Should brands invest in a Discord community?

Discord is the future of online communities.

Traditionally associated with gamers, the platform has become widespread.

Today, the seven-year-old company has become over 300 million registered users.

This Discord adoption is part of a much larger trend. Gen Z, in particular, chooses to spend time in smaller, private online communities.

According to harvard business review“…even before Covid-19, Gen Z eschewed traditional social media for “digital campfires,” more intimate online destinations where they send private messages or connect either in micro-communities or in broader shared experiences.”

Marketers, creators, and community builders looking to prepare themselves for the future should take a moment to think: are you part of this “digital campfire?”

The answer is probably… no.

So how do you get started and what role should Discord play in your audience engagement strategy?

What is Discord and what role does it play?

Discord is not a traditional social media platform. It is not a place for organic growth and awareness. Instead, it is a community platform.

A Discord server is a hub. Its main goal is to deepen relationships with existing hard-core fans and evangelists.

This distinction is essential.

Brands on Discord should focus on two things. First, to offer unique experiences that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Second, should facilitate connections and conversations among community members.

It’s this deeper sense of community that makes brands like StockX, Skittles, and Chipotle flock to the platform. The CMO of StockX, Deena Bahri, explained in Adweek, “The customer is looking for more – more engagement, more dialogue, more feedback – and Discord is one of the platforms that offers that.”

The most active Discord servers have discussions on multiple channels 24/7. The pace at which conversations happen in Discord tends to be much faster than on other platforms.

Users participate in chats, make video and/or audio calls, share their screen and send direct messages. Topics on a Discord server are organized around “channels,” which ensures that conversations are focused and easy to navigate.

All this to say that setting up a Discord community may require more attention and investment to reach fewer people. However, there is a compromise. These people and this community (when carefully cultivated) will establish a deeper relationship with your business. Discord enables a two-way conversation between the brand and its community, making them feel like part of the organization, not just end customers.

How to set up a Discord server?

To start a new Discord server, click the plus sign under the server icons on the left side of the screen.

From there, you can create a server from scratch or choose a template.

Screenshot of the options displayed by Discord to create a new server

Templates give you a list of channels to start with which you can modify if you wish.

Once you’ve selected your template (or lack thereof), you’ll be prompted to select your server name and upload an icon.

Screenshot of options to customize a new Discord server name

Congratulation. You now have a Discord server.

After creating your server, you will need to create channels.

There are two types of channels: text and voice. Text is for all text and image-based conversations, while voice can be voice and/or video.

No matter what type of channels you create, you’ll want them to focus on the interests of your community. This is where community members will gather to interact with you (and each other) around selected topics.

Screenshot of a new Discord server with arrows pointing to text and audio channel options
Screenshot of a Discord prompt to create a new audio or text channel

To ensure you cultivate a welcoming community, you can create a rules page for new members. You can also create and assign roles to members of your community. Roles determine a member’s admin permissions, and as the community grows, you can assign moderator status to users you trust.

Either way, these are details you can refine and refine over time.

How do you run a Discord community?

Great communities start with small communities.

It’s counter-intuitive but true. With Discord, in particular, it’s about depth versus breadth. Especially when you’re just starting out. Here are three tips to consider when building and engaging your audience on the platform:

1. Identify your inaugural class

You may want to manually select the initial members you want to join the community. Or at least limit the initial number of members. This will allow you to refine your community management process and troubleshoot issues.

So who should join initially?

Are there passionate fans of your brand? Who regularly comments on your social media posts or creates content promoting your brand?

These brand evangelists make ideal members. They will be thrilled with the opportunity.

2. Plan your content (and conversation starters)

Now that you have your initial community, it’s time to activate them.

Are you asking what access and/or exclusives can you offer?

Inspire community activity by sparking (and maintaining) conversations within your server.

Develop a content calendar to ensure a steady rhythm of activity and discussion. Ideally, surprise and delight your community so they feel like they’re spending their time well and have a reason to come back.

Maybe your CEO or founder is admired by the community. Maybe your brand has a big celebrity or an influential ambassador. Any of them would make exciting AMAs.

Exclusive first product previews would also be a great incentive and an opportunity to get valuable consumer feedback ahead of a big launch.

You’ll want to focus on activities designed to elicit high levels of engagement. Build momentum through a steady pace of activity. Remember that it takes time to visit a community before it becomes a habit.

3. Test and learn, then loosen the reins

During the early stages of community development, most activities will need to be encouraged by you. Invest in fostering relationships with these early members. Get feedback and identify what keeps them engaged. Apply their input and test what works.

Ultimately, this is all done to ensure that the community is a worthwhile experience as you level up.

Once the community finally reaches a tipping point where the majority of the conversation isn’t being sparked by you, that’s a sign to start adding more members and scale.

If your brand has accomplished this, you will have developed a truly meaningful Discord community.

Is it worth it? Should your brand invest in building a Discord community?

Ultimately, it depends on your goals as a brand. A fitting analogy would be to compare Discord to a house party. It is a private and intimate matter. Whereas Facebook, Instagram or Twitter are like a Vegas nightclub – a place to see and be seen.

Sure, those are the two parts, but they’re radically different experiences.

If you’re looking for a platform that will help you grow your following quickly, Discord isn’t for you. But if you have the resources to invest in building a long-term community of people who can amplify and champion your brand, Discord is absolutely the place to be.

“Audience” and “community” are no longer interchangeable in the social world. Read on to find out why.

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