How to Manage a 1,000+ Member Discord Chat Room and Keep it Fun

Written by Matt Hart on June 27, 2024

One year after Wonderly helped Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider launch a membership “Casey & Danielle’s Garbage World” using Memberful, WordPress, and Discord their managing producer Cait joined us to reflect on the wild success of that Discord “Chat Rooms” space and lessons learned moderating it.

Key Takeaways:

1. Look for the Helpers

Garbage World identified which members were not necessarily chatting the most, but were the most actively helpful for other users. Those people who would go out of their way to welcome or point a new user to their favorite topics in a crowded Discord server were later elevated to a paid moderator status. This staff keeps an eye on all conversations, and sends daily recaps to Cait, Casey, and Danielle about hot topics, controversies, and anything else they should know about.

2. Give the People What They Want

The Garbage World team had some expectations and assumptions going in about the best way to organize channels, threads, and other Discord content. Soon after launch, however, they leaned into simply saying YES to requested offshoots. One helpful tactic was creating an “Everything Else” channel that could then house many different requested threads. Paid moderators keep track of all the threads that exist to point new members to, but threads could fade into the background if they were not used, and are most visible to the people who participate in them.

3. The Field of Dreams Rule Applies (if your Audience is Highly Engaged)

Even though a very small percentage of Garbage World’s audience had used Discord before, framing it as an exciting “Chat Room” feature for their audience to finally connect with each other led to a very high adoption rate. Education around what Discord is (like a messaging app) and is not (another social media platform) and talking up how much fun it is in there has increased engagement over time.

Full Transcript:

Matt Hart: Hi there, folks. This is Matt. I’m the technical lead and lead WordPress developer at Wonderly, and one of the things that Wonderly does is we help set people up with memberships, and a key element of a lot of very social memberships is integration with a platform called Discord that can create chat rooms and a very social environment in ways that classic websites really struggle to do, WordPress websites really struggle to do. And so today we’re going to be talking with Cait, who is the managing producer at Casey and Danielle’s Garbage World. This membership launched about a year ago, has been extremely successful, and they’ve got over 1000 active users in their Discord and many more lurkers behind the scenes.

And really excited to talk to you, Cait, about your experience over the last year and everything that you’ve learned about helping manage communities in this way. Cait, thank you so much for talking to me today.

Producer Cait: No problem!

MH: Fantastic. Anything else, just sort of, about your role with Casey and Danielle that you want to add to that intro?

PC: I do everything. So managing producer really just means managing. We’re a small team, which is great because we actually move fast. We’re pretty agile. So I would say, you know, I am producing the content, but I’m also kind of in a role we’re going to talk about, I’m sure, which is like community management.

MH: When we worked on this project and built the site and set up the membership system about a year ago, you were already really involved through the podcast and through other things. But I’d love to hear sort of over the course of that first year of the membership, how has your role changed? How has sort of like the percentage of your time that you ended up doing X very different from when it was in the beginning?

PC: Yeah, so I came on essentially as what they would call a predator, which is a producer editor. It’s really silly because it sounds awful, but that’s just kind of a fun role, just meaning that, you know, we’re making content, so I’m doing the, the content planning, which is like looking guests and, you know, making sure everybody has what they need tech-wise, helping the creatives, which is Casey and Danielle the talent, decide what they want to talk about and anything they need to make their content. And then on the back end, I also would edit and deliver for publishing.

That’s pretty much all I did – the interaction that we had with our audience, because we were with a large network before going to a membership subscription model, was nothing. I mean, we, we were publishing and we had some idea of like, analytics. But podcast analytics are really limited, you know. You can’t get any kind of demographic information, etc.

So my role was basically just full end-to-end production, but not at all touching, I would say like, you know, PR or community or any of that.

Now that we’re a membership model, and specifically now that we’ve integrated Discord because, I mean, you could definitely integrate Discord into being a part of a larger network and just, having, you know, either a free Discord or a Patreon that’s attached.

Now I’ve really stepped into a role of kind of a mediator between the two, but meaning like translating the audience, which is so active, and so, like, they have built their own community and everything that they want from it, which is wonderful.

MH: I remember that being one of the big goals.

