Managing Exponential Membership Growth in your Server
Servers tend to have an ebb and flow in the rate of incoming new users. There are outlying factors that affect the rate of new joins for all servers including holidays, breaks in school, and times of year when Discord picks up new users at a higher rate. There are also times where specific communities will see a rapid increase in new joins. This can look different for different types of servers. For verified servers, this could be immediately following the content creator or game developer that the server is based around plugging the server on Twitter, hosting an AMA, or hosting events or tournaments within the server; for LGBTQ+ servers, this could be during and preceding Pride Month; and for gaming servers this can come from new updates being pushed or leaks being revealed.
In addition, any servers that are on Discord’s Server Discovery will potentially see a huge increase in their join rates depending on their focus and the keywords they have in Discovery, especially if they are featured on the front page by Discord. Popup event servers that are being set up temporarily or servers that are mentioned by people with large followings will also see a huge influx of users joining very rapidly from whatever avenues the server was advertised through.
Growth can be difficult to manage at normal rates, and explosive growth can be especially difficult. Teams will need to prepare for influxes of users, manage their entry into the space, ensure that they can integrate with and navigate the different parts of the community during a more turbulent or hectic time, and maintain the purpose and mission of the community with minimal disruption. Throughout all of this, moderators will also have to deal with an increase in the volume of bad actors joining and the increase in required moderation actions to keep things running smoothly.
This article will serve to educate you on how best to handle and prepare for a significant increase in your server growth over a short period of time, whether it be for a temporary event space or for an existing server that’s getting a boost.
You should check in with your moderation team before large events to ensure they are still on board and understand that they will be experiencing an increased demand for their time and attention. Avoiding burnout should be one of your main goals in evaluating your staffing; if you are already short-staffed or your staff members are juggling just as much as they can handle, you need to be aware before you are dealing with thousands of new users.
Doing this is equally important for long and short-term team health. After an extended period of dealing with the frustrating issues that come up with tons of new users, moderators and other team members may find themselves less engaged with the community and exhausted in the long term, even if they are capable of shouldering the short-term stress and increased demand. This can be mitigated by moving some work to auto-moderation and bringing in new people for only the short term who can just dip out to take care of themselves when things settle down. Using tools like modmail snippets, and setting up text replacement rules or custom bot commands to send a template response to common questions can save a lot of time and energy.
Times of increased workload can also put on additional strain or exacerbate any existing internal issues. It is important to evaluate whether there are any important issues that you need to address before preparing for the influx of users. If your team does not think that the way you are operating is sustainable for them, that should be handled before any extra stress is added into the mix.
Regardless of the kind of community you’re leading, if you are expecting a huge influx of users, you may want to consider staggering your advertising efforts. If the company behind your verified game server is planning to put your invite into the game, on Twitter, Instagram, email, etc. it may be best to launch all of these announcements at different times so that there is a more manageable trickle of new users coming in. Typically, minimizing disruption and keeping advertising ethical is the name of the game when it comes to moderation, but there are unique instances where it can be used as a marketing tool to create a measured amount of chaos with the purpose of building a feeling of hype and excitement in the server.
If you are gaining an unexpected or potentially unwelcome boost from being mentioned by a famous person or some other extraordinary situation, it may make sense to take down your regular advertising, remove your cross-linking between platforms, disable certain invites, or take any other actions to generally reduce the flow of new users. This may not help if the vast majority of your new users are coming from one source that, for example, posted a vanity invite link that you don’t want to remove and have potentially stolen by another server.
Pooling Resources/Getting Help
Unless you have a very large team with a lot of free time, it may be necessary to reach out for help outside of your moderation team. You can add moderators or explore adding temporary helpers and junior moderators to allow some people with reduced permissions to assist in handling some of the easy to tackle and high volume issues. They can handle incoming trolls and userbots or help manage any new user onboarding process that the server employs while experienced moderators take care of trickier interpersonal situations. It will also be good to reach out to servers that have experience with similar events to ask them for context specific advice about preparing. This could be done by sharing auto moderation settings and configurations, getting bot recommendations, lending and borrowing staff members, or just sharing any particular concerns you may have. Moderation hubs can be a useful place to solicit help and advice. The same can be said for servers within your network if you have any partnerships or even servers you collaborate with in some capacity.
Auto moderation tools can greatly reduce the workload that your moderation team experiences during a stressful period for your server. It can help in a variety of ways including but not limited to:
- Utilizing slow mode in certain busier channels
- Adding word filters or autoresponders for specific terms related to your event
- Setting timed reminders for commonly broken rules to appear in the server
- Implement automatic punishments for certain usernames/nicknames
- Adding anti-spambot protection
- Increasing existing punishment flows (ie. switch to an automatic mute where you would have issued an automatic warning before)
- Automatically filtering links or media types that can be spammy or are flagged for concerning usage
It is important to note that some of the scenarios being covered by this article, like being featured on the front page of Server Discovery, will cause a marked increase in the rate of new joins, but will not cause hundreds of people to join your server at once. If you are preparing for a content creator to announce a giveaway in their Discord to thousands of people watching their stream, for example, it may make sense to actually decrease your auto moderation settings to prevent anti-raid bots from being triggered by real people joining to participate in a giveaway. If you can, you should ask people who have experience with similar communities or events exactly how they modify their auto-moderation settings to most effectively manage the situation you are in.
