Your brand needs a Discord community — here’s how to build it

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My main gig is writing marketing content, but I also wear lots of hats for an independent media criticism site called Unwinnable. I’ve been managing their social media, writing articles for them, and serving as an editor for five years now.

At Unwinnable, we use a classic-turned-modern publishing model. We have online articles, but our main operation is our magazine: a monthly PDF that you subscribe to like a print magazine. So we’re always looking for ways to make our subscribers’ experience better.

Earlier this year, we revamped our subscriber Discord server into a proper community, and I learned a lot working with the Unwinnable team to engage subscribers this way. I’d like to share what I learned—so here’s how you can create a Discord community for your brand.

Decide if Discord is right for your brand

Before you invest time and resources into a Discord community, make sure it’ll be a good fit for your brand. Here are some factors that affect how well Discord could work for your community versus a platform like Slack:

Your industry. Discord tends to suit B2C businesses better than B2B since it’s a casual platform originally meant for gamers.

Audience interests. Age and buyer behavior will affect your audience’s interest in using Discord. Younger, “geeky” audiences tend to use Discord more than older, less tech-familiar groups.

Funnel stage. Discord works well for customers near the bottom of the marketing funnel: people who already know your organization and product.

Message archiving. If you plan on including a knowledge base in your community, Discord lets you search all of your server’s previous messages regardless of how many you have. (Slack limits the number of previous messages that free users can see.)

Audio and video capabilities. Discord’s signature feature is its voice and video chatting, which could serve some communities better than others.

Threading capabilities. Discord has a thread feature, but those threads eventually archive themselves. You’ll need to use Slack for permanent threads.

NFT/crypto support. Discord recently considered adding NFT and cryptocurrency features, which could be positive or negative, depending on your stance.

At Unwinnable, we originally had a Slack community for subscribers, but we switched to Discord because it would more likely be in regular use for our audience, lots of whom are gamers.

Set goals

Before you build your community, give it goals that will guide your community design and moderation. Some popular goals for brand community Discords include:

Unwinnable uses Discord for the last goal: offering a community as a perk for people who subscribe to the magazine. It doubles as a selling point for potential subscribers and a reason for current subscribers to stick around.

You’ll notice that most of the reasons I listed here aren’t related to direct selling—they’re about building trust with customers.

Create your server and channels

With your goals in mind, you can now create your server and its channels.

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

An arrow pointing to the plus sign to create new Discord server

From there, you can create a server from scratch or choose a template. The templates give you a list of channels to start with that you can edit however you like.

A screenshot showing the template selection process when creating a Discord server

After you choose a template, Discord will ask if your server will be for a club or community or a private group. Discord isn’t very clear about how this question affects your server, so choose the community option or skip it.

A screenshot showing the options of "club or community" or "me and my friends"

Now, for the most important part: your server name and icon. Choose a name that includes your business name and an icon that matches your other brand assets, such as a logo.

A screenshot showing where you put your name and logo when creating the server

Congrats! You have a Discord server. Time to add channels.

Think of your Discord server’s channels as different places to talk about specific topics. You’ll see them to the left of your server’s messages.

A screenshot of the channels sidebar in Discord

Text channels let you communicate with text and photos like other messaging apps. Voice channels allow the people who enter it to talk over voice and video.

Make sure your channels tie back to the goals you set for your community. For example, if you want to build a community for your customers, you could make channels based on everyday discussion topics like pets or TV. Or maybe you want to share brand updates—make sure to give them a dedicated channel.

Since Unwinnable is a pop culture criticism site, most of our Discord discussions happen in channels dedicated to mediums like TV and games. Think about the topics you want your community members to talk about, and make channels that match.

Depending on your objectives, you can make your server a Community server with added promotion features and analytics. If you want to keep your server small and exclusive like Unwinnable, though, you might be better off with a normal server. And you can always start as a normal server and switch to community features once you get the hang of Discord.

Set rules and roles

Community servers have built-in rules pages that members have to read and approve before posting. Your server’s rules should help you facilitate healthy discussions and create a safe space.

Here’s what the Unwinnable Discord community’s rules look like:

Unwinnable's community rules
Credit: Melissa King / Zapier