Despite being created with Gamers in mind and most recently, NFT and Web3 activity, Discord is seeing an influx of use from influencers to promote private group chats, bonus podcasts and other benefits to devout followers. 

Meta Platforms is already waging a high-profile battle to keep TikTok from draining audiences from its best-known apps, Instagram and Facebook. Now Meta is having to respond to another set of competitors who are more quietly beginning to nip at its heels.

Increasingly, Instagram influencers are encouraging their most avid followers to meet up with each other on other platforms, such as Discord, Patreon, Telegram and an up-and-coming app, Geneva, where they can have deeper online discussions or pay to get access to bonus content. Deb Smikle, a creator known for posting photos of her outfits and videos reacting to online trends, is one of them.

For creators, creating a chat group on the popular online discussion app Discord is tempting due to the stilted nature of conversations in the public comments sections on social media posts.

The sense of community that Discord and web3 offers is arguably unbeatable in comparison to the feeling creators have on TikTok churning out content into a vast land of uncertainty.

We seem to be moving towards a direction that puts quality over quantity for creators. “Your community is your currency,” said Dan Weinstein, partner and co-founder of talent agency Underscore Talent. “How engaged your audience is with you and your content directly translates to your ability to build a business.”

At the dawn of the creator economy, many influencers were happy just to build fan bases on apps like Instagram by making content available to any follower. In some cases, those influencers would attempt to create more intimacy with followers by diving into the comments sections on their posts or even responding to direct messages from fans. But that’s a time-consuming process that has become tough to scale as their audiences get bigger.

“There is no in-between the ‘one-to-many shouting’ and ‘one-to-one’” communication, said Ellie Buckingham, CEO and co-founder of Landing, a company building a photo-focused community platform for creators. In the past, it was “very hard for creators to make superfollowers feel valued and engaged.”

Creators’ desire to create VIP experiences for their followers has emerged as their field has gotten more professionalised and competitive. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said as much in a recent interview with The Verge, in which he said influencers want to do more than create content that connects with their audiences.

Venture investors are showing signs of bullishness for a young batch of startups catering to creators’ hunger for community. Geneva, which is becoming an increasingly popular place for creators to chat with their fans, is in discussions to raise about $20 million in Series A funding from investors, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Community, a texting service for creators and brands to communicate directly with fans, is also in discussions to raise about $25 million in new funding, including from existing investors such as Salesforce Ventures, according to a source familiar with the funding talks.

The funding talks, which haven’t been previously reported, are noteworthy given that overall funding for creator economy startups has dropped for five straight quarters, according to data from The Information’s Creator Economy Database.

For now, most creators say they have no plans to ditch Instagram and its huge online audience for other community-focused platforms, viewing them as largely complementary. But Meta risks losing more and more audience attention over time, unless it can successfully offer better ways for creators to form deeper connections with their followers.

Instagram has begun taking steps in that direction with the introduction earlier this year of a paid subscriptions feature that offers fans access to exclusive content, a special badge next to their usernames denoting their superfan status, and private group chats between creators and subscribers. Meta has said it won’t take a cut from creator moneymaking features until the end of 2023.

“Community is integral to Instagram and as the app has grown, we’ve responded to users’ feedback as they’ve looked for more private spaces to connect,” a Meta spokesperson told The Information in a statement. “Audience controls are important and we will continue to explore new tools to give people and creators more ways to connect with smaller groups and communities across the app.”

Meta’s effort to create tighter communities on its apps comes as it is struggling with a slowdown in its core advertising business. The company has laid blame partially on changes Apple introduced last year, limiting companies like Meta from tracking users’ activity on other websites and using this data to target ads. User growth for Meta’s family of apps has also slowed dramatically in recent quarters. The company will report results for the third quarter Wednesday afternoon.

Meta’s biggest competitors are also beginning to respond to demand among their creators and users for smaller, like-minded groups. Last year, Twitter launched a feature called Communities as a way to connect with users based on similar interests, while earlier this year TikTok launched live subscriptions, where fans can pay to access a subscriber-only chat during a creator’s livestream, among other perks.

TikTok parent company ByteDance has been celebrating its e-commerce success as of late. Its Chinese sister app, Douyin, reported in May that it sold more than 10 billion products in a single year.

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