By Marc Bain for Business of Fashion
As they rush to launch Discord servers, more fashion brands are learning managing a community and keeping it safe from hacks is no small task.
- Discord allows fans of a brand to congregate and talk among themselves as well as with the brand, making it a preferred community hub for web3 projects.
- The platform has been frequently targeted by scams and hacks, while the job of managing a community and keeping it safe can be difficult.
- To be successful on the platform, brands need to communicate frequently with users, which can mean hiring moderators and having a content strategy.
One of the first things new members of Discord channels devoted to fashion’s web3 projects learn is to disable direct messaging.
Otherwise, within minutes they can start to receive at least one — and often many more — messages containing links that claim to offer access to a brand’s latest NFT drop, or perhaps some other exciting new crypto project that’s about to sell out. These are scams; the links give criminals access to the user’s crypto wallet.
Brands are eager to establish themselves on Discord, a chat platform that first gained popularity among gamers but has become the preferred community hub for NFT projects, as well as a popular space for streetwear and sneaker groups. Companies including Adidas, Gucci, Prada, Kenzo and Puma have set up spaces on the platform, where they keep members informed about their NFT projects, events, products and perks.
But keeping spammers in check isn’t the only hurdle brands face. Hackers have targeted brand servers, too. And there are more mundane issues, like the steep learning curve for new users to even access servers on the platform, and coming up with the right mix of content and free stuff to keep those users coming back. If a community does form, brands must figure out how to moderate all the conversations happening on their channels.
It’s worth the trouble, if you get it right. Fostering community is a vital element of successful NFT projects, and Discord’s appeal is that it offers a space for members to gather and interact with each other and the brand directly. It also has a flexible architecture that allows a brand to set up different channels within a server, or add features like gated access or third-party apps.
“It’s the worst community tool, except for every other community tool,” said Ian McMillan, chief growth officer at web3 platform Mojito. Its greatest advantage over social platforms like Twitter, he said, is that it makes it easy for members to talk among themselves and not just direct public comments at the brand.
But when a brand plays host to a community, it also becomes responsible for managing it and keeping it safe. That can be a difficult task, as brands such as Adidas have learned.
“I see community as one of the pillars of the web3 strategy — probably the most important one,” said Erika Wykes-Sneyd, co-founder of Adidas’ web3 studio. “Discord is a really important channel for us to be able to have that unfiltered conversation with the community. But Discord has its own challenges. It’s not perfect.”
Adidas’ Discord server, established in January of this year, has nearly 60,000 members from around the world. The company has a team of seven full-time moderators who work to answer questions and make sure users aren’t violating rules, like posting hate speech.
It’s a demanding job. Adidas’ server is focused on its “Into the Metaverse” NFTs, which at launch cost about $800 before rising in price and even after the dip in the crypto market still trade for around $700. That means many of those in the Discord have a financial stake in the project. When Adidas hasn’t moved as quickly as they would like to provide updates or has been slow to deliver products it promised to NFT holders because its supply chain was backed up, the brand has received backlash. As on other channels like Twitter or Instagram, a vocal minority that’s angry and loud can quickly sway sentiment.
“We’ve learned a lot along this path,” Wykes-Sneyd said. “You don’t want to hype up your projects because then it could create this false expectation in the community, and what you really want to do is launch things in co-creation with them and have this ongoing communication.”
She added that Adidas has generally tried to “overcommunicate,” and she herself will at times jump into the server to help. In the main chat on the server on a recent day, users talked to each other about an attempted scam targeting members and tips on staying safe, shared their confidence in the long-term future of Adidas’ NFT project and cracked jokes.
Brands can run into trouble if they fall silent, especially when things go wrong. Earlier this year, RTFKT, the Nike-owned virtual fashion and NFT label, experienced technical glitches with a product release that left users waiting for hours. The lack of information from moderators became a point of grievance in itself for some.
For brands used to tightly controlling their communications, keeping up their side of the conversation is easier said than done. Before joining Mojito, McMillan spent years at Nike, where he said copy for social media could go through layers of scrutiny and approval before going live. On Discord, he pointed out, brands don’t have that luxury. Moderators may need to respond in real-time to questions or complaints. It can make the platform easier to use at times for smaller brands, though to keep engagement up, brands also need to provide a steady supply of content, which can take resources.
“The best Discords have a very high level of investment from the brand to create and share new content,” McMillan said. “It’s a channel they’re constantly programming, and you get what you put into it.”
Some brands turn to third-party agencies to help them do the initial set up and ongoing management of their Discord servers, but that help comes at a cost: their services can run thousands of dollars each month, according to McMillan.
One of the biggest concerns for all parties is safety. Hackers have managed to get into the Discord servers of some of the biggest names in web3. After an attack on Bored Ape Yacht Club’s server, one of the group’s co-founders slammed Discord publicly.
Adidas has been lucky so far, but it’s always on guard, which takes work.
“A huge portion of our time is spent creating tools inside Discord to prevent us from getting hacked,” Wykes-Sneyd said.
Will Discord Remain Web3′s Community Hub?
In a statement, a spokesperson for Discord said it is always working to fight fraudulent behaviour and continues to invest in education and tools to protect its users. It’s also committed to making Discord easier to use. Recently it launched a feature that makes it easier to hold focussed discussions, instead of having a dozen different conversations between members going on in the flow of a single chat.
One advantage it may have is its popularity with Gen-Z. During the pandemic, it increasingly became a space where people would go to hang out. Recently, in a survey by Morning Consult, it ranked second among the brands most favoured by Gen-Z compared to the general public in the US, behind only TikTok.
Its prominent role in web3 circles has helped to keep brands flocking to the platform. McMillan noted that most of the brands coming to Mojito in the past year have expressed some interest in creating a Discord, though the frequency has started to slow. He tends to give them a warning:
“You’re creating a new mouth to feed,” he said. “You’re creating a channel that needs constant management, updating and moderation. You’re creating a new cost for yourself. And unless you really invest, you’re not going to see a return on that investment.”
For now, many brands still see it as the best option for hosting a community — at least until something better comes along. Another group-chat app, Geneva, has been gaining traction recently, for instance.
“I think that [Discord] will continue to be the model for the near term,” said Brian Trunzo, the metaverse lead for the Polygon blockchain. “I think in the mid-to-long term, new communication media will emerge. I don’t think Discord will be the place for brand activity.”