How Word of Mouth Marketing Grew Discord to 250M Users
This excellent guestpost on Discord was shared via Process Street.
Slack and Skype are examples of popular platforms that allow for casual and professional conversation through text, video, and voice that is extremely popular B2B. But if we're talking about P2P or a social platform, there's another player in town that increasingly popular with gamers: Discord.
It's a free chat app originally designed for gamers to connect, both when they're playing games and when they're not.
"It's almost like those poker games that your grandparents played - they'll organize something on a Saturday, sit around a table, and talk about everything - including the game they're playing. Modern gamers to that as well - they just happen to do it from their living rooms, or in front of their computers." - Eros Resmini - Discord CMO
Since its launch in 2015, Discord has been growing explosively - with over 14 million active daily users, which is more than Slack which has just 10 million daily active users. In May 2019, Discord reached over 250 million users.
Discord emerged as an answer to the need for better tools to facilitate communication between gamers. As an all-in-one voice-video-text chat app, Discord was a welcome replacement to the outdated mishmash of solutions on offer to gamers at the time, like TeamSpeak, Curse, and even WhatsApp, that failed to adequately cater to the video game market.
More recently, Discord has been breaking into the business team communication space, competing effectively against services like Slack and Skype.
In this article, I'll take a look at how and why Discord was so successful, including the importance of factors like word-of-mouth marketing on their explosive organic growth.
This infographic comes from 2017 - Discord hit 250M users in May 2019
A Brief History of Discord
CEO Jason Citron was no stranger to success when he founded Discord back in 2015 - he had already co-created and successfully sold OpenFeint, a mobile social gaming platform for $100 million in 2011.
Before that, he was the founder of Hammer & Chisel, a game development studio.
Before Discord officially launched, Jason was working on a free-to-play iPad game called Fates Forever.
During development, he was getting frustrated with the inadequacies of existing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) solutions. Discord was his answer to those inadequacies.
Jason worked on the first version of Discord as an internal voice and text messaging service for his team as they worked to complete development of Fates Forever.
Eventually, when Fates Forever shipped and monetization efforts failed, they decided to persist with Discord development.
They marketed Discord as a free voice and text chat application for gamers who wanted to talk with their team during games.
Lo and behold, their gamble paid off and the rest is history.
Today, discord is the world's most popular text and voice chat app for gamers, and it's still growing.
To facilitate such growth, discord has partnered with huge brands like Esports, Spotify, and Microsoft to boost its reach.
But before these huge sponsorships, Discord was already thriving. How did it gain that initial momentum, and what was the catalyst for Discord's early growth?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is word-of-mouth marketing.
Discord came at a time when there just wasn't any single product that provided gamers with a complete package of streamlined, seamless text and voice chat.
The fact is, Discord was:
- Easy to set up and use
- Small footprint (didn't hog storage space)
It was just an all-round good solution. This polished offering combined with the community-based behavior of its primary user base resulted in the perfect recipe for organic growth via word-of-mouth marketing.
People loved Discord's offering in no small part because of how Discord was built.
So, let's briefly draw back the curtain to examine the tech stack that keeps Discord running so smoothly.
Stack Attack: Discord's Secret Weapon
Discord's main appeal, in terms of how it works, rests on these core factors:
- It can easily handle thousands of server communications without breaking.
- It works seamlessly across web, phone, and standalone application.
Discord is fast. Its competitors aren't. Compared to sluggish, antiquated offerings like Skype, Discord is brisk and low-latency.
By choosing to implement a standard like WebRTC to implement audio and video features, Discord can work seamlessly across multiple different platforms.
Discord's backend was designed with scalability in mind, with built-in Webhooks, and robust API architecture for servers (channels), voice, and text communication.
Another feature is Discord's decidedly bot-friendly API.
Bots play a huge role in many Discord servers, and this functionality has been critical for the rise in Discord's popularity.
The decision to focus on such a bot-friendly architecture also actively recognized that the majority of Discord's early users were tech-savvy, and the prospect of such an integrated feature helped to drive early word-of-mouth growth. People like to play with bots, and Discord recognized that.
