyond the workplace, and that should worry Facebook.

How Slack's Founders Turned a Failed Video Game into a Multibillion-Dollar Startup
Published on: Oct 4, 2016