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Can you use Discord for business?

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5 min read

Can you use Discord for business?

Why Discord works as a team chat app—and why it doesn't

By Justin Pot · April 23, 2020
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Discord is similar to Slack or Microsoft Teams, but you wouldn't know that looking at the home page. The gamepad, question block, and potion quickly make it clear that Discord is branded as a way for gamers to talk while playing—and not as a productivity tool.

I don't like being told what to do by branding, though, so I couldn't help but wonder: could you use Discord for work?

My definitive answer: maybe. Let's start with the pros, then explore some potential problems.

In 2018, Discord was the fastest growing app on Zapier. Zapier lets you connect Discord to thousands of other apps, giving it a tally in the workplace tool column. Learn more, or keep reading for more details.

Discord is easy to set up and basically free

Setting up this Discord server took less than a minute

Discord is really easy to set up. In a couple of minutes, you can sign up for an account, create a new server, invite your team members, and start conversing. Every server on Discord supports multiple text and audio channels, allowing you to split conversation down by team or project. You can also send direct messages (DMs). Basically, this is a chat app. Everything should feel familiar if you've used other chat apps.

But there's one big difference: Discord is essentially free. Individual users can pay $10/month for Nitro, but that only really offers cosmetic upgrades like animated avatars and higher quality screen sharing. The free version of Discord is more-or-less the full version. Slack, by way of contrast, severely limits access to message archives for customers who aren't paying. Google Chat doesn't even offer a free version.

So that's Discord's biggest advantage: it's easy to set up and free to use. This means there's not any risk in trying it out.

Persistent audio is perfect for co-working

Discord started as an audio chat app for gamers. The idea is that you could quickly start a server, click into a voice channel, and leave Discord running in the background as you play. Being able to talk to other players out loud makes coordinating a lot easier. It also makes it feel more like you're playing together.

But it's not just gamers who can benefit from this kind of always-on audio. Your team could decide to leave this feature on while working, as a way to remotely co-work. Just click any voice channel in the sidebar to enable the audio—you'll immediately be able to hear everyone else who enabled audio. That means you can quickly ask coworkers for help when you need it, or just have the occasional side conversation. It's easy to turn a channel off when you need to focus, or to start a new channel when you want to work with a smaller group. (Just try to remember when you've left audio on, especially if you wear a wireless headset, because people really can hear everything. Everything.)

Some conversations are easier to have out loud. Thomas Storey, a software developer at Feathr, told me his team uses Discord to do exactly this:

We were able to prioritize voice chat over text chat, which means complex things get discussed faster rather than typing out a long message and waiting for dots to turn into a long reply.

Discord doesn't stop at audio: just like Slack or Teams, there are also video calls and screen sharing. You can start a video call in a group DM, or you can just head to an audio channel and enable video. In my experience, the video quality is pretty good, meaning Discord could also be an alternative for apps like Zoom or Google Meet.

A major downside: no threads

Discord doesn't offer threads, and that's going to be a dealbreaker for large organizations. Zapier, for example, runs pretty much entirely in Slack. Threads are how we make it work.

Let me back up. In Slack, users can start a thread for any comment. This is a great way to organize channels by conversation, preventing a channel from being a mess of unrelated conversations.

Threads in Slack

Only users who comment in a thread are notified of new messages, which helps cut down on information overload. This is probably why Google Meet and Microsoft Teams both force users to speak in threads—it tames the clutter.

Discord doesn't support threads at all. You can kind of work around this by quoting people, but it's not the same.

Quoting in Discord

This kind of disorganized, free-flowing conversation is fine in an informal context. It's not great for getting actual work done—at least, not on a large team. It usually ends up with groups of people trying to have unrelated conversations.

For smaller teams, this likely isn't an issue. I've worked for companies with around 10 active Slack users, and we never used threads. It's an aesthetic preference at that point, and we preferred a more free-flowing conversation. Grow much past that, though, and threads become less a preference and more a necessity.

Other things to think about

There are a few other reasons Discord might not be the ideal app for work. Here's a quick roundup.

  • DMs are universal, not per-server. Direct messages are Discord-wide, as opposed to being contained in your company's server. This might make it hard to separate work from play. It also means that employees who quit will still have access to DMs with their team members.

  • Limited file uploads. File uploads are limited to 8 MB in the free version of Discord and 50 MB in the paid, meaning you can't use it to upload videos or even large photos. You can work around this by linking to files on other services.

  • The branding and documentation is very gaming-centric. This might not seem like a big deal, granted, but things could get confusing for people who aren't familiar with gaming culture and language.

  • More frequent outages. This is anecdotal, but Discord tends to go down more often than other chat apps.

  • Only 250 regular and 250 animated custom emoji per server. This might sound like plenty. It isn't. Zapier's Slack passed these numbers years ago—we have eight emoji just for my editor's dog, for example. We couldn't operate under these sorts of conditions.

If any of these limitations are dealbreakers, Discord isn't for you. Consider using an alternative chat app instead. If you can live with these limitations, however, Discord might be worth a shot.

Supplement Discord's integrations with Zapier

Apps like Slack, Google Chat, and Microsoft Teams offer official integrations with other apps, allowing you to do things like see when a new file is uploaded to Google Drive or your company is mentioned on Twitter. Discord doesn't offer much in the way of official integrations, at least not for business-facing apps. There's pretty much just user-created bots, most of which don't offer any kind of support.

You can build your own Discord bot using Zapier as a sort of workaround. Or you can use Zapier connect Discord to any of the other apps you use, allowing you to build just about any Discord integration you can imagine. You could, for example, find out when there are new posts on a Twitter page or RSS feed or when a new YouTube video is posted. But you could also create more work-related workflows, like alerting you when a meeting is about to start or when a new task has been added to your project management tool.

Check out our Discord integrations to learn more.

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Justin Pot picture

Justin Pot

Justin Pot is a staff writer at Zapier based in Hillsboro, Oregon. He loves technology, people, and nature, not necessarily in that order. You can follow Justin on Twitter: @jhpot. You don't have to. But you can.

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