How publishers are using Slack bots internally and externally

Bots, in some form or another, have been a part of Slack’s offering since it launched in 2013. The communications tools now has 4 million daily active users, up from 2.3 million in April, and companies are getting more experimental with the bots they build.

Slack itself comes with Slackbot, a built-in personal assistant that can perform simple question-and-answer tasks that can be customized and reprogrammed.

If you look on Slack’s bot repository, you can find a list of about 200 bots, more wide-ranging in scale and functionality than the custom Slackbot, created by independent developers or small startups. These range from the specific task-driven tools like Nowdue, a Slack invoicing bot, to the more lighthearted, like Humblebot, which gives you advice every morning on how to be a better human being.

“Start with something small that is a repetitive task that is better suited for a computer to do,” suggests James Sherrett, senior manager of accounts at Slack’s European headquarters in Dublin. “These can be lightweight like asking the Wi-Fi code or the postal address for another office, but now you’re not disturbing someone else’s workflow with small questions.”

Here are some of the creative ways publishers are building Slack bots to help streamline internal processes and remove friction.

Article performance: BuzzFeed and The New York Times
By integrating bots on Slack with external analytics software, like Google Analytics, publishers can get regular updates alerting them to when content performs above a certain threshold.

For BuzzFeed, when a piece of content performs at a higher percentage in its local market, or on a given platform, a Slack bot alerts editors around the world so they can translate or reformat the content for another platform and language.

The New York Times has created Blossom, which predicts how articles will do on social and also suggests which stories editors should promote by drawing on performance metrics like Facebook post engagement. According to the publisherBlossom-powered posts gets about 380 percent more clicks than a typical non-Blossom posts.

“You can double down on what content hits, and you can branch out into into multiple formats,” adds Sherrett. “It’s like a heads-up display connection between the teammates and their tools.”

WSJ’s Electionbot with AP feeds

Editorial workflow: The Economist and The WSJ
Several publishers are tying Slack bots to their content-management systems, alerting the team when things are published and who published them. For The Economist, the social media Slack channel is alerted each time a new piece is published so the social team can then repurpose onto other platforms. Similarly, Vox’s Chorus Bot tells editors when a new story has been published to a site, and who published it.

During the U.S. elections, The Wall Street Journal’s Electionbot pulled in Associated Press data, updating the channel in the process.

Serving ads: Quartz
Internally Quartz uses Slack for several reasons, editorial workflow, sending alerts, managing code and serving its ads, which are all custom made. Building the ads requires the same kind of engineering effort as building the rest of the site, including things like deploying code live to servers. To make that easier for everyone, it has integrated the deployment process into Slack.

Diary management: The Times of London
In the U.K., The Times has been an early advocate of Slack, using the tool first in the product team before introducing editorial team members to it.

According to an interview with Neiman Labs, The Times has built a bot that pulls in people’s schedules so you can ask the bot if someone is busy before you bother them directly.

“The real power is all internal, by opening up your communication and showing exactly what you’re doing,” Matt Taylor, production editor, digital strategy and development at The Times, told Digiday in April.

On a lighter, but very practical note, Taylor’s team has built a bot to scrape the info from the cafeteria and post it to Slack so everyone knows what’s on the menu for lunch.

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