Discord Advertising: How to Reach Engaged Communities on the Rising Chat Platform

What started as a niche chat app for gamers has quickly risen to become one of the most popular social platforms, especially among Gen Z audiences. With over 150 million monthly active users and 19 million active servers, Discord presents a unique opportunity for brands to reach highly engaged audiences and interest-based communities.

While Discord advertising is still a relatively new concept, more and more brands are experimenting with the platform as a way to connect with elusive younger audiences and drive community engagement. In this guide, we‘ll break down everything you need to know about the state of advertising on Discord today – including key stats, current ad options, best practices, and limitations to be aware of.

Discord‘s Rapid Growth and Expanding Use Cases

Launched in 2015, Discord has seen explosive user growth in recent years:

Year Monthly Active Users
2017 10 million
2018 45 million
2019 56 million
2020 100 million
2021 150 million

This growth has been fueled by several factors, including the rise of esports/gaming, the COVID-19 pandemic driving more online socialization, and an expanding array of communities and use cases on the platform.

While gaming still accounts for a large share of activity on Discord, the platform has increasingly become a home for all types of interest-based communities. From anime and art to finance and investing, there are now Discord servers for nearly every niche imaginable.

For example, here‘s a look at some of the largest and most active servers on Discord currently:

Server Name Members Category
Fortnite 600,000 Gaming
Minecraft 500,000 Gaming
Roblox 400,000 Gaming
anime soul 300,000 Anime
Code 280,000 Programming
Pokémon 250,000 Gaming
Study Together 230,000 Education
Dank Memer 220,000 Memes

As you can see, while gaming is still dominant, there is representation from a wide variety of other categories as well. This presents an opportunity for marketers to engage with audiences around many different topics and interests.

Compared to other community platforms, Discord tends to have higher engagement and retention rates. While the average Facebook Group sees about 50% of members engage on a monthly basis, Discord servers often see 80-90%+ monthly engagement. Users spend an average of 280 minutes per day actively chatting on Discord.

Several major brands have begun to take notice of Discord‘s highly engaged audiences and community-building potential. Companies like Chipotle, Jack in the Box, Wendy‘s, and the NFL have all run campaigns on the platform in the past year.

However, advertising on Discord is still uncharted territory for many brands. Let‘s take a closer look at the current state of Discord advertising and how to get started with campaigns on the platform.

Current Advertising Options on Discord

Unlike more established social platforms, Discord does not yet have a formal, self-serve advertising program that is broadly available to brands of all sizes. Instead, larger brands with bigger budgets can access official ad inventory through Discord‘s selective Partner Program, while smaller advertisers need to pursue more grassroots tactics like server sponsorships and influencer marketing.

Here‘s a breakdown of the main ways to currently advertise on Discord:

1. Discord Partner Program

The Discord Partner Program is an official advertising program that allows invited brands to run sponsored messages and custom integrations within curated Discord servers and communities.

Types of ad units available through the Partner Program include:

  • Sponsored Messages: Native ad placements that appear within a server‘s text channels. Can include links, images, and up to 2000 characters of text.
  • Sponsored Embeds: Richer interactive messages that can feature videos, app download links, multiple CTAs, and more.
  • Branded Stickers/Emojis: Custom sticker packs and emojis that server members can use in their conversations.
  • Branded Sound Packs: Custom sounds and audio clips for members to use in voice chats.
  • Server Boosting: Allowing your brand to "boost" partnered servers, unlocking features like higher quality audio, custom server URLs, and more.

At the moment, the Partner Program is invite-only and limited to a select group of larger advertisers. Campaigns also require a minimum spend of $5000 per month to get started. While this program provides access to Discord‘s premium ad inventory and placements, it is not a viable option for smaller businesses or those just experimenting with Discord marketing.

2. Sponsored Partnerships With Servers & Communities

For brands that don‘t have access to the Partner Program, directly sponsoring individual Discord servers and communities is the next best option.

This typically involves reaching out to the owners/admins of servers that align with your target audience, and negotiating a sponsorship package that can include things like:

  • A dedicated sponsored channel within the server
  • Branded campaigns and giveaways promoted by server mods
  • Sponsored content and offers pinned within the server
  • Custom co-branded emojis and stickers
  • Your brand added to the server name/description

Finding servers to sponsor requires some manual legwork and research. You can use Discord‘s built-in Server Discovery tool to search for servers by keyword and see metrics like total member count and weekly active users.

