Since the invention of online video games, there has been a parallel development of voice and text chat clients targeting gamers. Cooperative online play demands effective communication, making a Ventrilo, Mumble or TeamSpeak server a necessity for any guild. As the gaming community has progressed, we have entered the era of Discord.
Like TeamSpeak and Vent before it, Discord provides a way for guildies and teammates to communicate during game play. And like its predecessors, gamers tend to hang out to chat with friends regardless of game-playing status. The modern equivalent to a clubhouse where you know you might meet a friend or two, established servers offer a place for people to connect, chat and play games together no matter where they are in the world.
Here’s where Discord is different from its predecessors: While TeamSpeak 3, Ventrilo and Mumble — the three most popular voice chat clients before Discord hit the scene — all share a decidedly ugly interface, Discord is utterly intuitive and even , dare I say , pretty. Discord’s more user-friendly interface is paired with a more robust text chat service, featuring everything from link embeds and emoji reactions to integrated Giphy search.
These two factors don’t just make Discord more appealing to gamers; they also make it more accessible to those outside of the gaming community. Discord may have been built by gamers for gamers, but it has the potential to provide space for all sorts of communities to hang out and connect. In an era dominated by absentee friendship built on empty likes and shares, Discord makes room authentic discussion.
For the YouTube creator — gaming-focused or otherwise — Discord can be a great way to build a stronger community around your content. With Discord, you can reach your most engaged fans directly, and more exciting, those fans can connect and engage with each other, as well. More than a means to boosting watch time, these connections are the fabric of a lasting community that can provide real friendship and support to its members.
How to Get Started
Discord already provides extensive support guides, so this article will not provide detailed instruction into the technical aspects of joining Discord and setting up a server. Instead, we’ll be looking at the more philosophical questions of role management and channel organization (and how to make sure your server has all the coolest emojis).
But before any of that, you’ll have to decide why you want to create a community using Discord in the first place. Why do you want to connect with viewers in this way and what kinds of discussions do you want to take place on your server? Is your server a place for subscribers to casually hang out or do you want to create a more structured support network with specific community goals and expectations?
On a more practical note, you’ll also have to give your server a name and an icon. For YouTube creators, this should be easy; you already have a name and profile pic picked out, and there’s no reason you can’t reuse them for your Discord community. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to get creative. Your Discord community will be connected to your YouTube channel, but their purposes are not exactly the same and you may decide you want your Discord server name or icon to reflect that difference.
Once you’re server has been established, it’s time to start making channels — those are your different voice and text chat rooms — and organizing them into categories. Here’s where your server will really start to take shape.
If we go back to the clubhouse analogy, the different channels are like different rooms within that clubhouse. Is your clubhouse a huge mansion with dozens of ornate rooms all built for a specific purpose, or is it more like a tree-house in someone’s backyard? Both have their charms, of course. How you structure your server depends on how you want people to use and inhabit that space.
Most servers will include some kind of general text chat channel and you may also want specific channels for server information, community news or event announcements. Keeping this kind of important info separate from busier text channels ensures it will always be easy for members to find.
Depending on the size of your community, you may also need separate voice and text channels for different types of discussions. Think again about your goals for your Discord community and decide how you can structure your server to best facilitate reaching them. If your YouTube channel features mostly drawing tutorials, for instance, your goal might be to have your subscribers share projects they make in response to your videos. In that case, you could make an art-share channel where people can post and comment on drawings from the community. The same server might also have an art-appreciation channel, where members can discuss their favorite artists and what makes them so great. You can define the purpose of each channel in the channel description so people know what’s appropriate to post in any given channel.
The kinds of discussion you want to encourage will vary based on your YouTube channel, but the idea here is to make space for all of the different conversations that might take place without going overboard dividing topics into smaller and smaller slices. If a channel sees very little use after your server has grown up a bit, consider restructuring your server to eliminate that channel or merge similar channels together so they remain active. You won’t want to shuffle things around too frequently, but there will be growing pains that need to be addressed as your community gets established.
You’ll also want at least one voice channel. The most common setup is to have one general voice chat channel with a few less-used channels for specific activities, or for when members just want to have a quieter conversation than the one happening in the main channel.
Once all of your text and voice chat channels are established, organize them using categories. This allows server members to collapse whole sections they don’t find relevant and generally keeps your server feeling clean and organized.
With your text and voice channels set up, it’s time to determine how different community members can interact with them. You can do this by creating roles, then assigning permissions to those roles on a server-wide or per channel basis.
