WordPress and Slack Workflow Experiments

Every place I’ve ever worked we’ve ended up talking about paths to deal with support emails and follow ups. Generally there is an existing technology helpdesk support system but it is usually unpleasant to use and hard to customize.1

What we have currently at Middlebury is a fairly typical combination of things going on. We have a Google Form that enters things in a spreadsheet and alerts one email (shared). We also have direct emails coming to various people. We’re also all in Slack.

I find email to be an ugly place to try to claim and dispatch work. Do you move it immediately to a folder to indicate you’re dealing with it? Do you mark it as read? How do you have a conversation about who should do it or ask other questions? Seems overkill to do that all in email and especially ugly to do in a shared email account. Do you BCC the original email to tie in the responses? Lots of ugly things that email doesn’t handle well on its own.

We can create messages in Slack via forms. That’s no problem. Gravity Forms has a plugin option and we can do it via webhooks if we want to stay in Google Forms. We can also forward emails to a Slack channel.

For our particular setup, we’re opting to use a private Slack channel. That complicates this a bit as Slack doesn’t want you forwarding those messages anywhere because that channel is private. It’d be possible to write our own shortcut or slash command or something. We could also just copy/paste within Slack without much hassle. However that doesn’t create any kind of structured data if we end up wanting to see trends later.

So I decided to build a prototype that bounces back and forth from Slack and WordPress. It uses Gravity Forms to do most of the tricks so it’s fairly accessible without any programming.

Formatting Slack Messages

Initially, I was looking at making Slack messages that allowed structured email links to be created with auto-populated subjects and bodies. You can do that.

Since Slack uses markdown, the email link on the Gravity Forms side would look something like this. Each one of the curly brackets is a form variable and then it shows up in the Slack Channel formatted with the details.

<mailto:{Email:1}?subject=Help Request&body={How can we help you?:3}|Email Leadership test>

But I realized this got us in the annoying place where Slack and email ended up with all the data. Maybe we want to tie some stuff in elsewhere.

Back to WP

So I made another Gravity Form that would let us assign and push back to Slack.

The link form #1 generates is something like this.

<https://site.net/slack/secondary-dispatch/?original_request={Name (First):1.3} {Name (Last):1.6} at {Email:2} asked {How can we help you?:3}&requestor_email={Email:2}|Form Pattern>

It’s using dynamic population to fill in hidden gravity forms fields dynamically. Assigning a person, then creates a direct message to them in Slack.

From there we can decide how we want to guide that person’s response. We could give them a formatted mailto link or we could push them back to WordPress to reply via another Gravity Form. That would enable us to tie the communication back to a post in a systemic way. We could also play around with posting via email to a particular email address and tying pieces together via unique IDs.

That may or may not make any sense. It is kind of fun and all done with very approachable options in Gravity Forms. It also opens up ways to move people and data between platforms. Have your private conversations in Slack where the synchronous options are better but move content to other places when it makes sense to have a public audience or to enable data collection etc.


1 It could also be that I’m part of the fragmentation problem.

Comments on this post

  1. CogDog said on April 12, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks for this, just in case you were wondering, there is an audience out here. I’m part of a small org where so much is conducted in email, and just knowing of some ways we can move not only notifications, but actions to and from Slack is filed away in my drawer of stuff to keep in mind.

    Blogging still is a thing.

    • Tom Woodward said on April 13, 2021 at 6:44 am

      That’s always great to hear. I have a version with webhooks and Google Sheets/scripts that I need to put up at some point. That’ll give non-WordPress/Gravity Forms options.

      You and me (but mostly you) blogging into the sunset!

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