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Slack vs. Discord vs. Discourse as your community channel

Slack vs. Discord vs. Discourse as your community channel

We’re here to weigh in on the Slack vs. Discord debate, and also including Discourse in the mix, given these are three of the most popular options on the market today. We’ll use our evaluation framework to identify the tradeoffs between these channels AND help you decide which one is best for your community.

To ground us in the same definitions, here’s how you can think about each of these channels:

Slack is a chat platform with robust threading functionality to nurture relationships between members who tend to be more visible than anonymous.

Discord is a real-time conversation platform, including extensive audio and video functionality, to cultivate relationships between members who tend to favor their anonymity.

Discourse is a discussion platform that hosts a library of content created by the community that is indexable and discoverable by search engines.

Read on for more detail on defining our evaluation framework and how Slack, Discord, and Discourse compare.

Summary recommendation

While both Slack and Discord facilitate conversations between members, they have taken slightly different approaches. Slack is more focused on text-based chatting and organizing conversations into threads. Discord enables your community to communicate in multiple ways, whether through text, audio, or video. When it comes to Slack vs Discord, think about it this way:

  • If you really need 3rd party integrations and accessing message history is less important (or you can afford the paid plans), then you should consider Slack.
  • However, if you need moderation functionality and audio / video calls and don’t mind the anonymous nature of your members, then you should consider Discord.

If neither of those are what you’re looking for, or your community has too many members where real-time chat becomes unwieldy, you should consider Discourse. Discourse allows you to host a library of discussion posts and other content created by the community. This content is indexable to make it easier to find in search engine results. It also offers different ways to recognize and award members who are active or top contributors to the community.

If you already have a Slack for your community and are interested in migrating your members to Discord, check out best practices for moving your community from Slack to Discord.

Community goals and engagement dynamics

There are many different factors you could take into consideration when it comes to evaluating community channels. To help you organize your thinking, we recommend evaluating community channels based on two key questions:

  1. What community objective does it achieve?
    1. Foster relationships between members
    2. Enable one-to-many communications
    3. Build a content library / support resource
  2. What kind of community engagement dynamics does it enable?
    1. Identity: visibility vs. anonymity
    2. Messaging: synchronous vs. asynchronous

Define your community objectives

Foster relationships between members

You’re looking for a space for your members to connect with one another through common interests, knowledge sharing, and a celebration of others’ work, contributions, and achievements. You want to facilitate conversations and to give members a more casual, ephemeral way to connect everyday.

Enable one-to-many communications

You want to broadcast in a one-to-many fashion to ensure your voice has the broadest reach possible. You also want the ability to amplify others’ messages and content that aligns with your company values or mission.

Build a content library / support resource

You want a space to help troubleshoot customer problems and resolve support tickets. Instead of a feed to scroll through, you want to offer technical resources and how-to guides in a searchable database that can also be permalinked.

Select your engagement dynamics

An additional factor to think about is what we broadly call engagement dynamics, or how members will (or are expected to) interact with each other within the community.

Identity: visibility vs. anonymity

The mechanics of some channels, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Slack, are such that the information in your profile is quite public. This helps enable everyone to get a sense of who they're engaging with. Others, such as Discord, Reddit, and Discourse, allow for and often have anonymous usernames, typically in honor of data privacy. Where you fall on this spectrum will dictate the short list of channels you can choose from.

Messaging: synchronous vs. asynchronous

Different channels use different messaging approaches. Synchronous messaging enables live conversations with a defined beginning and end (think Slack and Discord conversations). Asynchronous messaging, on the other hand, lends itself to more open-ended conversations and does not require all participants to interact at the same time (think Discourse).

Depending on what kind of messaging you want will impact which community channel is best for your needs.

With these factors taken into consideration, the channel you select will serve you well not only today, but in the future as well.

Diving deeper into Discord vs. Slack vs. Discourse

Using the above evaluation framework, we can see how Discord, Slack, and Discourse are positioned. In this next section, we’ll dive into more details on each channel, including what it is, its strengths, and its trade offs.

