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“If Twitter is the internet’s town hall, Discord is its hidden network of comfortable lounges, dingy basements, and smoke-filled back rooms.”
Community is often cited as a core investment thesis for web3 projects. Unlike traditional companies where decision-making powers lie primarily with a small management team, web3 projects aim to decentralise this power to community members. But Discord is a web2 company, a centralized 7-year old chat and voice platform. So why do so many web3 communities choose to organise on it? It’s because Discord got the three pillars of community right.
A community rests on three main pillars: relationship, identity, and incentives. Here’s a case study of how they play out: John is a gardening enthusiast; why would he prefer joining a gardening club over doing it alone at home?
Relationship: Being part of a gardening club provides John with opportunities to interact with other gardeners. He’s able to exchange ideas, learn from shared expertise, and compare notes on the giant capsicum he recently harvested. Such engagements help him to build relationships with like-minded enthusiasts.
Identity: John introduces himself as a member of Town X gardening club instead of just a home gardener. Being part of the club validates John’s passion while also giving him a sense of belonging and status, especially if the club is a renowned one.
Incentives: John enjoys discounts by taking part in the club’s bulk purchases of soil and fertilisers. He also gains access to the weekly farmers’ market where he can sell his produce.
It’s seldom we find all three pillars equally present in the communities around us. Depending on the nature of the community, there’s a tendency to embody one pillar more strongly than the others.
Traditionally, communities gather at physical locations for activities and socialisation. These might be places of worship (e.g. churches or mosques) for religious communities or the library for book clubs.
Although there are many contenders offering virtual equivalents of these physical locations, the most successful is Discord. This social platform is home to many private and public communities focused on gaming, anime, and most recently, web3.
Virtual communities operate on a different scale compared to their traditional counterparts; they are not subject to the same limitations in terms of locality, operating hours, or space. For example, around half of the 200-seater churches in the United States receive fewer than 65 people weekly. With a Discord server, the church would be able to grow their congregation to a global audience.
Discord has grown to 150 million monthly active users (MAU) since it started in 2015. With the majority of users under the age of 35, it could eventually become the default platform for building online communities.
While there are several applications under the broad social media umbrella, most platforms like Instagram or Twitter are primarily used as a one-way communication tool between a brand and its followers. Discord’s edge is its ability to provide tools that enable better follower-to-follower and follower-to-brand interactions.
These interactions are crucial to community building. Strong direct-to-consumer brand communities like Lego and Lululemon ensure their builders and influencers have a platform that enables collaboration and interaction with one another and with the company.
Today, some of the most successful communities on Discord include DAOs (like BanklessDAO and Gitcoin) and NFT projects (like Random Character Collective). These projects leverage Discord’s channels and bots to build and enhance their community experience.
Channels are highly flexible; they support both text and voice, and can be set as private or public. Channels are most often used for:
Announcements and FAQs: Anything you wish to broadcast to the community, including explainers, rules, announcements, whitepapers, and scam warnings. Announcement channels are set to read only to keep clutter away.
General or Specific Discussion: Channels for discussion can be kept broad or labelled for specific groups or topics. Within a particular discussion channel, there can be multiple sub-topic threads, which stay active for a short time but are revived once another post is added. Individual posts can be pinned to the channel for easy access.
Forum Discussion: This is a new feature of Discord which enables display of multiple discussion topics within a channel’s chat interface. Forums make it easier to manage several discussions at a time; it also encourages feedback because all the comments stay together in a more visible way than a thread.
Events: This is a key driver of engagement and interactions — giving community members that feeling of something new and vibrant going on in the community. Discord enables both virtual and physical events, albeit for the latter it’s used for planning. Many NFT projects (like Deadfellaz) hold regular giveaways and design competitions, and community members are enticed to compete, judge and vote for all kinds of prizes.
When designed and managed well, channels are incredibly powerful tools that drive strong community engagement and interactions. The reverse is equally daunting though; messy channels can make it hard for members to interact, engage or keep up with the updates.
One of the great things about using Discord for community management is the ability to implement bots to streamline or automate certain tasks. These are AI-driven tools built by Discord or third parties that are integrated into Discord servers. While Discord doesn’t build specific bots for users, they offer pre-made bots that users can customise according to their needs (even without much coding experience).
Bots can automate mundane tasks like verification (e.g. Mee6, Collab.Land), ticketing (e.g. Helper.gg), games (e.g. GarticBot) and polls (e.g. sesh, Easypoll). They can even manage workflows for publishing operations (e.g. GMN Paperboy) This eases the burden on moderators/creators.
Despite the obvious benefits, web3 project teams should also consider the following before building their community on Discord.
It requires dedicated effort by a community management team to moderate and manage a server. In the same way that brands hire managers for their various social media channels, moderators manage everything that goes on in a Discord server. This includes finding various ways to sustain and increase community engagement and regulating behaviours among community members.
Even with the nature of asynchronous communication on Discord, 24/7 responsiveness is expected, especially for projects with an active global community. This is important for crisis control, e.g. when the security of the server is compromised or when saboteurs spread unwarranted fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to sabotage the project. This means there’s a need for moderators working across varying time zones — a resource that not all projects can afford.
Viewed through the lens of a traditional marketing funnel, having an active Discord server helps projects with conversion and engagement. However, social media platforms like Twitter are still needed to raise awareness about projects and direct new people to the Discord server. Thus, the social media and community engagement strategies have to be in tandem to ensure a healthy and sustainable community growth.
Discord is prone to security breaches. A common tactic scammers use is to hack Discord bots that are integral to managing project servers. There are examples of popular NFT projects on both the Ethereum and Solana blockchains that have been compromised including BAYC, Doodles, and Monkey Kingdom.
Scammers have also hacked into the accounts of core team members and/or impersonated them to launch phishing attacks or trick unsuspecting community members into revealing sensitive information, like their wallets’ secret recovery phrases.
While such breaches are not unique to Discord, the nature of the platform may afford bad actors the opportunity to orchestrate sophisticated breaches. This reinforces the need for a 24/7 responsive community management team and uncluttered announcement channels.
Even though Discord unlocks novel ways of social engagement, it is ultimately just a tool. It is up to the project team (and community members) to build a virtual space that meets the community’s needs. Despite some flaws, the customisation that Discord enables for web3 communities will see it remain as the go-to platform for hosting virtual communities in the web3 space, unless it is ultimately replaced by a Discord on crypto rails, or becomes one itself.
Daryl loves treading the intersection between biz & tech. (Senior Venture Manager @ EDB | Co-founder 1X exit | Ex-AIG | Ex-OCBC | Collector of NFTs with IRL utilities | Occasional Alpha Caller).
Lanz is a filmmaker exploring the intersection between storytelling, social impact, and web3.
Roy is a curious over-thinker who dabbles in early stage investments. Writes about anything on businesses, tech, and psychology.
Trewkat is a writer, editor, and designer at BanklessDAO. She’s interested in learning about crypto and NFTs, with a particular focus on how best to communicate this knowledge to others.
Kornekt is a writer and editor with strong conviction in the world Web3 creates.
Pub-gmn.eth is a blockend developer.
BanklessDAO is an education and media engine dedicated to helping individuals achieve financial independence.
This post does not contain financial advice, only educational information. By reading this article, you agree and affirm the above, as well as that you are not being solicited to make a financial decision, and that you in no way are receiving any fiduciary projection, promise, or tacit inference of your ability to achieve financial gains.
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