In this article, we’ll look at one of the biggest and most important questions people ask when embarking on their journey of creating and launching their community: which platform should I choose?
While there’s an ever-increasing number of options available, we’ll focus on three of the most popular: Slack, Discord, and Discourse.
We’ll answer the following questions:
Let’s start by taking a look at what each platform offers.
Slack is easily the biggest name of the three. Designed specifically as a workplace collaboration tool, Slack has had a huge impact on the way professional teams communicate, replacing email as the go-to communication method in most modern businesses.
But despite its workplace focus, companies also utilize its real-time chat for their communities. Slack is primarily an instant-messaging tool, but it also supports audio and video calls.
Slack is a name people know and trust. Chances are, a good proportion of your prospective community members will be familiar with it. This may help initial adoption.
Slack gives you the option to have conversations within conversations. You can reply to a message within a thread, creating a separate subthread that is hidden until clicked on. This helps to tidy up the look and feel of conversations and allows people to digress from the main thread without confusion.
Slack benefits from a mature ecosystem of integrations, allowing users to connect to a huge range of software and apps. No other option comes close to Slack in this regard. However, the free plan only allows up to 10 apps per workspace.
There’s also a vast range of bots that allow you to automate processes, manage requests, gather feedback, and much more. You can even create your own.
Slack users can have one profile for their professional lives and another – or multiple – for their private lives, allowing them to keep the two separate. As we’ll find out later, not every platform offers this.
On the free plan, users can upload up to 5GB of files per workspace. Paid plans expand this amount to 10GB, 20GB, or 1TB. This is much more generous than other options out there. Plus, you can upload pretty much any file type – PDF, Google doc, images, video, etc.
The free plan only supports video and audio calls between two people. With a paid plan, you can invite up to 15 people to take part.
On the free plan, Slack only saves the 10,000 most recent messages. Older messages are archived, and you have to pay extra to see them. This could be an issue as you scale.
Slack’s paid plans follow a pay-per-user model, starting at $8 per user per month. So the larger your community grows, the more you have to shell out. The cost of your community could soon soar.
There’s no getting away from it, Slack is designed to be a workplace communications tool, not a platform for autonomous communities.
While the chat functionality is absolutely fine as a starting place for your community, there’s no effective way to moderate messages or content. You can’t block people or mute messages, making it difficult or even impossible to protect users from being harassed, spammed, or scammed.
Like Slack, Discord enables real-time communication within communities – known as servers – via instant messaging, chat, and video. But while Slack is designed for the workplace, Discord was originally built as a virtual space for gaming communities to hang out and chat.
Discord’s gaming roots are still apparent in its look and feel, although it is now pivoting away from this niche, positioning itself as an all-around community platform. Some think of Discord as ‘Slack for GenZ.’
Discord’s chat interface – a similar use case to Slack, but a different look and feel.
In Slack, video and voice calls can sometimes feel like an add-on rather than a core feature. Most people use Slack for its text-based instant messaging. In Discord, however, audio and video are among the primary communication modes.
Up to 25 people can join a video chat at once, and there are no limits to the number of users who can tune in to an audio channel.
Discord has gaming roots, but it was designed specifically to nurture gaming communities. That use case is now being expanded to suit all virtual communities.
Unlike Slack, Discord offers unlimited message history for free. Any conversation, message, or post is searchable forever. The importance of this perk will become more apparent as your community grows in size and engagement.
Discord’s community roots are certainly clear when it comes to moderation and permissions. Unlike Slack, Discord has several ways to ensure your members play by the rules.
First up, you can set membership and behavior rules for your Discord server. You can set up ‘membership screening,’ which acts as a gateway to your community whereby members must answer questions and agree to community rules before being allowed to join.
You can also set member roles and permissions, promoting trusted members to the role of moderator or administrator. This enables your community to police itself and encourages the right behavior.
Where Slack is slick and professional, Discord has a more playful look and feel. Gamers and younger generations will likely feel at home there, but older folk used to more formal interactions might be put off. This is a subjective issue and will largely depend on the type of people you expect to join your community.
