Should You Use Discord For Education? Learnings From Our Community Of 50K+ Students
Building a community requires a lot of blood, sweat, and patience. I’ll narrate our own story of creating the Avalon community on Discord (50k+ members) and also share some of the lessons we learned during the process, and why we ended up building our own community building tool.
The Core Problem
Basically, as communities scale, noise is generated. This could be because of spammers, low quality conversations, trolls, promotional posts, and just “chit-chat” type of conversations. This noise can suppress good conversation, which we will call “signal” henceforth. If you are a Community Manager, then understand that building a high quality community is a long quest to maximize signal and minimize noise.
Community Platform #1 - Facebook Groups
In 2018, we started an educational community on Facebook groups called “MetaStartup”. So created a small group of learners who wanted to self-learn through free content, experiment with things like ads and code, and find Co-Founders. Our founders had a small audience on Instagram at that time, and we had 2,000 people join our first ever Facebook group. We ran a few ads to try and get more people, but the advertising experiments didn’t work out well. The only reason we got those 2,000 community members was because I was putting out content on Instagram and Youtube and had some spillover to this platform. Soon after, we ran into problems.
Problems with Facebook Group Community :
We had a lot of spammers arrive, and a slew of promotional posts came with them. Dealing with them became a full-time nuisance! Because posts from the community appear on your personal feed, most of our mods started getting annoyed with the spam and irrelevant posts, and left. (This is the same reason why Whatsapp isn’t a good solution to run your community either. It may work in the short term, but your members will eventually keep your group on mute, or they will leave)
Community Platform #2 - Telegram
A single chat interface has its limits: Chat was awesome for the first few days. Telegram also solved a big problem we had with Facebook; it had bots like Protectron that automatically ban people who join your group and immediately post a link. However, the problems with chat arrived almost instantly.
Problems with Telegram Community :
With anything more than 500-600 engaged people, chat can become senseless. When you are away for even 5 minutes, you’ll realise you’ve lost the context of the entire conversation, and have to scroll up to figure out what people are talking about. Moderation is an absolute nightmare over chat. To solve this, we made multiple different chats. Because we were an educational community, we made several channels: one for design, one for code, one for sales, etc. We made these channels with different moderators. This became painful quickly as each of these chat channels scaled with the number of users. We ran into the same problems we started out with on the chat channels.
Community Platform #3 - Enter Discord
We were one of the first businesses in India to fully adopt Discord to run a community at that time. We learned a lot of lessons along the way. But first, here’s what Discord solved for us:
- Channel management was easier: since we could have multiple channels in one server, life was easier.
- Voice channels were an added bonus. It was cool to jump into a conversation and have people to meet and bond with.
- We had all our stats in one place -- and we could also tell who was a contributing member and who wasn’t.
- Roles were something we didn’t know we needed. If someone is loyal to your community, you should grant them some status, otherwise you might lose them.
Community Grew Sales by 150% - Discord was a lot of fun for us. It was literally our “virtual campus”. We had DJ nights, we had bonding sessions, and the company also played games like Valorant against the community. Our business generated close to $500k within 4 months of starting monetization.
People were happy, and we were making money. We scaled from 2,000 to 50,000 people on Discord within 5 months
Problems with Discord Community :
- Discord’s user-interface is VERY confusing for new users (especially for Indian Users).
- Discord was built for the desktop. Their mobile app is basically a crunched down version of their desktop app! In India, most people will visit your community on a mobile phone. Our community had mainly GenZ and millennials and still saw a whopping 95% of people come from mobile.
- We have learned that live events and chat are the lifeblood of communities. You can keep a community alive mostly via events. The problem with Discord is that there is no way to set reminders for events, or put cover images for them. So users don’t really know what is happening when.
- Monetizing on Discord was a big challenge - The UI is confusing again, because when people click on “Shop”, they expect there to be a shop, not another link which takes you to a different store website.
Building Our Own Community Platform - Scenes
Having faced so many problems with multiple platforms led us to the realisation that there is a real pain-point in the community space that needs to be solved; a simple, easy-to-use and easy-to-scale all-in-one community platform.
Here Are Some Of The Problems We Solved -
- Your very own DIY Private Discord - Whitelabeled and on your own domain.
- Mobile first -- it’s 2021 and 61% of Indian internet users use it on their phone. Keeping this in mind, we built Scenes mobile-first and built out the web version later. That way we could give an API for people who want a community inside their existing app.
- Has 8 different types of channels like forums, stage (voice and video), chat, resources, shop, calendar, voice bubbles and more. Like I’ve mentioned before, chat has its time and place. Different channel types solve different needs. We also went one step further and built out our Metaverse channel which has Spatial Audio (Pretty cool IMO)
- Notifications are optimized for stage activity. You’ll know when friends or community leaders are speaking on stage. Less noise. More signal.
- You can create formal events on a Calendar channel and people can set reminders for them.
- We made the UX as simple as possible, swapping out Discord’s gamer theme for simple white. We stripped out anything that has a possibility of causing confusion.
- We made roles and permissions that are brain dead and easy to use. It’s a lot like Google Drive now -- just select a role and choose from a list what permission that role has in a channel.
- We added a Coin system for every community for incentivization and rewards.
Our Resources For Building Something Like This -
- INR 4 crore ($500k USD)
- 14 Mid and Senior Level Engineers - at highly inflated engineer salaries :(
- 408 Days
- 127 cans of Redbull (We love Redbull)
And Voila! Scenes was Born.
The next five years will be the years of private internet communities. Cult fitness has started its own community. So have fintech companies like Fampay. It’s not too long till the rest join them. Almost 85% of marketers believed that having an online community would increase trust according to CMX Research.
The University of Michigan has a great report on how a firm’s own community is better for business than using a social network. Customer spends increase by 19%.
There’s plenty more evidence on communities being critical for all of us, but I’ll just leave you with this picture from a long (really long) time ago:
Why wouldn’t it become digital? After all, the digital world is simply a reflection of our wants and needs.
We're big believers that privately owned communities will one day be bigger than social networks themselves. It all comes down to reducing noise that is growing every day on social networks and replacing that with the signal that well moderated, well run communities give to their members.