PC: They were betting on themselves, Casey and Danielle, knowing that their content was leading to this kind of family style audience, but you don’t know until you do it. 

MH: Haha, yeah. 

PC: It definitely came to be. And so I now serve as like, I take the top level needs of the audience and apply that to the content. So I’m already doing the content production, but now I can kind of, cater it to what our audience loves and wants and what they like best. And part of that means, like, basically directly interacting with the audience and figuring out, within the Discord, what are the most popular channels? What is the biggest discussion? Figuring out moderation, stuff like that.

And that has helped us. I mean, it’s done half the work in content planning. I’ll tell you that. We’re not in the dark about what they want to hear. We know exactly. We have a bullet list of what they want, which is great.

MH: Do you have any strategies for sort of distilling a lot of information in a lot of different places in the Discord to that sort of bullet point list that you talked about?

PC: Yes, an active, enthusiastic, paid moderator. So somebody who is already in the Discord. And there’s, there’s we almost have, like, a little, crew, like a community of people who have taken ownership of the Discord themselves.

And, you know, whether it be their organizing their own events, like, “Hi, I’m watching a, a new episode. Does anyone want to watch with me and chat about it?” or whether they’re posting, sometimes they’ll, they’ll post like, “One of our members is running for Congress” and they’ll be putting it on all the threads or helping each other.

How do I get to this? How do I get. And then so there have been about 4 or 5 people who are obviously on top of it. And so we’ve taken that group and kind of and like, hey, we need a summary of what’s going on in here because 1000 members is a lot. 

MH: Yeah. Yeah. 

PC: And there’s a lot going on in the reality world all the time. Sorry, the reality. The reality TV show world, I should say, on a reality reality TV shows. 

MH: Thank you for clarifying.

PC: And because they’re already in there, they’re already experiencing the community, bonding with each other, etc. They kind of know the vibe of what’s the most popular thing. 

MH: What is a consensus that’s building, going up. 

PC: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Or even, you know, it’s been lovely to hear feedback and it’s not necessarily negative feedback. I would say constructive feedback. You know, we’re covering certain shows and the, the audience at home will be like, “You have the wrong take. You’re totally a staff member.” And they kind of gather together. We’re all tired of hearing it. And it, it it’s a great I mean, it’s great for drama. It’s again great for content because the talent gets to bounce off that, change their mind, do more research, interact with the audience in a way that they never could before. 

MH: Mhm.

PC: So yeah, I think that answers the question. We have a, we have a tier of very active members, who we do pay for their time. I know, it could go either way because they certainly feel like they’re rewarded regardless. But they help us summarize – I get daily summaries. 

MH: Amazing. 

PC: Of what’s the hottest goss and also like what, you know, what needs to be fixed.

MH: Yeah. 

PC: Because I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. And certainly the, you know, our talent has a lot going on as well. So we’re not in there 100% of the time.

MH: Yeah. In terms of identifying those folks, were they just sort of the people who were the chattiest in the way that you wanted people to be chatty, you know?

PC: No. 

MH: No. Interesting.

PC: Yeah, we have a unique audience, I think, in that they’re, again, it’s reality television. So they’re incredibly outspoken. And some of them like to stir up some drama. And so those would be the chattiest. 

MH: Okay. 

PC: The ones we chose tended to be people who were, responding to need. So people who are saying, “hey, I can’t figure out Discord at all.” The first person who’s saying, “oh, let me help you.” Or someone saying how to, “how do we schedule local meetups?” and someone being like “we have a thread for that.” That tended to be a core group of people and I knew not only are they watching the Discord, they also kind of know the answers on how to help people and that, when we were looking for a moderator, that was the thought is who’s in here facilitating the most?

MH: That’s fantastic. Yeah, that’s sort of like Mister Rogers, like, look for the helpers, right?

PC: Yeah, absolutely. 

MH: Yeah. 

PC: And they honestly have, I mean, they’re holding up, we love them. We’ll just say that. They’re holding up a large part of our community infrastructure by helping out, but they also kind of love doing it because they’re already in there every day doing their own, you know, mental summaries of what’s going on as part of their, um social life.

MH: Daily routine.

PC: Yeah, absolutely.