Look for servers that have:

  • An active and engaged community (lots of messages per day)
  • Audience demographics that match your target user
  • Brand-safe content and moderation
  • Server owners open to partnerships (many list contact info in their server description)

Pricing for server sponsorships can vary widely depending on factors like server size, engagement rate, and sponsorship package. Smaller servers may be open to sponsorships or in-kind product donations in the $500-$1000 per month range, while larger servers can command $10K+ per month for more robust partnerships.

3. Influencer Marketing Campaigns

Partnering with influencers who have their own popular Discord communities is another effective strategy. Influential gamers, streamers, artists and personalities often have highly engaged Discord servers where they chat with fans and share exclusive content.

Some examples of Discord influencer servers:

  • Fortnite streamer Ninja: 120K server members
  • YouTuber MrBeast: 400K server members
  • Artist Neekolul: 100K server members
  • Music curator Powfu: 60K server members

The process for Discord influencer partnerships is similar to influencer campaigns on other platforms – you identify influencers whose audience aligns with your brand, and pay them to promote your products/services to their server and on their other social channels.

Key considerations for Discord influencer partnerships:

  • Audience Fit: Choose influencers whose server demographics match your buyer persona and whose content aligns with your brand values. Use tools like Discord.ID to see server statistics.
  • Engagement Rate: In addition to total reach/server size, pay attention to engagement metrics like daily active users, messages sent, and average time spent per user. Higher engagement = more impactful campaigns.
  • Authenticity: Influencer campaigns tend to perform best on Discord when the partnerships feel native and authentic to the server. Don‘t force mentions that feel out of left field.
  • Compensation: Most Discord influencers charge between $0.01-$0.10 per server member reached for sponsorships, depending on campaign scope and length. You can also explore performance-based payment models.

While running manual server sponsorships and influencer campaigns requires more effort than an automated ad platform, it allows advertisers to build more authentic relationships with specific communities. Over time, your brand can become a familiar fixture in a server vs. just another sponsored ad.

Best Practices for Discord Advertising & Marketing

Whichever Discord advertising approach you choose, here are some best practices and tips to maximize your success on the platform:

1. Focus on Providing Unique Value

At its core, Discord is all about fostering communities and conversations. Users are there to engage with like-minded people around shared interests – not to be bombarded with ads.

To run effective campaigns on Discord, you need to focus on providing unique value and experiences that enhance the community vs. detracting from it. Don‘t just copy-paste ad creative from other channels.

Some ways to provide value:

  • Hosting special events like movie watch parties, gaming tournaments, or AMA sessions
  • Offering exclusive content like server-specific emojis, stickers, plugins, or downloadables
  • Sharing helpful resources and information related to the server‘s interests
  • Facilitating deeper discussions and connections between members
  • Giving the community a chance to influence your brand through feedback and co-creation opportunities

Basically, aim to give Discord members a compelling reason to engage with your brand presence and feel like they‘re getting something of value in return.

2. Play Into Server Inside Jokes & Memes

One thing that makes Discord communities special is all the inside jokes, memes, and lingo that get developed between members over time. Smart brands will pay attention to these server-specific quirks and find ways to incorporate them into their messaging.

For example, let‘s say a popular joke on an art-related Discord server is that the paintbrush emoji (🖌️) looks like a smudged ice cream cone. If you‘re sponsoring that server as an art supply brand, you might share memes playing off that joke, or even create a limited edition ice cream cone-themed paintbrush emoji for the server.

The more you can play into the unique culture of a Discord community, the better your campaigns will perform. Memes and humor are the language of Discord.

3. Leverage Server Admins & Influencers

On Discord, the admins and moderators of a server tend to have the most sway over the community. Many of them are tastemakers that server members trust for recommendations and advice.

Whenever you‘re sponsoring a server or partnering with a Discord influencer, be sure to tap into the clout of these key figures. Getting an authentic endorsement or co-sign from a server admin can make your sponsored messages significantly more impactful.

