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Slack vs. Discord: Which should you use?

By Justin Pot · September 12, 2023
Hero image with the Slack logo on a dark purple background and the Discord logo on a light purple background

Comparing Slack to Discord doesn't, at first glance, make sense. It's apples to oranges—or, more accurately, conference room to arcade—in terms of branding. I mean, look at the homepages:

The Slack and Discord homepages

Slack is all-in on business, calling itself "built for productivity." Discord, historically a gaming tool, these days aims to serve online communities more generally and uses language like "hang out" in its homepage pitch. Not exactly overlapping categories, right? Peel away the branding, though, and these two apps aren't so different. They even look similar on the inside.

Conversations on Slack and Discord side by side

Both have a left sidebar full of icons, depending on which group of people you want to talk to. Beside that is a list of channels, then the current conversation, and a right sidebar. It's uncanny. 

The similarities continue. Both offer teams the chance to set up multiple channels for text conversation. Both offer video and audio calls. And both are used by millions of people every day, which is part of why they both made our list of the best team chat apps.

So, I understand why people might think these apps are interchangeable—to an extent, they are. There are plenty of online communities that happen on Slack, and some people use Discord for business. There is overlap. 

But these apps aren't entirely interchangeable. They have different strengths and weaknesses, which reflect their designers' priorities. Let's break those down and talk about what makes sense to use in which contexts. 

Slack does text chat better, especially for work

Text chat seems simple enough. You type something, you press enter, then your team can see it. And that's true, but put a bunch of people in a chat room, and things get disorganized quickly. Both Slack and Discord clearly have this in mind, but Slack seems just a bit more focused on keeping things organized—particularly if you're working on a large team.

Discord has been catching up on this—adding threads was a big step. But there are still a lot of small quality-of-life things that Slack does just a little bit better.

  • Slack lets users privately save posts for future reference; Discord doesn't. 

  • Slack offers an Activity view (formerly called Mentions & reactions), allowing you to see conversations that mention you and emoji reactions to your posts in one place; Discord offers an Inbox with mentions, but no way to monitor emoji reactions.

  • Slack lets you organize your sidebar using folders; Discord only allows this to happen at the server level, so individual users can't customize their own sidebars.

  • Slack users can upload an unlimited number of custom emoji, even on the free version; free Discord servers are limited to 50 or 100, depending on whether a paid user decides to "boost" a given server.

And it's not just text—this extends to other features. Discord users can't upload files larger than 25MB on the free version (or 500MB if they're paid users). Slack limits files to 1GB, even in the free version, which is obviously a lot more generous.

I could go on. Slack has all kinds of little chat touches that Discord lacks. One of my most read articles is about how to bold on Discord because Discord doesn't do anything to help people learn how its formatting works. Slack has obvious formatting buttons. There's just more attention to detail on Slack when it comes to text chat.

This isn't to say that Discord is unusable. Slack just has more polish, and that gives it an edge in this category. 

Discord does audio and video better

Slack offers video chat. A lot of their customers pay for Zoom. How much more do I really need to say? Audio and video calls simply aren't Slack's strengths. 

Discord, however, excels on the AV front. Audio channels are what Discord built its reputation around. Gamers left the service running in the background on their computers, so they could talk to each other while playing online games. It's important for audio chats to have very little lag in that context, and Discord delivers—Slack, meanwhile, is lacking on that front. Discord's sound quality is also much better, and there are all kinds of options Slack lacks. You can adjust the volume for everyone in the conversation, for example. 

Until recently, there was a different philosophy here, but the two apps are converging. Discord offers dedicated audio channels, which users can turn on and off whenever they want. It's less like a call and more like a room you stop by in. This is perfect for gaming and general hanging out, but it's also a great co-working tool. People can stop by and leave as they like, and there's even video and screen sharing. Slack recently launched a new feature called Huddles that's very similar to Discord's always-on audio channels and can largely be used the same way (although Huddles are limited to two people in the free version of Slack, functionally making them almost useless).

Both services also offer something more like traditional phone calls, with video and screen sharing. In my tests, Slack works a lot less reliably, which is probably why so many Zapier customers connect Slack to Zoom.