MH: So what are some challenges that you’ve seen in that last year? We sort of talked a little bit about having some help, sort of rise up or being able to identify those people who can help. What are some of the challenges in terms of, moderating in the community or just sort of the like, the sculpting of making the Discord space what you want it to be? And how have you sort of approached those challenges as they’ve come up?

PC: Our biggest challenge is that our audience demographic was not going to be familiar with Discord. 

MH: Yep. And from day one. Yeah. 

PC: From day one they’re, you know, maybe they’re using Slack at work, but it’s just, they’re not going to be super familiar with Discord. And so actually you and Wonderly helped us out most in, in creating some, some really good onboarding materials and then also setting up threads where people could land, you know, a little of where they could dip their toe in the water, whether that’s in the introductions or introduce yourself or even having a thread that’s like “tech help.”

People not only could go searching for answers from us running the Discord, but other members who already have it figured out. The few of them who already knew all about Discord could hop in there and help them out. So that was the biggest thing. And then, honestly, just messaging like to our audience being like, “it’s not scary – it’s essentially a chat room or it’s Slack.”

And keeping that messaging going in our episodes, but also in emails for new members. Kind of reminding them, because I think a lot of people were a little hesitant to join Discord, reminding them like, it’s actually great and it’s not scary, and you’re going to just get right in there and start chatting. And then we did continue to mention, like, the fun stuff that was going on in Discord in our content, which encourages people to join, and then also having live events, people feel like, well, I’ll join just for today because we’re having a live event. We’re all going to watch a thing. 

And then I think that would hook people because they’re like, oh, I figured this out. It’s not that bad. It’s basically like a messaging app. Yeah. So that was our biggest challenge. And then getting over that was again, just kind of rebranding Discord a little bit to be less gamer and more community.

Other than that, it’s just been, like the amount, just the amount of activity and stuff that’s going on in the Discord, the amount of threads. But like I said, the summarizing everything and finding a moderator for that, that once we found a really good moderator to help us with that, that was probably our second challenge – getting people in and then kind of figuring out what they’re doing in here. So yeah.

MH: Yeah. I know for you all, it’s the, with your audience. There’s everybody wants to talk about their show, right? I remember sort of conversations that we had sort of pre-launch when we were trying to hypothesize what people would want or like, how it would end up being.

And I remember we sort of we had a lot of conversations about like, do we want it? How many channels do we want to have? Like, do we want it? You know, what are we going to do? How are we going to keep it efficient? And then, at least what I observed in the last year, because obviously I’m still in there all the time in the Bachelor channel. That’s my home base in your Discord is, that it was just sort of like a little bit of a screw it. Let’s just give the people what they want.

PC: Give them what they want. I think we went from, I don’t know, 20 channels to now. We have maybe like 100. It’s massive and it can be overwhelming. But again, having people jump in and say, okay, where can I talk about The Bachelor and someone and the encouraging everyone to be helpful and say here, here’s the thread, tag it, get in there. It’s kind of incredible how much they’re really encouraging each other to use it themselves because they want to hear what the new person’s hot take is.

MH: We tend to sort of think of spaces like this as very sort of top down in terms of moderation or like the people up in the moderator block are the people who, like, know everything and like need to help everybody, but especially in these really community-oriented spaces, it’s like, yeah, if there’s one person that just walked in and they’re interested in the thing, I’m interested, I want them to get over there. And so it’s it’s really in everybody’s, in every active users best interest for like a new person to be able to find their corner, or find, like, the table in the cafeteria that they’re looking for.

PC: Well, we’ve also started thinking of our members, kind of as part of the content creation team. Like, like, and I’m sure, you know, creators are often people who are using Discord.

We’re not only mentioning funny things the Discord users are saying in our episodes, but imagine being new to Discord logging in and here is all of this content from people who love the same thing you do that you can read through. I imagine for lurkers, even people who aren’t posting but are just reading, I mean, it’s just a never-ending feed from friends, you know?

MH: Yeah, absolutely. But I would love to hear maybe just a little bit more from you about like, what you expected going in and, and how that, how the reality like really changed that in, in good ways, in challenging ways. Whatever.

