How Discord aids brands’ quest to engage fans around ’emergent culture’


Chipotle, Hot Topic and Jack in the Box are among the marketers that have established a foothold on the group chat platform.

The profusion of social media apps continually pushes marketers to seek the latest usage trends amid their quest to engage consumers with their brands. Chat app Discord in the past year surged in popularity as people sought ways to meet with friends online. The platform doubles as a social-listening tool for brands like Chipotle, Hot Topic and Jack in the Box, and its ad-free format calls for a less intrusive approach for marketers interacting with users.

“Discord’s fast-paced nature makes it fertile ground for emergent culture and trends, and allows brands the opportunity to constantly engage with consumers on interesting topics,” Jesse Nicely, vice president and group strategy director at Cashmere Agency, said by email. “At the same time, users can curate more intimate spaces for themselves and their friends, while also scaling to larger communities, if desired.”

Discord lets people have live conversations by voice, video and text, both in private chats and groups called servers that are mostly invite-only. As a sign of growing interest in this kind of community-building, video game company Roblox this week bought Guilded, a Discord competitor that’s focused on competitive gaming, for an undisclosed sum.

While Discord’s roots are in communities of gamers, the platform’s users also create servers to talk about other topics with people who share interests. Marketers can create a place to interact directly with their most loyal customers by overseeing their own branded communities on Discord.

“Brands can authentically engage with consumers on Discord by leveraging what is already appealing about Discord to consumers — forming relationships around common interests and having discussions in real time,” Nicely said. “It also helps to have specific perks or surprises for the consumer that are exclusive and unique to Discord.”

Instead of selling advertising, Discord makes money from subscriptions to its Nitro service. For $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year, Nitro members receive perks like bigger file uploads, special emoji and better video quality.

‘Discord Feels Different’

Marketers that have established a foothold on Discord include New Era Cap, the company that makes the official headwear for the NFL, NBA and MLB. Its server is a place for fans of its products to show off their collections of licensed gear and to talk about sports.

Because Discord provides a forum for interactions in real time, it’s well suited for virtual events. Fashion retailer AllSaints in May hosted a Q&A with its lead menswear designer and offered an inside look at how its styles had changed over the years.

Community engagement on Discord has a variety of other applications, as seen with Chipotle’s virtual job fair on the platform. After announcing it would raise its average hourly wage to $15 an hour and hire 20,000 people, the fast-casual chain received about 24,000 applicants in a week. Its content included sessions with employees who explained worker benefits and career paths, Business Insider reported.

“Discord feels different from other social media platforms in the way its functionality and structure enables a channel to build highly engaged communities, while simultaneously allowing users to maintain a level of intimacy and anonymity,” Nicely said.

Nicely pointed to teen retailer Hot Topic as a brand that created a Discord server to appeal to fans of anime, the style of animation that originated in Japan. Hot Topic launched its Anime & Beyond Discord Server ahead of last month’s Anime Expo conference in Los Angeles.

“While Discord is moving beyond gaming roots, brands that have equity with specific fandoms still have a bit of an edge,” Nicely said. “Hot Topic has used [its]retail and online presence to continually show up and support the anime community.”

Cashmere helped fast food chain Jack in the Box to engage fans of San Diego Comic-Con, the annual comic book festival that last month was virtual for the second straight year. The “Jack’s Late Night Discord” event featured a virtual concert with superhero-themed band The Aquabats. It also included interactive channels focused on Funko Pop figures, the Marvel Cinematic and DC Universes, a product “leak” and an auction for a nonfungible token (NFT).

“We knew gaming and comic book fans were on Discord and that the platform is made up of communities focused on shared interests and activities, so we ensured it was a core aspect of ‘Jack’s Late Night Discord,'” Nicely said. “We created chat rooms and events that were personalized and resonated well with both our audience and the Comic-Con crowd.”

The event saw 7,664 members in two days, with 100% of Jack in the Box’s Discord community active on its server, he said.

“Discord represents a shift in what we see as ‘normal’ social media platforms. The people really create an intimate community to discuss and be a part of something specific, and not just focus on growing their specific followers,” Nicely said. “The instant messenger aspect of the platform has a strong allure because it is a way for brands to really foster deeper connections and speak with people directly.”

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