454: Bringing Other Communities To Discord

With Discord's ease of use and popularity, along with the declined use of platforms like forums or IRC, many communities are looking to migrate to Discord. While most of it depends on your specific community, we aim to give some general advice, gotchas, and tips to make it as pain-free as possible. While this guide is meant to give advice, every community is different and you should consider the particulars of your community before deciding to make the leap. This guide assumes that you’ve already learned how to set up a server and create basic roles and permissions. If you need a primer on those, take a look at Basic Permissions and Setting Up Roles.

Why Are You Moving?

Let’s start with the best question: why are you moving to Discord? Sometimes, the easiest answer is the most obvious answer. Maybe you’re looking for a better platform to support your community, a better system in organizing your community, or just boosting activity on a dead platform. Communities that solely exist around platforms like IRC and forums tend to have some issues that can’t be solved by fixing the platform: IRC is less actively used and forums can be complicated and take a while to navigate properly. Because of these inherent platform issues, Discord makes a substantial effort to fix these issues. Giving your users a better place to chat and interact revives a lot of dying communities.

Informing Your Users

Every community has “that guy”. You know that guy. The one who refuses to let go and chooses not to move platforms because they already have a rhythm. A flow. Daring to mess with that workflow, they’ll stop at nothing to make sure they can continue to use the things they currently use. What’s the best way to handle users like this? Well, let’s start with the users who don’t have that problem.

Announcements

Every platform has a way to do this, and it’s usually the most effective. Particularly for those who still actively check the platform from time to time. Making a simple system announcement “We’ve moved!” can get you a large chunk of users in no-time. Fortunately, Discord’s new user onboarding process also makes joining Discord simple, since they only need the invite for the server, and the app walks them through setting up an account during the join. (But you probably already knew that as a seasoned Discord user!)

Announcements should be pretty informative to users. A simple “We’ve moved!” could suffice, but giving your users a reason to why or info on what Discord is can be the best tool in your announcement. Being candid and transparent can go a long way with your users. You can start off with a “You might have noticed a lack of activity here…” or “We’re hoping to rejuvenate the community again!”. As long as you provide a little information on the move and its significance, many users will be willing to join a new platform.

Redirecting Users From Your Old Domain

image_2020-12-07_233139.png

Alright, so you’ve got the transition started, but what about new users looking for your community? Make sure you start redirecting them! Update any of your social media, website links, or domain links to the Discord server with a permanent invite. For better tracking, you can even set up multiple server invites to go to specific places.

You can even embed a preview of your server in your web page, or you can redirect entirely to the discord invite and let it open in the web chat. If your community has a website as well, you can enable the Discord Widget in the server settings to display on your website (Server Settings > Widget). This is a great tool to show how active your community is on the Discord server, and jump right to it from the widget. A little caution here: website crawlers love to find these and drop bot accounts in for raiding, so it may be a good idea to up your security in the server, or look to an advanced article on handling raids.

image_2020-12-07_233426.png

Promoting Your Discord Server

While your existing user base might be enough to jump start your server, you might want to look into different forms of advertising it to keep growing your community

There are plenty of Discord server lists, even lists of lists! If you meet the requirements you can also make your server discoverable and let the users join from other discord, but one of the most effective ways to get new users is word of mouth from your current ones. This also ensures that incoming members have at least a few things in common with your already existing population. 

To help with that, put your invite link in the first channel users see, at the bottom. Make sure new users have a good experience and don’t get lost.

Adapting Your Community to Discord
Opt-In/Opt-Out Channels

Part of the beauty in Discord is that you can build an organized server that meets the needs of all of your members that can be customized using a few built in tools and a bot or two in a server. Users coming from a forum or IRC background are used to being forced into viewing everything available to them. This can be overwhelming and can lead to users leaving large parts of that platform unread. Giving the users the power to opt into channels and opt out of them makes it possible to give your users a better, more concise platform to message on.

Opting out is an easy thing to do and usually best in smaller servers with fewer channels. Users can opt out by muting a channel client-side. This will dim the channel and prevent them from seeing new messages, but they can be notified via pings (like roles, a direct ping, or even an @everyone). While this is usually fine for the user, in larger servers with multiple channels, it can be painful to go through individually muting channels/categories. The downside to this, though, is that users are still subjected to unwanted pings, particularly when they are coming from a format like forums, where they can check new posts at their leisure.

Opting in to channels is a bit more complicated and requires some additional setup, but can be very beneficial to your members who maybe participate in select areas of your server. You can “role-lock” channels and categories so that users with specific roles can view the channels. When a member doesn’t have permission to view those channels, they also no longer receive any pings from it! The downside to this is setting up a system to either automate them receiving roles, or manually assigning users. Using a bot can extend the automation to have users run a command, or react to a specific message to gain roles. This allows your members to customize their experience and enjoy your server the way they want to.