PC: The biggest thing, I think the biggest fear we had with our Discord is that we previously had experience with Facebook groups. That was somewhere where we were trying to connect with our fans and see what cities did we want to do live shows. And you know, what were they thinking about all these wonderful things that we’ve gotten from them now in the Discord? You know, where sometimes they’re challenging the opinions on the shows, or sometimes they’re introducing new shows to all these wonderful things.

We were seeking that on Facebook and I’m not sure if it’s, you know, I couldn’t diagnose it. I don’t know if it’s because Facebook is a free platform and anybody can be on there, but it would just kind of devolve. You know, 1 or 2 people would kind of take over with permission to do whatever. Usually something chaotic and it was really hard to understand if the audience was truly there in these Facebook groups and what they wanted. Where now we’re again in a membership model, so not only are the people in the Discord invited, but they’re also paying to be there. And so there’s this level of expectation they not only have from us, but from each other.

So the same people who would be in the Facebook group and try to maybe like just divert attention or like dismantle what we’re trying to do. Any time someone would kind of start with that the Discord members, we had to do nothing. But Discord members would come in and say, absolutely not. Like this is our safe space, this is our community. We’re here having fun. Like, even just stuff like, you know, spamming. I’ve got a business or whatever. We’re not here. We’re all paying to be here. We want it to be, you know, keep your side of the road clean. 

And we, I think, have been really blown away by that because we just didn’t expect it. You know, the internet’s full of anonymity and it is what it is. And so we were kind of, you know I think just afraid that the management of that would be on us so that the members who did want to be there and feel like it was a safe space would be dependent on us and truly, no. 

MH: It’s like very self moderated. 

PC: Yeah. 

MH: Interesting. 

PC: That has, yeah, surprised us. And then also I think what surprised us is they are holding us as creators accountable to their community, which we love and are embracing. Even if it’s just as simple as “we’re tired of talking about this show,” it’s just a great, like, positive feedback loop for us to be able to do that with them. And we were super.

I think, I’m a little more tech savvy than my bosses, Casey and Danielle. They were definitely like, this isn’t going to work. I think there was one point in our conversation, they were like, “let’s just drop Discord. We don’t care.” And you and Wonderly were very good at being like, “no, we think you need it. You’re going to set it up and it’s not that bad” 

MH: Or we really feel like your audience want, like, desperately wants this. 

PC: Yes, and they did and we didn’t know it and there was no way for us to know it. And now I think it went from thinking, this is just a side thing, like a small benefit, to a core part of what we’re doing. 

MH: Yeah, yeah. I thought that was definitely one of the big things, even just in the couple weeks after launch, where I was just like, oh, I think people are going to care way more about the Discord than all this stuff I did on the website. You know, like, it’s like that, that piece is important and it’s really fantastic as an archive for a lot of the things that you do. But that it just the how much people were going to love being in the Discord just became so clear, so fast

PC: And, you know this – I just recently figured out how to make it so that people can be in the Discord commenting on live streams. 

MH: Yeah. When you’re doing the unlisted YouTube lives. Yeah. 

PC: Yeah. So I know people are sitting on their couch watching a digital, you know, a web live stream on their televisions and just on their phones, and I, I love it. Truly. 

MH: Yeah. Yeah. 

PC: Yep.

MH: Are there any sort of specific tech-oriented tips or, like, Discord tips that were sort of helpful to explain or just helpful for sort of getting people, getting people into it? That somebody else sort of starting a brand new server that would be sort of useful for them to, to be really loud about with their early adopters.

PC: Sure. I mean, I think the approach we took was mobile first, so it was very much like, use the mobile app to sign up. Don’t worry about getting your computer involved. 

MH: And like really actively saying this, just do it this way? 

PC: Yeah, because I think it would be, one – it’s, I think where people are the most. Because, and this was another part of the messaging, is that Discord, very much like a WhatsApp or an iMessages. You just have instead of group chats, you have thread, and it’s just larger groups of people. And so getting our audience to treat it more like a messaging app and less like a, I mean, and that’s what it is. But yeah, presented a little bit differently than the way Discord presents itself, was helpful. I mean, we basically just referred to it as chat rooms, which for our demographic was really fun because like, hey, remember? 