They also play functional roles in Discord's ecosystem, with bots providing useful help resources, to bots performing admin and moderator roles, to more comedic offerings like Dankmemer bot (no points for guessing what it does).
This turned Discord into a kind of sandbox environment that stirred up excitement and enthusiasm for the platform.
Without a doubt, a large part of Discord's success can be attributed to its tech stack.
How Did Discord Build Explosive Marketing Growth?
“They don’t market in traditional ways like buying ads and user acquisition models. Instead, the team here is focused on listening to the needs of the players and communities and delivering on that. Things like 24/7 customer service, open communication between the dev team and the Discord community and a strong focus on making Discord easy to use have helped us to grow incredibly fast in a very short period of time." - Andy Swanson, a launch member of the Twitch Media Group.
Avoiding typical marketing techniques like ads and user acquisition strategies, the Discord team focused on organic growth, but how exactly did they manage to kick things into overdrive?
Let's take a look.
1. Zero Friction
Discord is good at what it does. It's fast to load, messages are sent instantaneously, and there's little-to-no latency when you're communicating over voice chat.
This seamlessness, facilitated by Discord's tech stack, means that the friction between the user and the decision to adopt is all but completely removed.
It's also easy to use, and pretty much anyone can jump in and create their own servers with little-to-no training.
Discord was successful in addressing these pain points where so many competitors like TeamSpeak and Skype failed.
2. Understanding and Serving Their Target Customers - Gamers
From day one, Discord understood its target audience, largely because the people building it were the target audience.
Capitalizing on this, and driving the point home, Discord has continued to acknowledge and appeal to a particular user profile: young, imaginative, tech-savvy gamers.
By building features like server customization and organization, deep bot integration, and custom emoji support, discord paved the way to an irresistible offering.
3. Partner Up!
Word-of-mouth may have got the ball rolling, but after a while Discord recognized the need to up-scale their growth strategy.
By partnering with huge brands like Twitch, a video game streaming service, they were able to gain more visibility and boost their growth even further.
Fortnite, one of the most played games on the planet, also partnered with Discord to help them significantly grow their number of daily active users in 2017.
This follows Slack's dedicated strategy to grow via API integrations. Not only does the integration become a plus-point for users considering signing up, but integrations also help the app become sticky and improve retention rates.
4. The Community Has Spoken (On Voice Chat)
From the start, Discord was designed to be community-focused. That was by necessity - it was, after all, a team-based voice chat app.
Recognizing the basic human desire to feel "part of a community", Discord was able to cultivate and grow huge communities of users inside of its servers by listening to feedback and quickly implementing changes.
Demands like better, more integrated bot support were quickly rolled out, and communities felt like Discord devs were listening to their feedback.
Quick, small, incremental changes like this summed up to a larger momentum that resulted in accelerated organic growth. It has been called the Facebook of gaming.
5. People Like Free Stuff - And Would Pay for Emojis
Discord had a vastly superior offering to its competitors. It was, until recently, completely free.
Quite unsurprisingly, the fact that Discord's highly polished, free service was emerging as an alternative to inferior (often paid!) solutions meant people were immediately interested in it. And the free service allows for so much - creating surveys, having chats, voice comms and so on.
Since launching, Discord has introduced multiple subscription-based plans (Nitro and Nitro Classic) - but only for additional bells and whistles (and with monetization as a games platform). Its core features are still free. The free users help to build the community and people for the premium, paying users and subscribers to interact with: a perfect execution of the freemium plan.
Discord Invites Make An Awesome Viral Referral Program
Most Discord users don't sign up through the website - instead, they're often sent an invite link that looks like:
Discord allows any user to send invites to servers, which work whether you have an account or not - and it prompts you to create an account if you don't ("What should everyone call you?").
This 'referral program' is baked in to the Discord experience, and helps to grow Discord's userbase. Not only is it a perfect example of social currency marketing, but it works. In 2018 Discord boasted 750 official servers, with 180,000 members on the Fortnite discord. Much like Facebook or PayPal, Discord makes use of the network effect: the more users using it, the more valuable the tool becomes.
Discord vs Slack: More than just a chat app
As Discord has grown, users have found application outside of the original intended use as a text and voice chat app exclusively for gamers.
