Discord for food brands – Eater

Diaspora Co., the five-year-old company on a mission to build a better spice trade, sold its first batch of kadipatta plants this year, sending small green sprouts to homes across the country in May. Also known as curry leaf trees, kadipatta plants have leaves that provide crucial flavor to many South Asian dishes, but – native to the subcontinent – they can be difficult to grow in the United States. United. So, to help its customers and their factories thrive, Diaspora has set up a kind of hotline.

With their purchase, shoppers gained access to Diaspora’s Discord server, where a channel called Kadipatta Care Community connects plant parents with each other as well as with Zee Husain, who co-founded Cultural Roots Nursery and with whom Diaspora has partnered. to grow plants. The string is used to ask questions such as: What should I do if I see tiny insects in the ground? What about a spot of white mold? Where should I put my plant during a heat wave? There are photos of the plants when they arrived in their new homes, as well as weeks later repotted and hopefully thriving.

Like Slack but not associated with office work, Discord is a communication platform where each group is called a server and each server can be partitioned into topic-specific channels. Live streaming and voice chat features initially made it popular with the gaming community, but its user base has grown and Discord now has over 150 million monthly active users. Diaspora has essentially turned its Discord server into a public square: on other channels, members share recipes and cookbook reviews, discuss where to get hard-to-find ingredients, and learn about how to use them. rose petals and beans. Since Diaspora started creating its Discord space in October, its server has gained over 1,400 members. Many of them came to the platform through kadipatta factories, while others gained early access through Club Masala, a loyalty program for anyone who purchased Diaspora’s masala dabba, a hand-spun brass spice jar, or spent over $200 a year – essentially, the server is packed with the most diehard Diaspora fans.

Discord is showing promise for Diaspora, which first found success through Instagram, where founder Sana Javeri Kadri’s long and honest captions attracted a like-minded audience. “It had a lot of power for a long time, we were able to create this really lovely, enthusiastic, third-culture, first-generation, second-generation community,” says Javeri Kadri. But in late 2020, it became clear that although Diaspora’s audience had grown (it currently has 113,000 Instagram followers), people weren’t seeing the brand’s posts as much due to changes in the algorithm. The change has been frustrating for Javeri Kadri and countless other small businesses, which have seen a major drop in sales without any recourse – and they still remain beholden to app vagaries.

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are crucial for introducing people to new food brands and creators, but the limitations of apps are becoming increasingly apparent. Javeri Kadri started feeling like the Diaspora Instagram account was talking to people, instead of allowing people to talk to each other. “The desire for something more, where we could engage with our community, felt really helpful,” she says. Channeling communities away from TikTok and Instagram — and into spaces that facilitate a direct relationship between creator and consumer — could be a way out of the algorithm-dependent cycle.

Diaspora is certainly not the first food brand to join Discord. When Wendy’s joined the platform last year, she built the “largest branded Discord server of all time, with a total of 52,000 members” in just two weeks, according to a press release. It has over 44,000 members at the time of this writing and remains relatively active in sharing fanart (more furs than burgers), pet images, and memes. Its existence indicates an expansion of the role that brands believe they should play in the lives of users.

“Yeah, it’s a place to talk about products,” Wendy’s social media manager, Kristin Tormey, told marketing firm Contagious in February. “But it wasn’t necessarily the idea that crossed the platform, it was more that we saw our audience switch to Discord. Now we are able to engage with this audience that we can talk to directly. Whether it’s upcoming announcements and brand activations, or just life in general.

While Diaspora brought its community to an existing platform, Ian Moore decided to build a new one. Inspired by a barbecue group discussion, he launched DEMI Community in 2020 with the aim of helping chefs generate income by creating their own online spaces. “Instagram is largely built on the amount of followers you have, rather than the depth of what those followers do,” Moore says.

In comparison, DEMI focuses on the power of a more engaged but smaller fan base. Through DEMI, a chef or food creator acts as a community host who guides discussions, offers prompts, and answers questions; access is via a paid monthly subscription. Similarly, there’s The Plate, a Berlin-based platform that aims to “give control back to food creators” through a subscription model for exclusive content. And it’s all part of a larger cultural shift towards spaces like Substack and Patreon.

What started in WhatsApp group chats — with some popular enough to reach the messaging platform’s previous limit of 256 members, according to Moore — now lives on in DEMI’s own app, which she launched on last year. For $10 a month, there’s Sandwich Ministry by chef Sicily Sierra and Never Ending Salon by pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz and Beit Mishmish by pop-up chef Michelle Nazzal, and more. “At the end of the day, creators deserve to move that audience off Instagram to have more direct contact with them,” Moore says. “They’re just borrowing from the public [on Instagram]; it’s quite dangerous, and I think it’s very unfair.

However, these modes of community development are not without drawbacks. With new groups online, there is always the risk of starting with a bang but quickly burning out, without the right prompts or active leaders. While DEMI made a lot of sense to creators and their communities at the height of the pandemic, things changed “by a million percent,” Moore says. “If you are a chef, what do you want to do? You want to cook. He now sees DEMI entering a new stage in which “community will be a feature within a platform”, not the be-all and end-all of the platform. The plan is also to facilitate showcases so that chefs, bakers and creators who often answer questions about where to get that ingredient or kitchen tool can get paid for the recommendations they already make.

After the initial hurdle of Diaspora’s Discord server setup and structure, Javeri Kadri says members have made the space “active and so healthy.” To keep the momentum going, she’s thinking about how Discord can really add value to its members’ lives, replicating the sense of community and dialogue she found on Instagram. As she and recipe editor Asha Loupy work on the first Diaspora cookbook, she thinks Discord could be the space, for example, to bounce ideas from Diaspora fans: would they find a chapter on biryani or a more useful chapter on chutney?

While Reels and TikToks will continue to be part of the Diaspora model, Discord is helping Javeri Kadri feel less dependent on them. “In an ideal scenario, Discord becomes a knowledge base for community information and resources,” she says. “That’s how a lot of [community] organizers use Discord; we take advantage of it.

Caroline Figel is an independent artist living in Brooklyn.

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