Discord

Discord first gained popularity as a communication platform for gamers, primarily focused on real-time conversations whether through text, audio, or video. Many of its strengths and offerings build off of this foundation, offering a very consumer-friendly product:

  • Pricing. Free to use. Discord offers individual members the option to pay for an enhanced experience with a Nitro plan and unlock extra features.
  • Message history. Unlimited message history for all users.
  • Rich media. Robust audio and video call functionality available to all.
  • Moderation. Comprehensive moderation functionality to maintain a safe experience.

Given its gamer-focused roots, some of the trade offs in the Discord app are around profiles, integrations, user interface, and analytics:

  • User profiles. Anonymous user profiles (potentially making it difficult to build a safe and inclusive community).
  • Integrations. Lack of any official non-gaming integrations (although you can build your own or use third-party bots).
  • UI. The user interface can come off as very playful and unfamiliar to those more acquainted with team chat apps like Microsoft Teams.
  • Analytics. Limited data and analytics on community performance.

Slack

Slack has its roots as a business communication platform, primarily focused on text-based chatting and collaboration between colleagues. Many of its strengths and offerings build off of this foundation, including:

  • UI. Lower barrier to entry as you and your community members may already be Slack users at work. Robust threading capabilities to keep chats more organized.
  • Integrations. Over 2,400 apps and bots available to integrate with to bring 3rd party data directly into your Slack workspace and improve your workflow.
  • User profiles. Generally quite public, with users posting their names, avatars, workplaces, and statuses to help others get a sense of who they’re interacting with. Check out our Slack profile best practices.

Given its emphasis first and foremost on communications between business teams, additional features and functionality are unlocked with paid plans:

  • Pricing. Slack’s paid plans charge on a per user basis, putting the cost burden on the admin. The cheapest plan starts at $8 per user a month, making the cost of managing a very large community potentially very expensive.
  • Message history. On the Free plan, message history is accessible to the last 10K messages posted. Everything prior to that point is then archived, meaning they’re no longer searchable or accessible. (Starting 9/1/2022, this will change to being able to see the past 90 days of message history).
  • Rich media. More interactive forms of engagement, such as video and voice calls and screen sharing, are gated behind paid plans.
  • Analytics. Limited data and analytics on the Free plan.

Discourse

Discourse is an open source discussion platform built to reimagine what a modern internet discussion forum should be in the age of smartphones and social media. It’s often used by communities as a library of commonly asked questions and questions. Many of its strengths and offerings build off of this foundation, including:

  • Message history. Full access to entire history of messages.
  • Indexed content. Content is indexed for easier discoverability in search engine results.
  • Moderation. Customizable moderation functionality.
  • Member recognition. Customizable rules for member recognition, like points, badges, and leaderboards.
  • Integrations. Offers native integrations (including chat platforms) to improve your workflow.
  • Pricing. Self-hosted plans are free (otherwise you can pay for hosted solutions).

Given its focus on discussions specifically (and less so real-time conversations), there are some product trade offs in the user experience:

  • Rich media. Text only, no audio or video chat functionality.
  • UI. It’s typically perceived as more difficult to start a new forum thread than it is to simply say “hello” in a #say-hello chat channel.
  • User profiles. Members tend to be anonymous, which could make it more of a challenge to run an inclusive community.

In conclusion

In this post we used our evaluation framework of community goals and engagement dynamics to highlight key differences between Slack, Discord, and Discourse.

Slack should be your preferred channel if you want organized conversations, need a large ecosystem of integrations and bots, and accessing message history is less important.

Discord is best if you want to offer your members the ability to communicate through various mediums, including text, audio, and video, need moderation capabilities, and don’t mind if your members are anonymous.

Discourse is the channel to select if your online community is so large that chatting in real-time is difficult to manage, and so instead you can host a library of content that is indexable and discoverable by search engines.

For further guidance on seeding your community and to connect with other community builders and DevRel leaders, join our Slack community, Uncommon.

If you’re interested in learning more about how community growth platforms can magnify the impact of your community tools to better activate your community, check out Common Room. You can get started for free or request a demo to see the platform in action.

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