This has happened organically, with communities for art, music, social, and creative writing, emerging and flourishing.
Professional teams have also seen Discord fit for business communication as well, posing an active threat to existing team communication software services.
The biggest example, Slack, which is arguably synonymous with "team communication app", has already lost users to Discord. We put together a point-by-point comparison of the two companies:
- Slack - Only the most recent 10,000 messages, with a 5GB storage limit
- Discord - Unlimited file and message history, with a 5GB storage limit
- Active Users
- Slack - 10M+ daily active users
- Discord - 20M+ daily active users
- Unique Users
- Slack - 95,000+ (paid) unique users (by Apr 2019)
- Discord - 250M+ unique users
- Weekly Usage
- Slack - Over 1 billion messages sent weekly
- Discord - At least double that, with over 2.2 billion messages weekly
- Pricing and Features
- Slack - Starts at $6.67 per person per month for most basic functionality, when billed yearly ($8 if per month). Slack does offer a free plan, but most companies & opr
- Discord - Discord's core functionality is free (and they have pledged that this core functionality will always be free)
- Slack - 1,000+ employees, according to Wikipedia
- Discord - Just 108 employees, according to Wikipedia
- Slack - Despite having over 95,000 paying organisations, 575 of which pay more than $100,000 annually,
- Slack is losing $140M per year.
- Discord - Similarly venture-funded, Discord's revenue model is still a work in progress. Discord makes money from its subscription plans, revenue from game referrals, and the emergence of the integrated game store, but the path to profitability is murky - they recently axed their gaming subscription bundle because few gamers actually played them
For now, it's clear that both companies have set up different directions and trajectories, so competition won't happen yet. (It's also likely that users use both for different reasons).
Do It Like Discord: 5 Key Tips
1. Really, Really Pay Attention To Your Target Audience
Discord has proven time and again that they truly understand their audience. They have out-gunned their competition by understanding and delivering on their target audience's pain points.
There are many alternatives to discord (Skype, TeamSpeak, and Ventrilo to name a few) but all of them have shortcomings in one way or another. Discord combines the best of all of them and has continued to build on this strong foundation by keeping a close eye on their primary target audience.
2. Be Agile: Rapidly Implement On-The-Pulse Community Feedback
They started by offering a solid solution where there wasn't one - but they haven't stopped innovating.
This, in part, is due to their ability to be agile in how they listen to and respond to community feedback.
Discord listens to its users. It implements changes and features that the community asks for, and it does it fast. Plain and simple.
This keeps their user base energized, highly satisfied, and also breeds evangelism.
3. Leverage The Right Partnerships
Discord succeeded in breaking into a completely new market after they saw an opportunity to provide value to the gamer community. Their initial growth was fueled by word-of-mouth marketing.
They also realized the importance of utilizing partnerships in their growth strategy.
By partnering up with several huge brands that were highly relevant to their offering (as well as their target audience) they were able to compound that growth and reach soaring new heights.
4. Nurture Your Community
Discord took the concept of a shared communication space one step beyond a simple text and voice chat interface.
By providing the community with the tools they needed to build their own spaces, it facilitated a sense of community membership and belonging.
Users essentially built this infrastructure themselves. Discord just gave them the tools, recognizing the power of a community-driven platform.
This allowed Discord to drive huge user acquisition numbers, based on the groundwork the community had already laid for them.
5. Streamline Product Adoption and Onboarding
Discord is free. It's easy to use. It has a very small footprint.
All of these features greatly streamline product adoption, and was one of the reasons why Discord was able to crush all competition in its niche.
This also ties into principles of good user onboarding. If you have a solid user onboarding process, you're one step closer to streamlined product adoption.
It's clear that the Discord team understood the process for onboarding new users. You could achieve similar success by using Process Street to simplify and automate that process. There's even a whole bunch of custom-made onboarding templates to make it easier for you. It's also free to sign up.
Anyway, don't over-complicate things for new users. Understand what your customers want from your product or service, and then figure out how to give that to them as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Discord: It Just Works
Discord's explosive growth can be attributed to a number of factors, including a keen understanding of what gamers wanted (and what competition was acutely lacking), a highly community-focused approach, and the word-of-mouth ripple-effect that ensued.