Discord uses a linear role hierarchy system. When a user is assigned a role or roles, they will receive all of the permissions allowed by those roles as well as the permissions of the roles below it on the roles list, including the permissions of the default @everyone role. Therefore, it does actually matter how you order roles on the list. These roles establish server-wide permissions for each user, but you can use channel-specific permissions for even more control over which roles can chat in which channels. You can also edit permissions for all channels in a category at once, streamlining the management process a bit. This gets deep, so if you’re new to Discord, start simple and make adjustments as necessary.
There are three reasons to spend time creating a hierarchy of roles for your server. The first is general server maintenance and moderation. The second is to recognize member contributions to the community. The third is to have the ability notify specific groups of people through mentions.
Just like on YouTube, it’s possible that nasty comments or unwanted content will at some point make it into your Discord server. It takes a bit more dedication to troll a Discord community than it does a YouTube comments section, but not much more. That’s where a member role comes in handy. The name for this role might vary based on server theme, but the function is the same: a member role separates the randoms who stumbled in via a public invite link from those who actually want to participate in community discussions. It’s not a bad idea to make your member role a prerequisite for sending messages, at least in certain channels. You can also limit image uploads and link embeds while allowing regaular text. If you’re especially protective, you can even block non-members from seeing certain channels altogether.
Depending on the size of your community, you may also want to establish at least one moderator role besides your default Owner role, which bypasses all role specific permissions. Assign roles to your moderators depending on how much control you want them to have — you might give a junior moderator only kick and mute privileges, but a senior mod may have the power to permanently ban people. At the top of the list, the administrator permission is an especially powerful one to grant. It allows members with that role to do nearly everything the server owner can. Only give this permission to your most trusted inner circle of moderators.
Aside from moderation, you can use roles to establish different membership tiers and vanity roles. The role hierarchy system also extends to role colors — the top most role color will displayed in chat and in the member list. Assigning special roles with identifying colors can be a fun way to recognize members of the community. Patreon donors, for instance, might get a special Patron role that makes usernames with that role show up, let’s say, bright pink. Now, anyone with that pink name will be immediately recognized as a Patron — and treated with the appropriate respect. You can also use the role to give Patrons access to private text and voice channels to make their contributions even more rewarding.
Finally, roles can be used to group together people with similar interests for easier communication. In the same way you can mention individual users using @username and all server members using @everyone, Discord allows you to use mentions to send notifications to all members of a particular role. If you’re a gaming personality active on multiple gamers, you might want to add a RustFam role, for instance, to easily notify your Rust-playing fans when a new video is up, or you could use a BattleBuddy role to get members who are interested in Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds pumped for your next PUBG stream.
Roles and channels form the core structure of your community. You can make them as simple or as elaborate as you want, but make sure they facilitate the community you’re trying to develop — in other words, use roles and channels to construct the kind of clubhouse you and your subscribers want to hang out in.
With your clubhouse built, it’s time to spruce up the decor. Discord allows you to upload PNG files to use as emojis throughout your server. Members can then use the emojis in text channels and as reactions — an excellent opportunity to perpetuate inside jokes within the community to bring members closer together. You can also add bots to your server to perform a variety of functions. Music bots like Rhythm are especially popular, but there are a number of server management bots and game-playing bots that can help with administrative tasks or just keep your members active and entertained. Both custom emojis and bots are optional, especially at the beginning of your server’s life, and it’s likely you will collect more of both over time.
By now, you should feel satisfied with the basic structure of the server. Some settings will likely change as your community grows, so be prepared to make adjustments. However, you won’t know what needs tweaking until people start using the spaces you’ve created. It’s time to create an invite link and share it with your fans.
Invite links are created on a per channel basis, so choose which channel you want new users to see first and create your invite link there. You can set the link to never expire for a permanent, reusable invite link, or do let your invite links expire for more control over when new members join. The expiration period is adjustable from 30 minute up to a full day.
You know your audience best, so promote your Discord server in a way they will respond to. You might include the invite link in your video descriptions and remind viewers to join you there for deeper discussions. You can also share the link on other social media platforms where you viewers hang out. The new Community tab is another way to get the word out to fans.
However you get new members to join, keep the community active by regularly contributing to discussions, encouraging conversations between members and moderating as necessary. Running a Discord server can be a lot of work, but the benefits for certain creators can be huge. The clubhouse you build will do more than encourage viewer loyalty; it will be capable of fostering real friendships.
If you’re looking for a way to connect directly with fans and form a strong community around your content, Discord is it.