Fashion is beginning to engage with its new digital communities through alternate channels like Discord, as engagement rates drop on Instagram and Facebook.
Initially a community hub for gamers, Discord is now growing in popularity among fashion brands. As of last September, Discord had an estimated 350 million registered users and 150 million monthly active users. Gucci launched a Discord channel on January 21 and has since been outlining the roadmap for its Vault project and digital engagement strategy on the site. Other companies in the fashion world, including Kenzo, DressX, Adidas, RTFKT and StockX, have also set up Discord channels. The main driver is the desire to engage with communities in a direct way, which is becoming increasingly hard to do on algorithm-centered platforms like Instagram.
Jesse Lee, founder of resale site Basic.space and collaborator on the MetaBirkins NFT project that has been caught in litigation with fashion brand Hermès since January 16, said Discord was key to the project’s success. “Mason [Rothschild, creator of the MetaBirkins] built a Discord community that really took off. It was the reason why you could buy a MetaBirkin NFT for 4.1 ETH, which was the equivalent of $400 at the time of launch,” he said, meaning that the higher price reflected the great interest. “It catapulted everyone’s interest, and people started sharing the artwork on TikTok and Instagram.” While the initial sales started at the equivalent of $400, the pieces were quickly re-sold and valued higher.
The MetaBirkins Discord server got to 20,000 people, with celebrities wanting to get whitelisted, or put on a Discord VIP list to get early access to mint their NFT’s, Lee said. The subversive art project attracted a lot of attention and interest, so when the NFT’s launched, their sale price was exceedingly high. As of January 6, the total sales for the MetaBirkin NFTs exceeded $1.1 million, with MetaBirkins selling for $15,200-$45,100.
Even before the fashion NFT craze, Discord was home to a growing community, with gamers, developers and even sneakerheads conversing on the platform. For example, it features a popular functionality allowing gamers to talk on the platform while playing games on Playstation. Separate channels allow people to interact and follow up with people with similar interests. Bots, a programmable software feature, helps users navigate the platform and set up channels focused on specific topics. Along with providing instructions, tips and introductions, it initiatives conversations, populates chats with games and answers customer queries.
While fashion has not yet taken advantage of the syncing feature used for Playstation, a portion of the industry is taking recognition of the usefulness of the platform in creating authentic engagement, in absence of an algorithm. Gucci and other brands have seen a lot of conversations on their Discord about scams related to their NFT launches. With brands including Gucci hiring dedicated Discord moderators, brand involvement is set to go beyond typical customer service interactions. “If I have 20,000 people in Discord, I can reach 20,000 people with a single post. That doesn’t happen on Instagram, right? If you build a real community, you have direct access,” said Lee.
In a recent call with Jonathan Simkhai about his fall 2021 collection’s digital release on virtual universe platform Second Life last week, the designer said he’s keen on exploring options for engaging with his community, including Discord. “I would definitely like to engage with the community and talk to them and share ideas and thoughts and listen to their feedback,” said Simkhai. “The most important part of our communication with fans is the community and being able to engage with them, listen, learn and evolve.”
However, when it comes to data collection, brands used to referring to Instagram’s demographic and social shopping analytics, for example, will need to adjust their expectations. When asked about the kind of data she retrieves from the company’s Discord channel, Michaela Larosse, head of creative strategy and communications at digital fashion house The Fabricant, said it’s limiting. “Crypto wallets are all anonymous [on Discord],” she said. “In our Discord, we can see who’s talking to us, but inevitably, most of them have PFP’s (picture for proof and profile) and a pseudonym. It’s difficult to tell why people are buying the garments because all the garments are quite different. And we can’t check what people are buying.”
Maintaining anonymity in the crypto community is becoming more difficult as, amid rising market valuations, competitors in the field and those interested in crypto investment are becoming interested in finding out who’s behind large communities like the Bored Apes Club. Within the community, the issue has not been as prominent. But with the engagement rates of Discord communities growing beyond that of other platforms, brands will likely want to learn more about their users.
Gen-Z marketing expert Quiynh Mai said fashion consumers are migrating to Discord because they want more transparency and dialogue from the brands they support — and that’s especially true of the Gen-Z cohort. “Discord is another form of CRM right now,” said Mai. “It gets your most coveted fans and community into a conversation, which is rare on social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram.”
Mai said that Gen-Z customers want brands to listen to their opinions and adopt their stance, and that direct conversation can allow for a new level of transparency. “Discord is one of the few platforms where there’s a true two-way conversation. A thread that can be followed, and a community doesn’t post unless there is some important information to share.”
However, after years of using algorithm-based platforms like Instagram and, most recently, TikTok, brands may find it difficult to transition to the style and tone needed to maintain and grow Discord engagement organically. Digitally native brands like DressX and RTFKT seem immediately best suited to Discord as they are able to stay nimble and manage bots. But they are also quick to point out its shortfalls.
Natalia Modenova, co-founder of Dress X, said, “The main challenge of Discord is spam. It makes it really hard to use, since you have to clean it up all the time. There are people called ‘virtual assistants,’ for example, who send invites to [legitimate] NFT drops. But even when they’re legitimate, [they’re hard to differentiate from the] 30 messages from random people inviting you to buy various NFT projects. It’s worse when the spam is also a scam, [with users] pretending to have a private sale from legitimate companies.”
RTFKT has launched innovative channels like a meditation hangout for its users, while DressX runs competitions where mentions on socials could win users selfies and pictures of digital garments from its different collaborations. Daria Shapovalova, co-founder of DressX, said, “We notify our community about early access to certain drops and features on Discord, while also asking and listening to the opinions about the product That includes the color of the app, the user journey and the most wanted features in their DressX metacloset.”
As brands delve deeper into the space, they’ll need to approach Discord in a way that aligns with the brand identity. Discord has been known for its casual, crypto-native conversation style, which has seen thousands of users talking at the same time. This may prove to be a challenge for brands — as the conversation goes two-ways, dedicated teams may be necessary to keep users engaged. However, as Discord becomes a bigger channel, the platform is rolling out new features, including forums, a homepage and new third-party moderation tools. This will make it easier to manage and more similar to platforms like Reddit and Slack.