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Episode 53

How Brands Can Engage With Customers On Discord

Mat Segal & Tom Madrilejos
Digital Producer & Product Strategist at Mod Op

Discord offers an excellent opportunity for companies to build a strong community of followers. How can brands engage with their customers on this social platform?

Digital Producer Mat Segal and Product Strategist Tom Madrilejos from Mod Op share some tips on how brands can maximize the potential of Discord.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • What is Discord
  • How do people use it
  • What drives Discord’s popularity
  • Community management on Discord
  • How brands can add value on the platform
  • Identifying and engaging “super users”
  • The role of Discord among niche social platforms
  • Key takeaways for brands evaluating Discord

Watch the Live Recording

Full Episode Transcripts

Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Leader Generation, brought to you by Mod Op. I’m your host, Tessa Burg, CTO at Mod Op, and today I’m joined by two of my colleagues, Mat Segal and Tom Madrilejos. Thank you guys for being here.

Mat Segal: Thank you.

Tom Madrilejos: Well, hello.

Tessa Burg: So today, we’re having sort of a group discussion about Discord, and this I’ve only recently become familiar with, but already I see so many avenues for brands and entertainment companies to engage and really learn from their customers. So very excited to explore and get more insight from Mat and Tom. Before we jump in, let’s have each of you tell us a little bit about your background and roles here at Mod Op. Mat, you want to start?

Mat Segal: Sure, so I’m a digital producer and strategist. And my day-to-day is working from social paid, digital video, website production, interactive, and the thinking that goes into each of those with our client partners to kind of bring some things to life to engage with their audiences. For the remainder of the discussion, I am internet old, going back to moderating forums in the early 2000s, and working in nascent social media. And I think it’ll be an interesting callback because on the topic of Discord, it’s almost like what’s old is new again.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. Oh, how funny. And Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself and your role here at Mod Op.

Tom Madrilejos: Yeah, so like Mat, I’m also a digital strategist. I come from the creative side. So, the background in UX, I moved sort of into digital strategy, and I just work with our clients and our internal teams to help the business objectives with a variety of different things, just like Mat said. But on the point of being internet old, Mat, I am as well. My cred doesn’t go as far back as yours, but I remember the early days of being on Slashdot and old everything, nothing sites. So, like you said, there are these small niche communities coming back, which I think is really relevant to what we’re talking about today.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, and it’s interesting too that discord is a separate community, but we’re also seeing companies start their own communities. And so there seems to be this need or want for people to connect, and maybe it’s because we’re all at home now. But Mat, let’s start with you, tell us a little bit about why does Discord even exist?

Mat Segal: If you go far enough back, it was a tool to connect online gamers. It was a live chat community tool that had audio. And it’s like, Hey, why do I need to use this service’s audio for, say, Call of Duty, and have to deal with a bunch of weird people yelling at me? What if I just hop on with my friends? And then maybe I make a new friend and I could add them. And it becomes a place where people in the gaming space could gather and communicate around their shared pastime.

Tessa Burg: Hmm. So, I am not a gamer, but sort of curious, why wouldn’t the game companies just create something that’s similarly allows that sort of level of control and privacy?

Mat Segal: The interesting thing is they did, but you end up getting fragmentation. Every company has their own platform. So, if we think about it relevant to say the fact that people are looking about at new emerging social media platforms right now, and we’re no longer used to having to find all our contact’s friends and start from scratch, it’s been a while since anyone’s had to do that. Now imagine you’re playing a new game and, oh, this is by company X. I haven’t used their platform before, where are my friends? Where are the people that I want a game with? Versus having a centralized hub that is, we’ll call it, operated by your cohort. And that’s the early on, not to advance the clock too much, but as Discord as a platform has grown, those games now have official discord spaces and they function as like a place to not only find people to play with and talk about a shared hobby, but also find new friends. It’s not uncommon to have meet someone in a larger Discord server and then bring them over to your small one because you’ve essentially converted them from someone you’ve been in a match with a number of times to someone that you want to bring onto your shortlist maybe to play with or maybe just to chat with.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, Tom, what have you seen that’s kind of driven the popularity of Discord?

