“The brands have discovered Discord.” — Kimeko McCoy, Digiday
Discord is a chat app that officially launched in May 13, 2015. It was originally created for the gaming community to enable ways for them to find and communicate with each other (via video, voice, and text) — similar to programs such as Skype, TeamSpeak, or Slack. Discord is predominately invite only, where users need a link to join a private server in most cases. Similar to Reddit, Discord users often have anonymity in screen names and avatar profile images.
With over 150 million monthly active users (accelerated by Covid in 2020), Discord is now pushing to turn the platform into a communication tool not just for gamers, but for everyone from study groups to sneakerheads to gardening enthusiasts.
Several outlets have anointed the platform as “the anti-Facebook” because the founder, Jason Citron, believes ads to be too intrusive and disliked in general by untrusting consumers. Instead, the social network collects revenue via subscriptions, making it an organic play for brands.
It is predicted that as the conversation around media diversification continues to heat up, more brands, from legacy brands to startups, will come around to the platform. Most of the approaches that brands have taken on Discord so far have revolved around creating their own servers. These are, essentially, dedicated landing pages with multiple topic channels, split into a mix of text and audio chats. Using these, brands have tried to invite in existing fans.
Resale site StockX debuted a Discord server in June, and brands like AllSaints, Chipotle and Jack in the Box have all hosted events and Q&As in their own Discord servers. They see it above all as a way to stay engaged with pre-existing fans — but some companies are also, in small ways, trying to get their foot in the door with new audiences, too.
Some brands are focusing on their own products, but others have created themed servers that appeal to people with overlapping interests, even if the brand itself is not at the center: notably, Hot Topic recently launched an anime-focused server called Anime & Beyond.
Carolina Mach, an analyst at ad agency VMLY&R, who worked alongside the social media team to launch Wendy’s 50,000-member Discord earlier this year comments, “This is the wild west. The amount of people on the platform is encouraging, but [it] can hit the fan at any moment. We’re at a crossroads, where brands are starting to function less like brands and more like people. That level of brand affinity isn’t something that can be achieved through running traditional TV spots, especially when it comes to getting in front of Gen Z.”
New Era, the official hat company for the NFL, NBA and MLB, hosts a server where New Era fans can show off their collection of caps and outfits to others, engage in spirited discussions about US sports and in the future possibly also be able to take part in live audio events.
The iconic Italian luxury brand Gucci recently announced the launch of Vault, “a place to foster open conversations with the community about what’s next in the metaverse” and “as many different things at once: a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place."
...while it is an exciting time and brands might be eager to jump on the band wagon, it’s important to be aware of the growing “Silence, brand” responses from Discord users — a phrase often used in rebuttal to brands attempting to position themselves as fun and relatable.
Brands have some things to consider:
Also, a potential con to consider is that there are no ad units or easily trackable metrics, making tracking return on investment tricky. This makes it important to decide as a team what will success look like — in your own server as well as through influencer partnerships — and how that will be measured.
Winter Mendelson is the Founder and Executive Creative Director of Posture Media, an independent branding and marketing studio based in Brooklyn.
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