uring this time of staying at home and social distancing, building or maintaining communities can seem impossible. Thanks to social platforms, people are finding new ways to connect and foster communities — and Discord is a new favorite among users, from gamers to teachers to book lovers and beyond.
Described by Forbes as a cross between Reddit and Slack, Discord is a voice, video, and text communication platform that’s seen massive growth over the last few months. It’s currently ranked second on the Apple’s Top Free Apps List and sees over 100 million active users a month, with some spending upwards of four hours a day on Discord.
Discord was founded by Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy in 2015 as a way for gamers to connect with others and live stream. Earlier this year, the duo decided to rebrand Discord to make it more welcoming to more diverse communities, and users (and investors) loved it. This past June, it made tech headlines for raising $100 million in funding to expand its offerings and features.
Continue reading to learn more about Discord, who’s using it, and how marketers can use it effectively.
What Is Discord?
Discord is changing the way millions of people interact and build communities with one another through a UI-friendly and interactive communication platform.
Compatible on both mobile and desktop, Discord was first launched in 2015 with the mission to connect gamers from across the world. Since then, it’s been used among various groups to connect like-minded people together across the world.
In 2017, Discord came under fire when it was revealed that white supremicists used it to organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia which resulted in one woman’s death. Discord quickly banned the alt-right group and many of its members and released a statement saying it would “continue to take action against white supremacy, Nazi ideology, and all forms of hate.”
More recently, Discord has been used to host wedding parties and as a place to organize Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the country’s call for social reform and justice.
While similar to Facebook Groups, it’s a little more private and allows a sense of anonymity among larger communities as users can sign up with usernames. Users also say they like the platform’s emphasis on voice over video communication — although video streaming has increasingly become an important feature as the app transitions into a mainstream market. Unlike Skype, for example, a platform that encourages users to have face-to-face communication via a camera, Discord’s voice channels can just be dedicated to talking.
Recent branding changes to make the platform friendly for non-gamers — such as replacing illustrations of game controllers with wizards and frogs reading books and templates for teachers — have made it more accessible. It’s now touted as a platform where users can create belonging in their lives with the new tagline “Your place to talk” and has a $3.5 billion valuation.
What Are Discord’s Features?
If you’re asking yourself what sets Discord apart from other social communication platforms and apps such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, or the business world’s bae (we’re looking at you, Zoom) then hang with us for a bit because Discord has some incredible features and customizable options that set this platform apart from its competitors.
Discord communities are called “servers” and can either be public (meaning anyone can join) or private (which requires an invitation link). Users can create servers such as fitness and health, education, and entertainment in order to message, talk, stream, or organize events among friends or strangers. There’s a server for everything and for anyone. Whether you’re looking for a hub to play “Among Us,” a way to connect with your favorite ASMRtist (hello Gibi ASMR!), or you’re trying to practice American sign language with other users, Discord has it all.
Each server can usually have up to 250,000 members but only 25,000 members can be active at one time (although certain verified or partner servers can have up to 500,000). Verified servers appear with a checkmark badge and indicate that the server is officially affiliated with a business, brand, or figure of public interest. Partner servers, on the other hand, are those that are recognized by the platform as “role models to all of Discord” for their active and engaged communities.
The creators of the server can also make channels (subgroups) to help organize conversations around specific topics, events, or resources. Breaking down channels by topic can keep your server clean and make it easier to find important messages, your favorite dank memes, or that TikTok that made you laugh out loud. These channels are either categorized as text or voice channels.
Text channels are your traditional chat channels and support text, photo, and video messages.
Moderators can also enable additional features on text channels. For large groups, the “slowmode cooldown” feature will restrict channel members from sending one message per a time interval from one minute to six hours. Depending on the channel’s topic, this can be useful in decluttering the channel, easily searching for time-sensitive messages, or curbing the amount of feedback, especially if your server has thousands of users.
Moderators can also create voice channels for those who want to chat. Voice channels don’t require a code or link to join, and once you click on the voice channel you want, you’ll be able to automatically participate in an ongoing conversation.
If you’re using Discord on a desktop, there are also additional and adjustable features you can turn on such as Discord’s KRISP noise suppression filter. This feature will filter out unwanted background noise and is a lifesaver if you have a neighbor who cuts their lawn at weird hours or your dog barks at every car that passes by your window (we’ve all been there).
If you’ve used other messaging apps in the past then you know how hard it can be to easily search for past messages, links, or photos. The easy search feature sets Discord apart from other social messaging platforms and allows users to search for content and messages in different channels and servers.