Tom Madrilejos: So, I think Mat gave a really great sort of history of how gaming led the charge. For myself personally, I kinda came into it with a big wave of the past, I would say three, four years of both similar but very different crowds, but like in personal finance and investing as well as web3. So there’s those communities kind of ushered in and used it, I think to Mat’s point, like they were also looking for like a decentralized area where they could run their own communities that don’t have to create a Facebook account and they can be more in real time. It’s not necessarily like a Slack group, like you don’t have to go into those platforms necessarily. But yeah, the sort of real time engagement, not like post response type things. It’s like your group of people there, the voice channels, and then there’s just so many features within it that are customizable to a community that I think is enticing for a lot of different startups and now bigger brands. Yeah.

Tessa Burg: And, oh, go ahead Mat. You have something to add?

Mat Segal: Tom, it’s funny, there’s one thing that you said that just immediately set off a light bulb is in 2020, I started a Slack group with a bunch of online friends. And over a few months I’ve realized that it was grinding my gears because here we are working remote. Slack is a fantastic tool for business, and then it was bleeding as a tool into my social life. Whereas moving things like, compartmentalize Slack is for work and Discord is for hobbies made a world of change. Even though I now have to have like two apps open on my computer or on my phone, I’ve split the difference, one doesn’t remind me of the other.

Tom Madrilejos: There’s so much there. I think, yeah, the cultures are very, very different. There’s some commonalities, but the language, the emoting, everything is like, it’s just like a slightly different universe, which is actually really interesting to see a lot of bigger brands and more established brands move into the Discord because there is still that layer of officialness, but they are adopting this, they’re kind of cutting, pulling back some of the rules and adopting a lot of the culture and lingo of discord and traditional discord communities, which it’s probably a tough place to navigate for a lot of brands, but it’s probably, well, it’s definitely worth it, yeah.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. So, we get that request quite often to provide community management and manage communities on Discord. Can you tell me a little bit, Mat, we could start with you again. What does that exactly mean? Like, what are the elements or the important components of community management on discord?

Mat Segal: When we think about it, and I think Tom hit this very well, when we think about social whether it be community or content, as a partner, we’re looking to provide things like tone of voice, approaches, look and feel. And when we, whether we tackle community management ourselves or provide the tools for community management to a client partner, it’s establishing those things no different than it would be in a Facebook page or group owned and operated by a brand, is how do you speak, how do you reply? How do we identify the tone and voice of the brand and carry that through into all interactions with our audience?

Tessa Burg: I love that. So how you manage the community to really be a window and a direct connection to your brand and brand values.

Mat Segal: Absolutely.

Tessa Burg: Are there other benefits or other ways that you have seen brands engage in Discord?

Tom Madrilejos: Yeah, I mean there’s, I kinda wanna go back to what, to add on to what Mat was saying.

Tessa Burg: Yeah.

Tom Madrilejos: Because I think that there’s, I don’t remember the exact question, but in terms of managing communities, there’s quite a bit of moderation involved, like specifically about what kind of conversations are happening again, to a degree. But even before that, it’s like setting the, it’s almost like house rules. Like what is this place all about? How do we act here? Because then, that will impact what needs to be moderated or what doesn’t need to be moderated. And then also the community manager, often they’re a very brazen person, like the, especially in some of the more nascent industries like web three projects and NFTs and that sort of things. You have to be active and showing progress, and you have to be showing activity every day. I mean, maybe even hourly, or else people are like, this is a dead space here. Like this is a rug, whatever, like there’s nobody here. So, there’s quite a bit of work there. I don’t know where I was going with that, but like, it’s like a-

Tessa Burg: Oh no.

Tom Madrilejos: It’s a busy job.

Tessa Burg: I think those are strongly good points, being very purposeful and being consistent. When we think about community management being one way for people to interact with the brand, are there any other ways on Discord or anything else brands should consider doing in their community to really make that engagement beneficial to the people participating in it?

