Discord is the future of online communities.

Traditionally associated with gamers, the platform has gone mainstream.

Today the seven year-old company has grown to more than 300 million registered users.

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

According to the Harvard Business Review, “…even before Covid-19, Gen Z was eschewing traditional social media for ‘digital campfires,’ more intimate online destinations where they private message or connect either in micro-communities or larger shared experiences.”

Marketers, creators and community builders looking to future proof themselves should take a moment to reflect—are you part of that “digital campfire?”

The answer is likely…no.

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

What is Discord and what role does it play?

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

A Discord server is a hub. Its driving purpose is to deepen relationships with existing, hard core fans and evangelists.

This distinction is critical.

Brands on Discord should focus on two things. First, providing experiences that are unique and cannot be replicated elsewhere. Second, should be facilitating connections and conversations amongst community members.

It’s this deeper sense of community that has brands such StockX, Skittles and Chipotle flocking to the platform. The CMO of StockX, Deena Bahri, explained in Adweek, “The customer is looking for more—more engagement, more dialogue, more input—and Discord is one of the platforms offering that.”

The most active Discord servers have chats occurring across multiple channels 24/7. The pace at which conversations occur within Discord tend to be much quicker than other platforms.

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

All this to say, setting up a Discord community may require more attention and investment to reach fewer people. However, there’s a tradeoff. Those people and that community (when cultivated carefully) will build a deeper relationship with your company. Discord allows for a two-way conversation between the brand and its community, making them feel like they are part of the organization—not just end customers.

How do you set up a Discord server?

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

Screenshot of Discord's homepage with an arrow showing where to click to create a new server

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

Screenshot of the options Discord shows to create a new server

The templates give you a list of channels to start with that you can edit if you want.

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

Congrats. Now you have a Discord server.

After you’ve created your server, you’ll need to create channels.

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

Regardless of the type of channels you create, you’ll want them to be focused around your community’s interests. This is where community members will congregate to interact with you (and one another) around the selected topics.

Screenshot of a new Discord server with arrows pointing to the 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 may want to create a rules page for new members. You can also create and assign roles for your community members. Roles determine a member’s admin permissions and as the community expands you could assign moderator status to users you trust.

Regardless, these are details you can finesse and refine over time.

How do you nurture a Discord community?

Great communities start as small communities.

It’s counterintuitive but true. With Discord, in particular, it’s about depth vs breadth. Especially, when you’re starting out. Here are three tips to consider as you build and engage your audience on the platform:

1. Identify your inaugural class

You may want to hand select the initial members you want to have join the community. Or, at least limit the initial number of members. This will allow you to refine your community management process and work out any kinks.

So who should join initially?

Are there avid fans of your brand? Who is regularly commenting on your social posts or creating content promoting your brand?

These brand evangelists make ideal members. They’re going to be excited about the opportunity.

2. Plan your content (and conversation starters)

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

Ask yourself, what access and/or exclusives can you provide?

Inspire community activity by prompting (and sustaining) conversations within your server.

Develop a content calendar to ensure a steady drumbeat of activity and discussions. Ideally, surprise and delight your community so they feel like they’re spending their time wisely and have a reason to keep coming back.

Maybe your CEO or founder is admired by the community. Perhaps your brand has a big celebrity or influencer ambassador. Any of these would make exciting AMAs.

Exclusive first looks at products would also make a great incentive, and provide an opportunity to get valuable consumer feedback before a big launch.

You’ll want to focus on activities designed to spark high levels of engagement. Create momentum via a steady drumbeat of activity. Remember, it takes time for visiting a community to become a habit.

3. Test and learn, then loosen the reigns

During the early stages of cultivating a community, most activities will need to be prompted 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 being done to ensure the community is a worthwhile experience when you scale.

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

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

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

Ultimately, it depends on your goals as a brand. An apt analogy would be comparing Discord to a house party. It’s a private and intimate affair. Whereas Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is like a Vegas nightclub – a place to see and be seen.

Sure, they’re both parties, but they’re drastically different experiences.

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

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