You can also filter your search results by searching the name of the person who sent the message, searching a message before or after a specific date, or searching messages that mention certain keywords.
Video Chat and Screen Share
In 2017, Discord added the ability for users to video chat and screen share which was mainly used by gamers to livestream. During the 2020 rebrand, Discord expanded many of these features to make them easier to use, especially for teachers looking to use Discord for online learning.
Users can easily integrate other existing accounts for easy sharing among servers and channels. Other social platforms that are compatible with Discord include Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Blizzard, Xbox, GitHub, and Steam.
Another feature that makes Discord more user-friendly is its ability to create and different roles and permissions within servers. These are also customizable by channel so you can assign different roles to different people.
For example, one of the most common permissions you may want to change depending on the server’s purpose is the “Create Instant Invite” permission. This allows a user to send out invitation links to anyone they want to join. If you want to limit the number of users on a server or want to keep it private, limit this permission to moderators within the channel.
Discord offers monthly or yearly Nitro plans for those serious about the communication platform for $9.99 and $99.99, respectively. Those who choose to opt-in will receive perks such as a custom tag (with the free plan, this is automatically assigned), two server boosts, 100 MB upload size for high-quality file-sharing, and HD video. Server boosts enhance a server’s features and if enough users boost the same server, then they’ll receive different level perks which you can read more about here.
Users who don’t want to spend as much money and don’t want the server boosts can sign up for Discord Nitro Classic which only costs $4.99/month or $49.99/year.
Who’s Using Discord?
Unlike many of our other platforms which are mainly popular among Gen Z, Discord is used across diverse groups of people with varying interests.
From teachers using Discord to conduct classes, to protest organizers using the app to send details and resources for participants, Discord has taken on a whole new life during the coronavirus pandemic.
Who can you also see hopping on the Discord bandwagon? Some of Gen Z’s favorite influencers.
Back in 2019, The Atlantic published an article about how Discord was going mainstream and pointed to the use of the platform by popular YouTubers. Influencers such as Philip DeFranco, Carson King, Grace Helbig, and the Try Guys all have Discord servers and use them to connect with their fans and directly interact with them on a day-to-day basis.
Some influencers even found ways to monetize on certain servers by having dedicated fans sign up through membership platforms like Patreon in order to join the server. Others offered a tiered membership by allowing fans to buy different roles in certain channels.
Marketers can use many of the same strategies as these influencers, or even use Discord to manage and communicate their wide network of influencers and campaigns.
How Marketers Can Use Discord
Marketers can use Discord to build and strengthen customer relationships and communities. Unlike other social platforms, co-founders Citron and Vishnevskiy refuse to sell users data or ads on the platform.
Creating open Discord servers for your brand will help you directly engage and interact with people passionate about your brand. It will also help foster a sense of community among your fans by serving as a facilitator for connecting those in other communities. You can also create separate channels or servers for different target audiences and use it as a place to gain important feedback.
Below are a few sample channels for your brand’s server:
Suggestions: Use a “suggestions” channel to gain important insight and feedback from your customers or followers. You can ask certain questions about campaigns or new products, or leave it open for broader feedback.
Report: Since this is a public channel, use this channel to pin messages to the top about how to report claims of misconduct or what mission and values are.
New Products: Use a “new products” channel to build hype around a new launch or product and then gain feedback in real-time about what your audience thinks about it.
Exclusive Events or Offers: Use this channel to announce exclusive offers or events and keep the conversation buzzing around
Certain Discord servers can also act as a benefit for fans who donate a certain amount of money or are VIP members. You can invite a select number of people to hear about exclusive promotions or break news to them before you release it across mainstream social media channels.
As with any social platform, disagreements and bullying can easily arise among users. Make sure to clearly state the rules of conduct and expectations when users join the server. It’s also beneficial to provide direct resources and communication methods in case anyone wants to report misconduct and take all claims seriously. You can even install bots that will detect and immediately remove messages that contain profanity and other inappropriate messages and then send messages to those users that they’re not allowed to use that type of language.
With the power to create and foster communities during a time when people are social distancing, Discord is at the forefront of the future of multi-channel communication.
A wide variety of customizable voice, audio, and video chat features, along with the ability to easily organize channels by category or topic has made Discord appealing to those looking to join a community group, game with friends, or learn something new during the pandemic.
These same features are also at the disposal of marketers around the world. If you’re looking to build or strengthen your following or fans, then Discord is a great place to start. Use channels to gain feedback on new products, offer exclusive promotions for certain fans, and easily communicate with target audiences.