Slack has better integrations (but you can work around that)

Slack offers thousands of integrations with all kinds of business applications, from Google Drive to Zoom to Twitter. Discord doesn't really offer official integrations, relying instead on bots built by third parties. These tend to be focused less on getting work done and more on building communities, which again makes sense given each app's target market. But if you rely on officially supported integrations with SaaS apps, Discord probably isn't the best fit. 

There are workarounds, though. You can build a Discord bot using Zapier, for example. Or you can use Zapier to 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 in an 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.

Send new YouTube videos in Discord channel messages

Send new YouTube videos in Discord channel messages
  • YouTube logo
  • Discord logo
YouTube + Discord

Post new RSS items to Discord channels

Post new RSS items to Discord channels
  • RSS by Zapier logo
  • Discord logo
RSS by Zapier + Discord

Post Discord messages before events in Google Calendar

Post Discord messages before events in Google Calendar
  • Google Calendar logo
  • Discord logo
Google Calendar + Discord

Send daily messages to Discord channels

Send daily messages to Discord channels
  • Schedule by Zapier logo
  • Discord logo
Schedule by Zapier + Discord

There's also nothing stopping you from building your own Slackbot, while you're at it. 

Here are the best automations for Slack users.

Companies have more control over Slack

Slack is built with workplace administrators in mind. They own the workspace and enforce their own rules. The company owns the Slack, basically. 

Discord is closer to a public website, like Reddit. It's built with community moderators in mind, and there are Discord-wide content policies and enforcement. Put simply, companies running a Slack are in control. Discord moderators aren't—at least, not to the same extent. 

This extends to how direct messages (DMs) work. Slack DMs occur within a specific Slack instance, meaning you can only really chat with your co-workers. There are exceptions—you can add guests to your Slack instance, only giving them access to DMs and a few channels. There's also Slack Connect, which allows you to chat with people at other companies. Even if you're messaging someone outside your organization, however, those messages still live "inside" the organization's instance of Slack, which means the company that owns the Slack instance has access to those DM records, assuming your Slack account is paid.

Discord DMs don't work this way. DMs don't live inside a particular server—they're Discord-wide. You can DM your co-workers, sure, but you'll be using the same interface you'd use to DM anyone else. This means, in a business context, a company doesn't have access to DM logs by default—they would likely have to make a compelling legal argument to get that access.

This makes sense, given the difference in target market and philosophy. It's just worth keeping in mind. 

Discord is basically free, while Slack's free version is limited

Pricing is another example of Discord being community-minded and Slack being focused on organizations. 

Running a Discord server is free and comes with basically all features. Individual users can pay for Nitro and unlock a few goodies, like more custom emoji and bigger upload sizes. Individual users can also opt to give boosts to servers, which unlocks more emoji slots and animated server icons. It's very much on community members to donate these perks, if they want to, and the differences are largely cosmetic. 

Slack couldn't be more different. The free version lacks many key features. Most notably, the message archive is limited to the past 90 days—everything beyond that can't be searched for or scrolled up to. Other missing features include Huddles, which are limited to two people on the free plan. There's also no way for an individual user to upgrade—the admin has to pay, and the price is per user. Pro, the cheapest tier, is $8.75 per user per month (billed monthly). That adds up quickly, especially for an online community. This kind of pricing is probably only sustainable for businesses.

Slack or Discord: Which should you use?

Given these differences, which service should you use? Honestly, I think you should trust the branding (and this is coming from someone who does not, as a rule, trust branding). Discord is ideal for online communities, while Slack is better for businesses. It's just what they're built for. 

This isn't to say you can't mix it up. You can absolutely host an online community on Slack, particularly if you're fine with only having an archive of the 10,000 most recent messages. And you can use Discord for business, if you're willing to work around some of the limitations. These tools aren't interchangeable, exactly, but they have enough similarities that you have a choice to make. Just keep the differences in mind. 

Related reading:

  • Slack vs. Teams: Which should your business use?

  • The best video conferencing software for teams

  • How to build a Discord community for your brand

  • Google Chat vs. Slack: Which is better?

This article was originally published in June 2019 by Dane O'Leary. The most recent update was in September 2023.

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'