Levellr's community predictions for 2023

Written by Ben Barbersmith

2022 was a watershed moment for community building. From KSI to Manchester United, Steven Bartlett to Gap, Harry Styles to Adidas: we saw some of the world’s largest creators, brands and sports rights holders launch and grow communities on messaging apps like Discord & Telegram.

At Levellr we work with clients from Fall Out Boy to Starbucks and we see a huge shift from open networks to closed safe spaces. Messaging apps like Discord, Whatsapp & Telegram are capitalising on this shift. They have, in many ways, evolved into the modern fan forum.

They each have their own quirks and functionality. Each will work best for communities of certain sizes and demographics, and to achieve specific goals. But they all share one commonality: multiple people can have on-going and real-time conversations.

The habitual shift from web based forums to messaging apps continues at speed. An incredible 4.2bn messages per hour are sent on WhatsApp. Telegram became one of the top 5 most used apps in the world in 2022 with 700 million monthly active users (MAU). Discord is growing like wildfire and is now used by more teenagers in the US than Facebook.

So what does 2023 look like for the community space? Here are our predictions at Levellr.

1. 2023 is the year messaging communities cross the chasm from early adopters to mass adoption

According to eConsultancy, 82% of business leaders agree that customer retention is significantly cheaper compared to customer acquisition. So what happens when there is a recession and marketing budgets are under pressure?

  1. Marketing teams will get increasingly creative because they can’t just throw money at paid ads and expect a positive ROI. This will lead to more open-mindedness on community building.
  2. Healthy communities will empower fans to drive the marketing flywheel through powerful word-of-mouth. In effect, healthy communities will produce free advertising.
  3. Engaged communities will drive repeat purchases from superfans (the top 5% of customers).

Expect more brands to enter the space.

2. Discord becomes the de facto community platform for creators & brands focusing on Gen Z

Gen Z spend on average 4 hours or more a day on social platforms, and we’re seeing Discord start eating away at time that was previously spent on traditional socials. A recent Benzinga report showed 35% of Gen Z voted Discord as their favourite social channel. This is a highly focused audience, especially in contrast with the unpredictable algorithms of social media. We expect to see Discord budgets start popping on marketing & digital leaders desks this year.

3. Mature communities start to focus on evolving digital relationship building to IRL

We’ve seen first hand that the sign of a super healthy community is when fans who forge digital relationships start to meet-up IRL. We’ve seen this with music artists, podcasters, YouTubers and brand communities.

This shift requires setting up the community strategically and briefing community owners & mods to drive IRL relationships as an objective. But when people start creating true friendships because of a brand, you know you're creating serious advocates…

4. Community owners start to get smart with e-commerce

Unlike socials where creators & brands often focus on scale, communities are about quality conversion of superfans. And guess what happens when you offer products to your most engaged fans who are now congregated in one space and unfiltered by fickle social algorithms?

Expect to see more integrations into third-parties like Shopify this year… (including from us!)

5. WhatsApp will become a major community player for small creators & brands focusing on product feedback loops

“Can we just build our community on Whatsapp?”

We get this a question a lot, and to date the answer has been "no" due to feature limitations. However, WhatsApp’s recent community update is making this idea more feasible. You can now have just over 1000 members in your group, which fits nicely for smaller creators and brands that want to have a key group of customers to iterate on product with.

But you still can’t hide mobile numbers (not great for safety) and we’ve heard first hand from community members that they prefer to keep WhatsApp for friends & family chat. They welcome the separation of community chat on other apps such as Telegram and Discord.

Whatever happens, the size of WhatsApp's userbase makes community building is inevitable. And Levellr are now doing just that: we are helping our customers to build, grow and monetize communities on the largest messaging app globally.

6. Brands will focus on building smaller gated communities for specific customers rather than opening them to all

Without naming names, we saw a few brands open Discord servers last year which anybody and everybody could join. This inevitably brings bad actors, and makes real connection and engagement between community members challenging.

For a community to be healthy, you must have two things:

  1. Purpose
  2. To have members building relationships with others and coming back to the community to grow those relationships

This year we’ll see more gating of communities for focused segments of customers with a shared passion (e.g. season ticket holders only, loyalty app holders only, member benefits, etc.)

7. Social platforms will focus on messaging functionality

Instagram vastly improved chat groups in 2022, allowing up to 250 people to join. Snapchat upped the number of users in chat groups to 100. It feels inevitable that TikTok will be working on group chat functionality. We expect more big product leaps for chat groups on the major social platforms in 2023.

8. Geneva is the dark horse platform that will see some major creator launches in 2023

Group chat app Geneva, which recently closed a $21m Series A round, is growing fast with influencers. It's especially resonating with TikTok-focused and female creators. The unique combination of Slack, Facebook groups, Zoom and Calendar functionality is appealing far and wide — without the scary Discord UI. We expect to see some big launches here in 2023.

9. AI, ChatGPT and the future of moderation

Since the launch of the incredible AI system GPT-3, it seems like half the world’s entrepreneurs are building AI startups! But what impact will AI have on communities?

At Levellr, we don’t believe that AI can ever totally remove the need for human moderators. A healthy community requires its members to have trust, feel safe, and to form real connections. This requires engaged moderators who care about the community purpose, and that won't change.

But AI can make the job of a moderator significantly easier. AI can also help community owners manage & grow their communities: summarizing conversations to find trending topics, flagging if conversations are turning negative, etc.

We’re building some exciting AI community superpowers at Levellr this year… Watch this space!

10. From one community to many on Discord

The final trend we expect to see in 2023 is creators & brands cleverly using the bot store, and bots being adopted more widely in small private communities.

Alongside their own communities, brands & creators can now launch bots that users across Discord and Telegram can drop into their own community spaces. This opens up a significant new reach opportunity, and allows for lots of creativity. For example:

  • A music artist could exclusively launch a song on Discord that you can only listen to by dropping the bot into your server
  • Media companies could build a bot that automatically posts news & updates into servers
  • Game makers could create a bot that allows for interactive gaming experiences in any server.

We love this shift, and we’re working on community-agnostic bots as we speak!

2023 is going to be the year of community

If you're thinking of building a community in 2023, Levellr are here to help. We provide the software and services creators & brands need to grow, manage and monetize healthy communitiese of superfans on Discord, Telegram, WhatsApp, and beyond.

Your superfans are waiting. Contact Levellr today to find out how you can build a community which works for your brand.

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