MH: Haha. Yeah, exactly. Definitely had a lot of people come and be like, oh, it’s like AOL. 

PC: Yeah. And and much less so like, Instagram or Facebook. Yeah. I think some people might approach thinking that’s what it is and go, “I don’t want to learn another social media.” And it’s like it is not. 

MH: Exactly, exactly. We just had like one of my favorite comments on a call that I was just on this morning with someone who just launched a membership with a Discord is I said, you know, just how is it feeling? Like, is it fun? Is it good? And she was like, “it’s so fun that it makes me like, never want to log into Instagram again.”

PC: Yeah, and a lot of members say the same thing. They were like, yeah, so happy to not have to go to Facebook to get our Housewives news or our reality TV news. We can just go to the Discord, where everybody is, you know, working hard to get me the news I want, to talk about the things I want to talk about.

MH: Yeah. Exactly. 

PC: Also more specifically curated experience for them.

MH: Yeah, absolutely. Anything else that comes to mind in terms of just like, the stuff that people struggled with?

PC: We just honestly did a lot of reminding of our guidelines, like there was never like, I’ve never had to ban anybody or put anyone, you know, or silence them or what. It was very much, so I think there’s a fear of people who want to open up a Discord. They’re thinking to themselves like, well, I don’t want to have to like, reprimand and put people in timeout and also make decisions as to whether or not if what people are posting is wrong or right. You actually don’t have to do any of that. All you need to do is just remind kindness and you just say, hey, we’re all here because we love this thing, so supposedly we love each other. 

Maybe somebody’s having a bad day and they’ve typed something out that they probably shouldn’t have typed out. And so just a reminder that’s what like what we’re all here for. And on the whole that’s that’s managed all things that felt even slightly difficult or icky. Because again they’re our audience, they’re our people and they’re all here to connect with each other.

So that fear was, that difficulty, any like, thing that might have hesitated and also hesitated people to join, has been really easy to manage. People are nicer than you think they would be on the internet. 

MH: Yeah. Especially when they had to pay to get in. 

PC: Depends on where you are. Yeah.

MH: Cait, thank you so much. Thank you so much for your time. As we wrap up, just if there’s any folks who are sort of in the position where you were a year ago of sort of getting into this, getting into this for the first time or sort of learning a lot of things on the fly. Is there any just advice or anything that you would tell sort of past you or other folks that are in a similar position?

PC: I just thought of something so incredibly cheesy, but it’s the “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing. Which is more to say that it, it built organically and slowly. So I think we opened the gates thinking that we would have a lot, either a lot of users or no users, and then we would have to deal with that.

And it ended up being a like the slow climb, where all of the difficulties were, like, met at a reasonable pace and, and again, and it built itself built upon itself. So all we had to do was just say like, let’s get in here. And then, and then our expectations were squashed, so it was just about like kind of going with what everybody wanted.

MH: Yeah, totally. And you all did a really good job of, and this is something that I often recommend, like especially with those that first batch of people or those first really early adopters, really enthusiastic folks. Being very sort of straightforward around like, we’re figuring this out. Like we want to make something that you guys like and like it’s probably going to change a lot in these first few months. And like, we’re all going to be sort of part of that journey together versus sort of this is exactly what we’re selling you. I hope you like it. You know. 

PC: And I would say this is like a small tech thing. For people who are just starting that, they’re just in the beginning of managing their Discord. People, the members or the community members will want a new thread about a specific thing, and I think I personally had the instinct where I was like, well, we don’t want too many threads. It’s going to get out of hand. But we took the stance of not saying no to particular users. You’re saying like the first batch of members and just trusting.

Okay, we’ll make a thread about that. We’ll make a thread about knitting. Sure. That makes no sense to us, but you asked for it. And one, the threads that don’t get used, fall behind people forget about them and it doesn’t take up any space. And two what you’ve done is just, you know, made more and more and more open space for people to love it. So just don’t say no to, hey, can we add this? Can we do this? Can we have polls? Should we do events like this? Don’t say no. Just let them build their own spot. 

MH: Yeah. Great. Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Cait. Really, really appreciate, really appreciate all of your insights. And everyone go check out Casey and Danielle’s Garbage World dot com.