Tom Madrilejos: I think-

Mat Segal: There, oh, go ahead, Tom.

Tom Madrilejos: Oh, so I think in addition to making this space what people want it to be, I think they also have to build relationships with individual people. You start to get to know individual people within the space, and you’re going to have like your power user, the people who are there, like some strongest people. And then you, I mean there’s like, I don’t even know how to get into like roles and stuff like that, and you can assign roles and like, there’s so much, yeah. That’s kind of a half-baked thought, so maybe Mathew can go ahead.

Mat Segal: That’s the next level stuff too, because, and that’s something where we could provide help because it’s not a free for all. It is not, my easy explanation to people when they’re like, what’s this code? I’m like, do you remember AOL Chat in like 1999? But it’s not that level of free for all, because if it were, brands would run away. It is, to Tom’s point, there are user levels and permissions akin to whatever, maybe the easiest example for listeners to think of is if they work with a dam for digital assets, and you have admins, you have editors, you have viewers, you have uploaders, you have different roles of who could do what and who could go where. And Discord does provide that granularity in roles and responsibilities. And that’s something that interestingly enough can carry into not only how you structure community, but also how you grant access. Discords very popular in the, what’s the correct way? I’ll call it the content creator space, who have generally funded by platforms like Patreon and Ko-fi, where one of the things that you’re granted as a backer is either access to a Discord server to speak with other fans, or access to a premium tier within the Discord that is a smaller, quieter space with oh, we have, this part of the server is for everyone, and then we have this portion for the people that are monthly subscribers. Maybe they want a quiet place, maybe we do special events there. Maybe we do a live chat with someone who comes on similar to an AMA on Reddit. Those tiered structures are not only for structuring your team and your audience, but can also be used to make spaces within it more special.

Tessa Burg: That’s awesome. So, I wanted to go back to identifying the super users and engaging them. I think that’s really interesting that this is a place where you’re, like, Tom, you said you’re building real relationships. That’s one thing to say, to be real, be valuable, but it’s another thing, like you’re interacting with specific people. How do you know who the super users are? How do you know they’re on brand? Like, is there a process or a way that you can kind of validate that this engagement is going to be mutually beneficial?

Tom Madrilejos: So, like, one way to get a feel for that is just who’s active every day. There’s going to be people who, whatever it is, they sign up early or they’re just really chatty. Like, there’s going to be people who are in there all the time reacting to everything, commenting on everything. And those are ones you kind of want to, you want to build around them. And then sometimes power users are bigger names from other, like outside of the community that are not in your discord that come into your discord. Those people are also like, there’s elements of the platform that help recognize bigger names that come in, I don’t know how to call them. And yeah, maybe that’s also a half-baked thought, but.

Mat Segal: No, I think you’re definitely there because we want to be data driven, but sometimes we are in a anecdotal world based on the data provided. And so we’re kind of figuring it out. So, one of the things I’ll notice is you’ll see people’s profile photo match their Twitter profile photo. And I’ll be like, oh, dang, I’ve been, I’ve seen that person on Twitter. Their name within whatever this niche space is. Oh, cool, okay. So like Tom said, that’s someone who’s coming in with owned credibility. But to throw it back to another bit of old internet that might be relevant to people listening is exactly what Tom said. Who are the people there every day? Think about it like a web forum. When they were at their height, you knew the people that were the most helpful or that were there every day because you’d recognize their name, you’d recognize their icon. You might recognize them as helpful because you landed on this forum searching for something, and then you end up in the day-to-day because it seemed like an interesting place to post or you had a question. Communities will, engaged communities, I should say, will bubble up those people because they’re the super user, they want to be there the most. And I think the real trick that we haven’t touched on yet, which is both a pillar of discord and one place that it makes it a potential place for brand to be comfortable is the role of moderation. Because it is, you think, oh, it’s live chat, and there’s voice channels, huh. But one of the core things is you need to have moderators. And those moderators might be proactively scanning things and just shutting down conversations, removing a user who are harmful to the community. But also, “Everyone, remember this rule, cut it out.” because your moderators are part of the community. Sometimes depending on how you structure things, you might have secondary moderators who are those super users because they’ve earned a place of trust, they’ve been proactively, unofficially moderating and you could say, “Hey, can you help me with this?” I’m not gonna give you the power to say remove someone, but you could flag it upstream easier, not dissimilar to what we see on platforms like Reddit, where the majority of subreddits large to small have volunteer moderator teams that will then escalate larger issues to Reddit staff.

