Discord shows how good copywriting keeps engaged audiences loyal

What can we learn from gaming chat platform Discord as it scales to a wider audience?

As someone who writes, and who has worked in communications for a long time, I appreciate a brand that uses their copy imaginatively. I don’t mean going out of the way for the sake of being different. The approach I love best is when a brand can harness natural communication in a fresh way, commanding your attention effortlessly. Copy that resonates with audiences is doing a hell of a job. It takes imagination and effort to do this in a way that doesn’t feel contrived.

That’s why it’s hard not to be enamoured with Discord, a chat client or ‘community platform’ that has been popular with gamers for years. The way Discord communicates with its users leaves me smiling, and it might be a trifle of a thing, but it’s this sort of detail that makes me a fan of a brand. I can’t be alone. Humans are naturally attracted to people (or things) that make them laugh, in fact, it’s pretty much a guarantee for social success. So it’s not a surprise that it works on a platform created specifically to chat.

Whilst Discord has always been used in diverse ways, gamers still seem to be its biggest pool of users. However, in March 2020 it dropped its tagline “Chat for Gamers” and since then it’s been “Chat for Communities and Friends.” All kinds of groups are now flocking to the platform to talk via video, text or voice chat. It has specific spaces for campus communities, and with an open source ethos at its heart, it also has a specific platform geared towards engineers for their open source projects.

Copy that keeps users informed, engaged and on board

In June 2020 the platform announced that it was its users that asked for the service to be expanded beyond the gaming community, and that it was now becoming a tool for “day to day communication.” Then at the start of this year Discord released a statement to its users detailing how it blew up in 2020:

“Happy New Year <3 This year hasn’t been easy, and many of you connected with your friends on Discord to hangout and find an escape. In fact, you spent 23 billion hours in voice, sent 656 billion messages, and created 117 million new servers. And you shared all the amazing new things you did while hanging out in voice: things that we’ve never seen before like hosting classes, concerts, and even getting married!!!”

Its expansion makes so much sense – not just at a time of social distance and the need to rely on digital spaces more, though that’s definitely one of the reasons. But also because a whole generation of gamers who have been using Discord through their teens have moved onto university, moved out of the family home or are now in the world of work. They grew up, and like any sensible business the platform is adapting with its original users and becoming relevant beyond their gaming lives.

Whilst Discord is now pitching itself to a more cosy crowd with ‘topic based’ interests, yoga and cooking groups, making its “built-in jokes and references less specific to gaming”, it has retained its personality through clever use of copy, communicating its brand personality with a style that is highly engaging and elicits laughs, even for mundane things.

It’s easy to take for granted, but it does create a sense of warmth and relies heavily on humour – important for a platform whose roots are based in community. So it’s not just useful, it’s joyful.

Like when adding a new person to a chat, and Discord telling him that he should have brought pizza:

(Picture shows an excerpt from a Discord chat saying: “Welcome Ben Cooper. We hope you bought Pizza.”)

Discord’s playful and random messages make the mundane day to day things an event, and it has more than just pizza up its sleeve. “Glad you’re here,” or “Everyone say hi to..” are the standard, but every now and then you’ll get a random “A wild Tilly Farrands just joined the chat.” (That was my favourite).

It’s just darn playful:

Image shows an unsuccessful search result within Discord, with the return message showing a picture of a banana stating “No results found, empathy banana is here for you.”

The Discord Wiki reliably informs me that the empathy banana result is not an everyday occurrence and is completely random. Sometimes the search result will also randomly show a broken magnifying glass instead of its usual magnifying vector. I now feel special having got that result, and I am very happy that I had the good sense to screenshot it when it happened.

Copy you can’t ignore

Discord successfully engages its existing audience by using copy to command the attention of the user – it’s very hard to overlook messages from the platform.

In an update on 21st December, the platform posted a message about its latest features and enhancements entitled ‘What’s New? Discord big time real science lab innovations’.

The post, among other things, stated: “By mixing 10ml of quoting with 5ml of mentions and centrifuging the quantum-something, we completed our boldest experiment yet. Right click a message and hit reply to directly respond to someone in a text channel. Replies let you break up the noise in any channel and keep your conversation flowing.”

What this playful copy ensures is that its users feel part of an ongoing joke. They don’t want to ignore the messages (I don’t want to!) Aside from that, it was shared with an engaging inventive video that I watched about fives times before closing the update. It’s these small details that keeps Discord fun and true to its gaming roots.

 

Further growth for Discord?

December’s update also featured a video for people to share with family and friends who might struggle to use Discord, which is a telling glimpse into its future. We already know that Discord has expanded into the university space, and I think it’s only a matter of time before not-for-profits and charities pick it up for both internal communication, and project based causes – could be especially useful for collaborative campaigns where representatives from different organisations are involved.

A quick search suggests they are on the way, and in fact gamers are already using Discord to fundraise for good causes. It’s probably only a matter of time before the corporate world at large follows suit and I am reliably informed by a friend of mine that it was raised in their work meeting recently as a potential chat client. Slack had better watch their backs.

If you’ve never used Slack or any other chat app for work and are unsure what the benefits are – well it’s this: it’s completely replaced internal email in many companies. Email is increasingly a client focussed communication tool, and internally, only used for official communications. That means no more one line emails filling up your inbox, unfiled documents are harder to lose and passing but important communications are centralised.

In a chat client like Slack – or Discord – the dedicated channels for your projects have all the conversations take place there instead. That way all the internal communication on your projects are in one place, not strands of emails (a nightmare if someone is on leave), and you can pin your important messages and documents in the chat, so they are easy to find and search. You can even have video and voice calls within the app.

The WFH situation saw Slack use surge by 25% in the early part of 2020, and that’s pretty much why Discord has grown beyond its target market in the last year too. Whilst the channels are currently pitched towards different markets, one community focussed, the other for business, Discord currently being an open source platform is free. Slack has a free version, and its pricing is competitive but it has its limitations – the free version will not allow you to search back through old messages limitlessly.

I can’t help feel that it’s only a matter of time before Discord gains ground in this space. At the moment choosing Discord over Slack means foregoing the handy plugins of Slack and integrations carried by Slack, but again I think eventually it will, and a good development team can be pretty creative in addressing those solutions. Discord does offer an upgrade through Discord Nitro, which is meant to enhance user experience allowing bigger file uploads (and most importantly, emoji upgrades). And it has promised further innovation this year.

It will be interesting to see how it navigates its potential expansion into the corporate world, balancing the relationship it has with its gaming and tech communities. That potentially means a good deal of mums and dads joining the platform, bad news for teen gamers maybe, and we all know the youth pretty much jumped ship when that happened with Facebook.

Personally I hope Discord continues to be the useful (and quirky) space for its original audience and successfully grows its corporate use. Let’s see what 2021 brings.

 

Written by Jade Zienkiewicz, Content and Services Director at Phlashweb.

She is a copywriter and communications professional with a background in the creative industries and digital content.

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