Work with admins upfront to brainstorm ways to make your partnership feel more native to the server. See if you can create unique value adds together, like a custom bot or game. Getting admins personally involved in the campaign rollout and creative process will make your brand feel like a more trusted part of the community.

4. Set Clear Goals & KPIs

Like any channel, Discord marketing works best when you have clear goals and KPIs outlined from the start. Some common objectives for Discord campaigns include:

  • Building brand awareness & affinity with a specific audience
  • Generating leads or sales
  • Driving traffic to your website or content
  • Growing your own Discord server membership
  • Gaining customer insights and feedback

Based on your objectives, make sure you‘re tracking the right metrics to gauge performance. For awareness-focused campaigns, pay attention to impressions, reach rate, and earned media mentions. For conversion-focused initiatives, track click-through rate and cost per conversion.

Some key Discord-specific KPIs to measure:

  • Server member growth attributed to your campaign
  • Engagement rate on sponsored messages (reactions, replies, link clicks)
  • Adoption & usage of custom branded stickers/emojis
  • Participation in events, contests, and server activities
  • Social listening sentiment & volume of brand mentions in server

By setting clear goals and consistently measuring the right KPIs, you‘ll be able to prove out the ROI of your Discord marketing efforts and optimize your strategy over time.

Limitations and Challenges of Discord Advertising

While Discord has a lot of enticing benefits as a marketing channel, there are some inherent limitations and challenges to be aware of as well.

For one, Discord is staunchly opposed to traditional display ads and programmatic advertising. The company has repeatedly stated they will never build an in-house ad network or allow brands to run automated campaigns targeted via user data.

This means that advertisers have limited options when it comes to ad formats and targeting on Discord. Most sponsored campaigns have to be set up manually and rely on server-level placements vs. granular user targeting.

Additionally, Discord‘s total ad inventory and reach is still quite small compared to giants like Facebook, Instagram or even TikTok. With only around 1% of servers monetized at the moment, there simply aren‘t that many sponsorship opportunities available – especially for niche audiences.

Even the official Partner Program only serves ads to a curated selection of the top 5% of servers. Don‘t expect to achieve massive reach and scale with Discord advertising yet.

It‘s also worth noting that running a Discord marketing campaign often requires more heavy lifting than a typical social ad buy. With the lack of self-serve tools, most sponsored initiatives have to be set up and tracked manually. Managing multiple server partnerships takes a lot of time and coordination.

Finally, brands need to be hyper-conscious of not creating a disruptive ad experience on Discord. Because the platform is so community-centric, server members can easily turn on a brand that comes in with ham-fisted advertising. A single campaign misstep can lead to backlash and negative sentiment.

To mitigate these risks, set expectations accordingly and allocate enough time and resources to manage personalized campaigns at the server level. Test with a few key partners before scaling. And when in doubt, consult server admins on what will resonate best with their audience.

The Future of Advertising on Discord

Discord has seen incredible growth over the past few years – but in many ways it still feels like the early days for the platform as a marketing channel.

The company has dropped some hints about upcoming advertising products and enhancements. These include:

  • Promoted events discovery tab
  • Expanded server insights and analytics
  • Sponsored server subscriptions
  • More robust Partner Program placements

As Discord invests more in its advertising offerings, the opportunities for brands will only expand. We‘ll likely see a lot more experimentation from bigger advertisers looking to reach Discord‘s youthful audience.

At the same time, expect Discord to move carefully and thoughtfully with any new ad products. The company cares deeply about preserving a positive user experience and not alienating its core community. Any new ad formats will need to be non-intrusive and add genuine value.

The key for brands is to start dabbling with Discord now and build up a presence organically over time. Learn the ins and outs of server culture. Hone your voice and approach. Even if you don‘t see massive reach or revenue right away, establishing those community roots will serve you well in the long run.

As more ad dollars flow into the Discord ecosystem, the brands that have put in the time to understand the unique dynamics at play will have a major leg up. They‘ll know how to strike that delicate balance between advertising and authenticity.

So don‘t wait for Discord to become a "mainstream" ad platform. Plant your flag, start adding value, and reap the rewards as the platform matures. Fortune favors the bold in the realm of emerging channels.