From IRC

The two clearest advantages while moving from IRC to Discord is how you can separate topics into different channels, and the moderation tools

Separating topics into different channels allows you to specialize instead of having a messy chat where six conversations are going on at once. It also lets you set different permissions for different users in different channels. For example, you might want to have a support channel where support staff can manage messages, but don’t give them that permission to other channels

The moderation tools are also much more robust, allowing you for example to delete messages, change usernames, or even set slow modes in specific channels. The support for moderators that Discord provides is on the whole, more comprehensive than private IRC networks can give, with a lot of great resources and reporting tools. Discord is usually more stable too, without netsplits or other fun events.

image_2020-12-07_233509.png

To ease the migration, there are plenty of bots that allow you to bridge IRC and Discord, with some limitations like not showing embeds and showing deleted messages.

As a last advantage, and the reason why many servers migrate, Discord is more user friendly than IRC, which requires knowing a web client (that might even be banned in your channel like kiwiirc) or downloading a IRC client. It also exposes your users IP address and OS version (with CTCP commands) which can cause some privacy issues.

From Forums

The main problem while moving to Discord is having to adapt to “real-time” conversations. It means you probably will need more mods, and for them to be more active. For example, forums servers’s staff usually have a lot of issues early on due to the increased need for moderation as its happening vs deleting and handling reports on their own time.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that if your moderators engage with the community like regular users, their job will get far easier. After all, if you build that trust and rapport with your community members it makes keeping the community safe for them that much easier.

When setting up a server, it may be best to follow the structure of your currently established forum until the need arises to make slight alterations to adapt members, particularly those that may be joining without ever having interacted with your forums previously. Structuring it to the same as your forum allows users to feel “at home” with where they were previously. Including a channel for feedback on the server will also help you ingest feedback on the structure or organization of your server and address any missing channels that may be needed.

Bots

While moving to Discord, you might need to port your current bots and find new ones. Compared to platforms like IRC, Discord bots have the potential to be more feature rich. You can create custom embeds, set permissions, delete messages, even react to emojis. Bots can also provide an authentication link between other locations, like a forum.

You might find it far easier to develop for Discord than from IRC, due to the great frameworks that have been developed over the years, and way easier than forums where you don’t need to write one from scratch for your specific forums layout. You can also find a lot of bots that already do what you need.

The basic things that you should look at while selecting a bot is making sure that bots only have the permissions they need, and that they are verified (or you host it yourself). One of the most important bots you can have is those that help you with auto-moderation.

Moderation Levels

One of the decisions you have to make early on is what level of moderation you want Discord to apply. For example: some servers might want the new user experience to be as quick as possible(for cases where they get linked externally a lot, or a support server). Other servers with more established communities might want to up that moderation level and require things like verified phone numbers + being in the server for 10 minutes to avoid raids and spammers.

One of the most important things to keep a look at is the new user experience. What does the server look like to a new account just joining it? Do they have a clear path to your rules? To other channels? How hard is it to ask questions if they get lost?

Finding New Staff

Moving your community also means moving your staff. This can be challenging as it requires getting used to new policies and new tools. For example: if your community is coming from a forum, you might need extra moderators to have real-time coverage of chat. If you are coming from IRC you might need to adapt your guidelines to use mutes instead of just kick and bans, along with the ability to delete messages.

Roles and permissions might look completely different than you might be used to. For example: some servers migrated their current mod team and structure, then added an extra role for “Chat moderators” who specialized in Discord. Other servers find completely new staff and then give honorary roles to the previous staff. 

It may be necessary to work with your current team of moderators on your platform to discuss the roles and responsibilities of the team even before you make the move. Are they comfortable moderating both locations during transition? Are they ready to learn moderation on a new platform? Do they want to continue moderating for the community? It’s a good idea to get these details ironed out ahead of time so that you can plan for needing additional moderators.

If you don’t have staff with previous experience moderating Discord servers, it might make more sense to get external help, preferably from your own community. These community members would ideally be well versed in Discord and preferably comfortable with moderating on Discord. They can guide you through adapting policies, making new roles, setting the permissions correctly, using channels and sections and giving you useful links to other servers where you can ask questions or report users.

Conclusion

We know migrating your community is a huge task and each one has completely different issues. A well executed migration can help reinvigorate your community and facilitate new activity and membership; a rushed one can split your community base and irritate existing users.

We hope that the tips in this article help make the migration smoother for you and your community. As a closing note, don’t forget to talk and discuss the migration with your community (not just your mods), plan it ahead of time in a transparent way, make sure everyone is onboard, and take care to avoid alienating anyone, being flexible with the plan if need be.