Tessa Burg: That is interesting. Tom, do you have anything to add on the point on the importance of moderators and moderation as a practice?

Tom Madrilejos: I don’t think so, no. I was actually just kind of thinking of like, that’s a whole other interesting conversation about the difference between Reddit and Discord. ‘Cause there’s like some overlap, but quite marked differences. But yeah, I don’t think I’m ready to have that conversation.

Tessa Burg: No, this exact same thought popped in my head. I was like, ah, yeah, like I could see a lot of the same audience being interested in both. And I, another one that popped in my head, and I don’t know Mat or Tommy if you comment on this, but is Clubhouse. So, I’ve never been on Discord, again, I’m not a gamer, I don’t even have any of these niche interests. But I do go on Clubhouse where for Tom, that’s been my sort of go-to for more web3 conversations. So, I am wondering like where does Discord sit in these niche social networks where people are, there is voice involved, there is conversation on emerging topics?

Tom Madrilejos: I think Discord’s, again, I haven’t been in Clubhouse in a little while, but I know that, I mean, Discord has like channels and documentation and official links. Like it kind of, it’s like a repository of information. It can serve as a wiki in a way, in addition to being the place where people conversate.

Tessa Burg: Okay.

Tom Madrilejos: So I think that’s probably something that’s a bit different.

Tessa Burg: That’s a huge difference.

Tom Madrilejos: And it’s text based. I mean, the voice rooms were a big draw. People still use them and people use them for, like Mat said, Q&A, live streaming me designing something or just, yeah, like you guys want to go chat about whatever, it’s another way to yeah, just a different format of communicating.

Mat Segal: Yeah, to the previous point, I think both the user and being able to appeal to brands, I think the intersection of something like Twitter, of Reddit and Discord is the what do we do if we don’t want to be on Twitter because an unstable platform? Because the core, obviously it will vary by industry and brand. But for a lot of sectors we work with, the audience that was their core Twitter audience were very much all in are also on Reddit and Discord. And if you’re not comfortable putting your money or spending your community time on Twitter, those are the platforms to think about.

Tessa Burg: That’s interesting. Do you feel like Discord being sort of fresh and new and community first gives brands a little bit more, I don’t know, like control than being able to sort of manage your voice and be consistent on Twitter?

Mat Segal: I think it’s a fresh start, which could be scary, but also valuable. Especially starting a new page, new channel for a brand is an undertaking, it’s an investment, but getting ahead of it is never a bad thing. Generally I don’t actually, I’ll take that, not never, you don’t want to be the uncool place, like Tom mentioned, where no one hangs out. But as we move forward, those attitudes might change. I know a lot of brands don’t use Twitter as a place for kind of overall engagement. They use it as their defacto customer support. That is a place where Discord could grow. One thing we haven’t really touched on is one of the elements kind of baked into Discord are bots that you can use that are out there that are for lack of a better term, open source or available to use. Or you could write them yourself. You could write a bot that does support queries when people respond. You could probably, with a little bit of elbow grease or an expert on scripting have something that will intake from Discord, from an official query into a ticketing platform. I’m sure they exist because I’m not that smart. Or it could even just be a place where like Twitter, you’re like, “Hey, I’m looking for the thing, brand, help.” And you have someone that checks every hour and can reply because you could do that.

Tom Madrilejos: It’s funny you mentioned that Mat, because I just used a ticket system in a Discord I was in last week because it was like my login didn’t work after the new year. And I’m like, what’s going on? And they’re like, use the ticket system.