In Discord, there’s no easy way to create a new profile each time you join a new community. Instead, you use your one-and-only profile across all groups. This might be problematic for those who want a degree of separation between the different parts of their lives.
Discord has an 8MB limit per file upload on the free plan. Paid plans increase this to 100MB.
Unlike Slack, which allows you to share Google docs and text/code snippets, Discord only allows you to share files directly from your device. Discord’s file searching capabilities are also inferior to Slack’s.
Unlike Slack, Discord doesn’t really have official integrations. There is a workaround – you can build bots using third-party services that connect you to a range of apps. But it’s certainly less convenient than having a full library of ready-made integrations to choose from.
Despite their countless differences, Slack and Discord are both fundamentally similar in one key way: they both enable and encourage synchronous communication. Discourse, on the other hand, offers a completely different approach.
Instead of instant messaging and video/audio chat, Discourse is a next-generation forum platform. It supports asynchronous communication rather than real-time chat. This approach could offer huge perks, depending on what your community is like.
Discourse offers next-generation message boards.
Don’t be put off by the outdated, disorganized forums you’re used to. Discourse has a clean, elegant look with plenty of attention to detail.
For example, you can scroll down forever rather than having to click through pages. There’s a 10-character minimum per post, ensuring that people add something meaningful to the conversation. And, like Slack, you can apply threading to conversations to keep them organized and clean.
Unlike Slack and Discord, Discourse’s code is 100% open source. While this might not matter too much to your average community member, it does give you more freedom to tailor and customize the service to your needs.
Discourse allows you plenty of control over the look and feel of your community. You can customize emails, notifications, badges, and many more details within the platform.
There are many cases where real-time chat is the best option. But asynchronous communication brings plenty of benefits too.
For larger organizations, it’s the most effective way to allow hundreds or thousands of people to interact. It’s easier to moderate. And old conversations can be used time and again to impart knowledge or support.
Discourse uses a trust-based system, where active users who prove themselves to be trustworthy are given the ability to help maintain the community. Community members are given the tools to flag inappropriate content, and you can promote users to the role of moderator.
If you are just starting out and have only a handful of members, it doesn’t make much sense to have a message-board setup.
Rather, you might be better with a real-time chat option like Slack or Discord, allowing community members to get to know each other in a more conversational way. The same goes if your community is predominantly in the same time zone.
Especially for those of younger generations, message boards are often associated with the early days of the internet.
Younger folk may be used to real-time chat and video calls but not the slower pace of a forum. Again, it all depends on the particular needs of your community members and their demographics.
If you choose to house your community on Discourse, you’ll have to decide whether to go for the fully hosted service, pay a third party to host your community, or deploy the code yourself on your own servers.
No two communities are the same. Your community will have its own requirements based on a whole range of factors. Here are some criteria to consider – and some recommendations for each.
The size of your community is one of the most important criteria when choosing a platform. A community with 10 members will communicate differently than a community with 1000 members.
If you are just starting out, your community might benefit from synchronous conversations. This allows them to share information, give and receive feedback, and get support in real-time. Chat also helps to build momentum and engagement at an early stage.
With only a handful of people, you should be less concerned with moderation, rules, and governance, and more focused on ensuring that users are actively engaged.
As your community grows, so does the importance of moderation. Both Discord and Discourse have built-in options to help you and your members moderate content, ensuring your community remains a safe, productive, and positive place for all.
For mid-sized communities, synchronous communication can still work up to a point – particularly if your community members are all active at roughly the same time. But as your community grows, you may find that real-time chat becomes messy or even impossible.
Community members may be answering the same questions again and again, and some conversations will simply be buried before the majority of members have a chance to benefit from them.
If you see your community growing rapidly over time, the safest course may be a platform that supports asynchronous communication, like Discourse.