Verification Levels and Gating
If your server does not utilize moderation verification levels or verification gates, it may make sense to temporarily increase your servers security using one or both of these tools. Verification levels can help you prevent some of the lower effort trolls and self bot accounts that are targeting your server from doing any damage. You can access verification levels in the moderation settings of the server.
This page includes descriptions of what each level requires for users to begin interacting. Increasing the verification level can also generally slow down the rate of new users speaking in your server. If you increase the verification level to the highest setting, users who do not have phone verified accounts may just leave the server, and it’s more likely that only high intent users will stick around and wait for the verification level to be lowered.
Verification gates can also slow down joins and put off some of the lowest intent joins that you will get. People may be unwilling to read instructions or take any additional steps to joining, and those are likely not going to be the users that you want to retain the most. Gates can allow you to more easily pick off bad actors before they can disrupt community members during an already turbulent time. Low friction gates like reaction based or command based verification are probably ideal if you did not have a gate prior to preparing for this event. Other types of gating can require manual responses from moderators and can put a lot of additional time requirements and stress onto a team that is already juggling a lot. If you already have a manual verification gate, especially an interview style verification gate, it may make sense to pull in additional help to manage this system.
The permissions that you give new members have a large effect on how much damage bad actors can do. Limiting certain permissions such as global emoji permissions, media upload permissions, and link embed permissions can prevent users from bringing the nastiest content they could into your server.
Depending on how large the influx of new users is, and whether this is a new server or an existing one, it may make sense to restrict the ability to send messages to a select group of users or just restrict those permissions only to staff while you wait for the people joining to acclimate. This can give you time to assess how many people joined, and whether your setup is prepared to handle that kind of growth or if you need to do additional preparation before opening things up. This can also give you time to remove any new users that you already know will not be contributing members of the group (ie. people with hateful profile pictures/usernames) before they can get the chance to integrate themselves into the server.
If your community is seeing an influx of new users who are either new to Discord or joining for a very specific reason like event participation or large scale giveaways, it may make sense to set up a new landing page just for these users. It can get exhausting to explain the same basic information repeatedly no matter how many volunteers you have involved. Having an additional FAQ that covers information that new users will be looking for and trims out excess from your regular FAQ that doesn’t pertain to them can make their integration into the server and understanding of the information they need more straightforward and accessible for everyone involved.
In the most extreme of cases, it may make sense for you to set up channels or even a separate server that is linked to your official accounts/pages on other platforms where the low intent users that are on the hype train will get deposited. This will allow you to prevent new joins from disrupting your existing community, but not require you to prevent all of the people who are excited about it from having a space related to your community to be a bit chaotic. If you choose this approach, whether you are upfront about having set your main community to private and setting up a temporary space for hype or not, you should consider explaining it throughout your typical advertising channels as time goes on.
Anything you say during the explosive growth and attention is likely to get drowned out by other information, and you may have more pressing announcements to make. This can help you retain the high intent members who joined because they only heard about you via the news about your group, but are seriously interested in becoming permanent community members while avoiding the entirety of the second server from joining the first. You can advertise your main server in the secondary server, but it's advisable to wait until the immediate interest has waned in the second server. At this point in time, spammers and other trolls have likely gotten bored, and the event that spurred the growth is largely in the past.
It’s important to note that the approach of making an overflow server requires a significant increase in the amount of moderator time required to manage the community. It will likely require an entirely new team to manage the chaos of the overflow server and the associated increase in attention for the uptick in discussion in the main server. This is something you should only consider in truly extraordinary circumstances. The team for the overflow server likely will not need as much training, qualification, or people skills since they will mostly be managing spam/advertising/hate speech over a short but busy period of time. They won’t likely need to talk to users about how to improve their behavior or handle tricky situations like long-term harassment or bullying, but it is still important that they be amicable as they may end up being someone's only interaction with your community or the subject of your community in their life. At the end of the event, the server can either be merged with your main community, or deleted; if it is deleted, members who are particularly interested in your community will likely seek your space out after losing touch.
What is best for your server in times of exponential membership growth is up to you. Luckily, even if you decide not to implement something and later realize that you may need it, it can be relatively easy to implement some changes with short notice or scale back changes if you over prepared and over engineered your system. Better to be over prepared than under prepared!
This article should give you an idea of the main concepts to consider and keep an eye out for while preparing for and working through large increases in your servers membership. These considerations do not all need to be implemented to successfully manage rapid growth, but they should give you a good framework for the types of changes and preparations you may need depending on how extreme the growth you are expecting is. Have fun and good luck taking on this new moderation challenge!