Mat Segal: Nice.

Tom Madrilejos: And it got solved to that, which was funny.

Tom Madrilejos: But I think that’s a huge topic because, and this is probably a big discussion for how it differs from other social media platforms and communication platforms in that your moderators slash community managers do play, they play an interesting role in that they are like a brand representative, in some cases are customer service, in some cases they are like influencer, like they have to be very representative of the brand. Like, they play like an interesting role, not just like a customer, like, I’m here to answer your question and gone, maybe there can’t be those people. But I feel like the community managers play like a lot of different roles. They’re almost just like, yeah, they have to like run a tight ship sometimes. Like there’s a lot to do.

Mat Segal: A tight enough ship.

Tom Madrilejos: Tight enough ship.

Mat Segal: But it’s, and once again, this is another topic, but it is part of the larger kind of seismic ecosystem change on social that we’re seeing that I think everyone’s fully becoming aware of coming into this year is there’s a change to the expected tone, look and feel to social communication. And that’s coming from places like Discord, it’s coming from places like TikTok, where overly polished is a bit too much for the user and the expectation is a little bit more casual. And it’s a, we get you’re a brand, but can you take it down a notch? Like you could use the tools of the platform to talk to us. And that is another challenge that I think we’re looking to help with because we’ve been in the space. We’ve been ahead of the challenges figuring out how do we do something that will appeal to this audience but also make a brand feel safe because it is such a large change. And I think now, everyone’s kind of warming to it, slowly but surely. And we’re seeing, I’m seeing produced spots that are much more casual, they look like something that you might have paid an influencer for in the last two years is now bubbling up to being the larger outbound communication.

Tessa Burg: Hmm, that is really interesting. I like what you just said and you hit on sort of the opportunity for brands, which is to be real and to be a little bit more casual and approachable without really losing what makes their brand valuable to their customers. It’s like they’re bringing that value, but in a way that’s a little bit more accessible. That doesn’t mean it needs to be cheap, it doesn’t mean it needs to be dirty. In fact, what it sounds like is it takes just as much planning and intention to engage in Discord as you would any other platform.

Mat Segal: Absolutely.

Tom Madrilejos: Arguably, I mean there’s an extra layer of realtimeness, where people are very impatient and sitting there at a text prompt like, what are you doing, where are you? What’s wrong with this? So like there’s an added element of that as well, which maybe some of the other platforms have, but not all of them to that degree.

Tessa Burg: Hmm. Has anyone used an AI bot to respond on behalf of them or would that be like shamed out of the Discord community?

Tom Madrilejos: Not that I’ve seen. I mean, I think it’s a good, maybe for entertainment purposes, I’m not exactly sure. Like I’ve definitely seen bots that just make jokes and stuff like that when a certain thing is said or like a FAQ style bot that if there’s people coming into the discord and thousands of people are coming in, they’re all asking the same question over and over, so let the bot answer that and the the bot can be cheeky, but I haven’t necessarily seen, I don’t know if AI would be behind it or anything like that.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. Yeah, I think I could see someone asking that ’cause I feel like people who have been using bots for a while know that you should say, if this is a bot, call it a bot, don’t pretend to be human. Just in this year, we’ve seen machine learning AI also become more accessible, and I think it could be a stumbling block that people who get intimidated by this real-time requirement to start thinking because bots are better, they could fake it. Probably still not a good idea. And since a lot of this audience does know about bots and engages with bots, it’s okay to call it a bot. Just say, “This is the bot, this is what it’s doing,” and keep your real people real.

Mat Segal: Yeah, absolutely. And a bot could help flag a moderator for you. If you have a mod team who like going back, users assigned a certain role within Discord and say, I wrote or implemented a bot called Mod Bot. And I think about it like Slack and I’d say, “Hey @modbot, need help with this.” And then a couple things could happen. Mod Bot might reply with, “Thanks for submitting the thing, but we’ve pinged the team.” If your initial message did not contain these things, try again. You could build that methodology with a bot as a tool because they exist on Discords as tools. And they’re handy, when Midjourney first started, it was all based in Discord. You would enter it as Discord prompts, and then it would hit the Midjourney API and feed you back results.