If your community is made up of hundreds and thousands of members, real-time chat will be an ineffective way to communicate for most people. A message-board platform like Discourse allows all members to contribute to and benefit from conversations in their own time.
Discourse offers all the moderation and permissions you need to safely run a large community. It also offers clever ways to reward active members, ensuring you retain them as you grow.
Some communities are merely virtual spaces where like-minded people can meet, chat, share stuff, and have fun. Others are more like external services designed to offer valuable support and learning opportunities.
If you want to build a casual space for community members to hang out and chat, Discord is a solid option.
It’s easy for people to join a community on Discord – especially if they already have a Discord profile. Once they’re there, it’s easy to get involved and introduce yourself.
The asynchronous nature of Discourse conversations makes them ideally suited to learning and support. Instead of answering the same questions time and again in multiple real-time chats, Discourse members can refer back to old threads, which can be appropriately categorized or pinned for all to see.
All content on Discourse is indexed as well, so anyone searching for a solution to a product-related problem should find your community easily. This naturally helps to boost your member count over time.
If your community exists to bring people together to work towards a common goal, Slack is a good option. After all, it is designed specifically to be a professional collaboration tool. Members get all the benefits of real-time chat and DMs, plus superior file-sharing options.
Granted, there are issues when it comes to moderating Slack communities, but if your members are generally project-focused and highly motivated, the need for moderation will be lower than for a consumer-based community.
Content is a great way to engage existing community members and attract new ones. Each platform handles content sharing slightly differently. So which one should you choose?
All content in Discourse is indexed, making it searchable on sites such as Google. This allows anyone to find user-generated content and acts as a gateway to bringing new members on board.
Slack not only supports virtually all file types – from PDFs and Google docs to images to videos – it also unfurls links automatically, providing users with a clickable preview image of the content.
If you want to provide real-time learning and support for community members, Discord is really the only option of the three. It has superior video and audio capabilities than Slack, and you can communicate with more people simultaneously.
Not necessarily. It is possible to combine platforms that complement each other, but it makes little sense to use multiple competing platforms that offer roughly the same thing.
While Slack and Discord differ in many regards, they are essentially competing with each other as real-time communications tools. Discourse, on the other hand, is different from the other two as it is solely a platform for forums.
You may find that combining a real-time messaging platform like Slack or Discord with an asynchronous message board platform like Discourse works for you. You could use a forum for all community members and an instant messaging platform for select groups within your community, such as VIP members or official brand ambassadors.
One important factor to consider before choosing a platform is how you will measure adoption and engagement. Each platform offers something slightly different.
Slack has a built-in analytics dashboard, but what you get out of it depends on the plan you choose.
For the free plan, all you get is the most basic metrics: monthly active users and messages sent. If you upgrade to the paid plan, you unlock a whole host of metrics and time frames, allowing you a detailed understanding of how your community is performing.
Discord also provides analytics via their new Server Insights tab. It’s a little bit hidden away, but once you get there, you’ll find insights relating to growth, activation, engagement, and your audience.
In Discourse, you’ll have access to an admin dashboard, providing you with a great overview of the health of your community.
You’ll get a number of easy-to-read charts, breaking down key metrics such as new users, daily engaged users, inactive members, new topics, and more. There’s also a whole section on search data, user types, and trust levels.
We’ve covered a lot of information in this article. So, before we wrap things up, let’s quickly recap the key points you need to remember about each platform.
A professional collaboration tool designed specifically for the workplace but, in some cases, suitable for non-work communities as well.
Communication modes: Real-time chat within public channels, groups, or DMs, with limited video and audio calling capabilities.
Top three pros:
Top three cons:
A real-time communications platform with gaming roots but perfectly suited for communities of any kind.
Communication modes: real-time video, audio, and text chat.
Top three pros:
Top three cons:
A next-generation message board platform specifically designed for housing communities.
Communication modes: asynchronous, text-based conversations.
Top three pros:
Top three cons:
So, which platform is right for you? We hope this article has helped you answer that question. Have fun building your community!