Jan 25, 2022

Why You Should Set Up Custom Notifications in Slack and How to Do It

Setting up Slack notifications is one of my favourite life hacks

Setting up personal alerts in a Slack workspace is IMHO an underrated life / work hack. I have set up a private channel that's just for me in the Ops Hacks workspace:

The "alerts" channel is for...alerts

I'm the only member in this channel and use it primarily to create and receive the most important notifications. What constitutes as an important notification varies depending on your own context, but here's a list of the notifications for Ops Hacks:

  • When someone signs up for Ops Hacks
  • When someone applies to become a member of Ops Hacks
  • When someone accepts the invitation to join the Slack workspace
  • When someone unsubscribes from Ops Hacks :(

As I continue to build out Ops Hacks, I'll continue to add important notifications to this list.

Why do it?

Is it extra work to set up these custom notifications within Slack? Absolutely. But it's worth the upfront investment of your time and effort to set it up. Here's a few reasons why using Slack to funnel all important notifications is a great idea.

Reason 1: You already use Slack

If you work in tech, chances are you already use Slack on a daily basis to communicate with colleagues and friends. It takes relatively lower effort to set up custom notifications in Slack + you're more likely to use it, because you use Slack on a daily basis anyway. So why wouldn't you invest a little bit of effort in making Slack more useful for yourself?

Yes, Slack fatigue is a real thing, but I'd argue that customizing your own important notifications is actually a great way to combat it. By being able to set up custom notifications, you're able to cut through the noise, gain control, and receive alerts that are actually important to you.

Custom notifications help when you have so many workspaces

Reason 2: Slack is real-time

You could set up the same notification system with emails, but I prefer to do it on Slack instead is because there's a strong association with Slack being real-time. Emails, on the other hand, are more async - you probably don't check your inbox every 5 minutes.

Setting up custom notifications on Slack maps to my (and probably others' as well) mental compartmentalization of communication channels:

  • Email for mostly non-urgent communication that requires more thought to respond
  • Slack for quick, sometimes urgent communication

And in this mental model, it makes sense that these real-time alerts pop up in Slack.

Reason 3: You can forget about other alerts

By setting up important notifications in Slack, you can forget other sources of notifications. You no longer have to check your email and other SaaS services to get a quick pulse on your business / work. I have my notifications set up so that key events that are occurring across Airtable, MailerLite, and Tally Forms (a part of my no-code stack for Ops Hacks) are funnelling through to Slack. Slack makes it easy to integrate with other apps, because virtually every SaaS app has a Slack integration.

^This is my current tool stack for Ops Hacks, and it's only going to get bigger - so channeling all important alerts into one medium will become even more critical down the line.

As an aside, many SaaS services provide you with an email notification whenever an event that they deem is important occurs (e.g. someone fills out an application form) - I use Gmail filters to automatically archive these generic notification emails.

How I set up custom Slack notifications

So hopefully your interest is piqued and you're thinking about setting up your own Slack notifications. How do you do it?

Here's a screenshot of some of the messages I get in my #alerts channel:

I've decided to call my alert bot an "Ops Hacks Beaver", because beavers are cute and they work hard.

In the screenshot above, there are 3 different types of notifications. I'll walk you through how I created each one.

#1 When someone joins the workspace

This alert is created using Slack's Workflow Builder, which follows if-trigger-then-action format that all automation tools use. The Workflow Builder tool is simple and intuitive (with the downside being its functions are limited and not flexible). Setting up this alert was easy - when someone joins the #general channel (every new member to the workspace gets automatically added to the #general channel), send a message to #alerts.

Slack's Workflow Builder in action - easy to use with a low ceiling on functionality

#2 When someone submits an application form

I use Tally Forms to take in applications (I love Tally by the way - look out for a separate post down the line on why I think it's great). The Tally form is connected with Airtable through a Tally-native integration, so that when someone fills out the form on Tally, a new record is automatically populated in Airtable. Then I use an Airtable Automation (similar to Slack's Workflow Builder) to send an alert message in Slack, like so:

Another if-trigger-then-action format

And I can use the information that I take in from the application form to craft a more context-rich alert message:

Airtable allows you to use custom dynamic fields in your notification

#3 When someone signs up on the landing page

This alert uses an Integromat (my favourite no code tool) automation.

The signup form on opshacks.com (where you're asked for your name and email) is powered by MailerLite, the email marketing service I use to send emails to subscribers.

After a person signs up to be on the waitlist, their info gets added to MailerLite. When this happens (a trigger), Integromat tells Slack to send a notification message in the #alerts channel (an action):

What's nice about using Integromat is that it allows you to use Slack's Block Kit in crafting the design of the message. And you can get all fancy with putting in a horizontal divider or even a button! I'm personally big on UX (User Experience), which includes legibility, and the added design capability with Slack helps.

Best practices in setting up your own custom Slack notifications

Here are the best practices that I stick to when setting up my own Slack alert messages:

  1. Don't create too many notifications. Remember, you actually want these alerts to be important / actionable. Having too many will push you away from checking them. Keep it to a handful of the most important ones that you'd want to know as soon as they happened.
  2. Set up your Slack notification settings accordingly. Once I set up custom notifications, I change the notification setting for that channel to be "Every new message" - so that I get notified for every important alert that I've set up. And then I switch the notification setting for all other channels to "Just @ mentions". Again, setting up your notification settings in line with how you have your custom notifications set up helps ensure that you're only notified of important alerts.
  3. Use native automations if possible; if not, fall back to using Integromat. As I mentioned in my examples, both Slack and Airtable provide their own automation capability that you can use to create custom notifications. Whenever possible, use these native automations - it makes it easier to troubleshoot as the automation and the source of the information in the alert live in the same tool. Plus, you don't have to use your Integromat credits on it.
  4. Note the source of the automation. Per Best Practice #2 - Because you might be creating these custom notifications across multiple tools, being able to keep track of where they live is important. The best way that I've found so far is to embed this information in the alert itself. Bonus points if you can include the link to the automation in the message as well (i.e. the Edit Scenario button I created for the Integromat automation). If you find yourself setting up more than 10 custom notifications, you should also keep a separate document that outlines where these alerts are stored and how they work.

Ideas for your own Slack notifications

That's it for setting up custom Slack notifications. Even if you aren't building an online community, there's probably a few alerts that you want to stay on top of, such as:

  • When you're waiting for an email from a specific recruiter or company ➡️  Create an alert using Integromat (Gmail to Slack)
  • There's a new Shopify customer for your ecommerce side hustle ➡️ Create an alert using Integromat (Shopify to Slack)
  • Your direct report updates a Google Slide presentation ➡️ Create an alert using Integromat (Google Slides to Slack)

Now go and try setting up your own custom Slack notifications!

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