Tessa Burg: Oh, that is fantastic, I love that example. So, we’re almost out of time, so I’m gonna, I have a few key takeaways, and I’d love to get both of your feedback on them. So, there’s three things that I think brands and companies need to start thinking about if they want to enter into the Discord community. One, what I heard from the two of you is they have to be purposeful, and they have to stick to that purpose. So, their community manager needs to be centered on what their audience, not just centered on, but understand what does the audience need, what do they find entertaining, and who do they want to connect with? Like what brought them to this place and is our purpose aligned with that? The second key takeaway I heard from you is being consistent. That real time element can be both a blessing and a curse to a brand. So the blessing is you get to interact with your audience in real time answering, I love the customer service example, being able to address an issue immediately. But you have to still keep it within that brand voice, tone, and purpose of your room. And that can be challenging if you’re trying to manage an always on community. And the third one that I heard was having to be real. That this is your brand coming to life, and being real means knowing who the super users are, listening to them, engaging them, finding opportunities to do other special events that may pull in new people who are like your users, so your community is constantly vibrant and inviting more people who share that purpose. What are your thoughts on that and do you have any other key takeaways that you think the audience should keep in mind as they evaluate Discord for their brand?

Mat Segal: I have zero arguments for those takeaways, I think that’s spot on.

Tessa Burg: Okay.

Mat Segal: And just the one thing to remember is there’s moments of momentum and velocity when you’re building a community, like Tom flagged with those super users. Super users are also your brand evangelists. When the community has a velocity to it, it’s easy to get swept up and have fun. And that just can build and build and build, and maybe not everyone’s gonna be converted from a casual user to a super user, but it’ll happen when you have people interested in a thing. And a thing could be, is going to be far ranging because I think any of us that have any, I don’t even want to call them niche interests, but any interest in a specific thing, whether it be a specific video game to home automotive care, to gardening. Those overlaps of an activity, a hobby, they all have always had a community online. It could even be super niche of like I am into retro VW Beetles. And you’re like, wow, that community’s existed for a very long time and has been niche. And I bet you we could go all the way back, pre-forums and places like Usenet and BBS systems, people, communities were coming together around these interests. It’s an evolution of that except for it’s a wider audience, it’s even more global, it’s even more real time, and it’s just an evolution of what the last 30 years of the internet and people finding, people that like what they like.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, I love that. Tom, do you have anything to add?

Tom Madrilejos: I don’t think it’s a rule, but I think it is more of a suggestion and it’s that if you’re a brand going into this, definitely be open-minded and flexible. There’s a lot of unexpected that can happen, but that’s kind of what we’re embracing now in the new just sort of, as Mat said, like the new wave of how people experience brands and communicate with one another online. So definitely be open-minded and flexible and then be prepared with a community moderator to be both proactive and reactive in the same breath. So proactive, like Mat said, a lot of lifting to get something set up, a lot of pre-thinking, planning, and strategizing about how you want to use this tool. And then having to be reactive in an ongoing basis, stay, participate. I mean yeah, you have to be regularly active and be coming up with new things, ongoingly.

Tessa Burg: Those are great points, I added those to my list as well. So thank you both for being guests. If you’re listening and want to see the transcript to this conversation or hear other episodes from Leader Generation, you can visit the Mod Op website or find us on our LinkedIn page, just search Leader Generation Podcast in LinkedIn and it will come up. Our next conversation, we are going to continue down the discord path, and hear about analytics. So, what can we learn about our community’s behavior, the sentiment in their comments, and how that can measure or help us better understand how well we’re doing at Community Moderation. So, Mat and Tom, thanks so much for being guests today, and look forward to talking more about Discord.

Mat Segal & Tom Madrilejos

Digital Producer & Product Strategist at Mod Op