Technology Brand Strategy Influencer Marketing

As Twitter buckles, is Discord the best place for brands to build communities?


By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

November 16, 2022 | 8 min read

The UK Treasury recently launched on community app Discord and was subject to a torrent of abuse and memes. What went wrong?

Discord is making overtures to brands. What do they need to know to take it seriously?

Discord is making overtures to brands. What do they need to know to take it seriously?

Creating and cultivating online communities proves to be a common marketing tactic offering reliable engagement and feedback for brands. As Discord becomes more important – and more friendly – to brands, agency Swipe Back believes more brands need to learn the ins and outs of community moderation on the platform.

That need was highlighted yesterday when the UK Treasury launched its own Discord server. Designed to allow the public to stay up to date with news about the economy, the server in theory allowed no users to comment. Despite that, users with more experience with the platform nevertheless found ways around that restriction to spam abuse.

Discord announced its presence to brands early in 2022. A marketing blitz featuring Danny DeVito and Awkwafina set the tone for the community platform’s pitch to consumer brands: that it already has all the tools necessary to create and monetize a community.

Just as we saw with Twitch, the platform is outgrowing its gaming niche. While gaming communities remain a large part of the mix on Discord, its threads and forums increasingly cater to all sorts of creative pursuits and technical groups.

As it launched its campaign, Kelly Liang, Discord’s senior vice-president of global partnerships, said: “We have partnered closely with a variety of brands, each with unique goals for building their communities on Discord. This past year, we also hosted two fantastic events that helped over 40 leading creative agencies better understand the power of Discord and educated them on how their clients can activate on our platform.”

The wide-blast model of influencer marketing is being tested in 2022, with brands instead seeking to speak to smaller but more valuable communities. While huge numbers of impressions are nice, conversions are a better measure of ROI. That shift in attitudes is behind the changes being made at Reddit, Pinterest and, increasingly, Discord.

Now gaming-specialist agency Swipe Back believes there is an opportunity to provide thought leadership and training for the major consumer brands that are seeking to activate communities on the platform. Its founder Nikhil Roy explains: “People are fed up with the highly-curated aesthetic of Instagram and even TikTok. I think people are just looking for the next thing. They’re looking for some honest conversations, to be a bit looser with their relationships with brands.”

But not all brands are capable of engaging with communities in such a way – enter the UK Treasury.

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Swipe Back’s Roy believes that the platform is mature enough – and has developed enough measurement and monetization options – for its pitch to brands to make sense. He cites its development of more robust forum tools to allow moderators to control a conversation as an example; previously the platform was predicated on endless scroll message boards.

He also echoes Liang in noting that, with its early focus on voice chat and audio messages, Discord was actually out ahead of the social audio that seems to be at the heart of many platforms’ new pitches to advertisers. “Basically, you still have this little magical ability to ask everyone something on Discord; and every single person on the server will get the notification. Brands are kind of interesting in that thing, because you have like 100% engagement, basically.

“Then you can get into the more advanced stuff like creating certain channels, creating private communities inside your larger community and turning it into a CRM tool as well.”

Roy notes that Discord is still introducing some of the KPIs that more established platforms have had for years – but that it is rapidly catching up. He states that even six months ago the platform had fewer options than it currently has.

While those metrics are valuable for bringing brands on board, Roy argues that Discord’s gaming history has allowed it to develop tools that are much more appropriate for community building. “It’s not branded yet, but it feels like someone will latch on to some brand activations with mini-games inside the Discord server. It feels like something made for brands, almost like the weird Facebook games we had 10 years ago that were very fun and easy to produce, just have something very simple. Discord that’s made for brands.”

Despite Discord’s introduction of new features, it is yet to become a main media buy for brands. As it introduces the metrics and analysis tools required to get buy-in, however, the marketing practitioners who recognize the value of community might look again at what it offers for long-term brand building.

So while Discord is becoming a friendlier place for brands, it isn’t necessarily the right platform for every organization. As the UK Treasury debacle demonstrates, it is best used to speak to a community – not just as a broadcast tool.

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