I’m often asked what surprises me the most about the growth of my YouTube brand.

My answer is always the same: it’s the Mark Ellis Reviews Discord server.

That’s right – it’s not the rapid ascent to 36,000 subscribers in a little over a year, or even the fact that I’ve literally just hit 3,000,000 total views (these aren’t boasts – I’m genuinely perplexed by the size of those numbers).

It’s my little Discord community.

This features a bunch of lovely people from across the globe who have built friendships and discovered shared interest. On a daily basis, they share thoughts, frustrations, music, tech advice, jokes, and incredible finds.

They’ve even created a bunch of Mark Ellis-themed GIFs. No, really.

What I cannot get my head around is that the only reason the members of my Discord server have met and forged this little community is because I decided to start a YouTube channel in my back bedroom last year.

Bonkers, right? But it’s also one of the most important strategies for any serious YouTuber.

Here’s how to make the most of Discord if you’re building a YouTube brand.

Step 1: Make it free (to begin with)

My YouTube brand is a business, and every element of it is designed to generate some form of revenue.

The Discord server is no different. Earlier this year, I linked it to my Patreon membership tiers (more on that later). Therefore, if you want to be a part of the community, you’ll need to support the channel.

However, I’ve been in business long enough to know that precisely no one is going to do that if there’s no value on offer; there needs to be something in it for them. That’s why, for around six months, I swung the doors open to my Discord server; it was completely free to join.

This worked – big time. And all I did was place a link to the server in each of my YouTube videos. A dose of marketing sauce was thrown in (“come join my bustling community while it’s free” – that kinda thing), but there was nothing more to it than that.

Hundreds joined. Only a few stuck around and remained consistently engaged – but that’s where the magic began to take place. It’s also how I bumped into my podcast co-host, Rob.

None of this would have happened if my Discord server wasn’t free to begin with.

Step 2: Invest time in it

I am categorically not the most active member on my Discord server. Nor do I want to be; as much as the server is technically about my brand, its purpose isn’t. I want it to be an enjoyable community for anyone who fancies losing themselves in some tech/music/Ted Lasso/gaming chat. I want people to make friends and share stuff.

But I do of course contribute. This isn’t because I feel a duty to do so, either – I want to; some of my most enjoyable exchanges with other human beings take place on that server each week.

So, this step should be ultra-simple for anyone who is serious about developing their YouTube brand beyond the video-sharing platform, because, trust me, you’ll find yourself looking forward to opening that Discord app every day.

Step 3: Loosen the rules

Beyond being nice and respectful to one another, there aren’t any rules on my Discord server.

I recently asked our two moderators, Rob and Andi, whether we should fill in the ‘Rules’ channel for new members. “Rules tend to evolve organically in my experience,” said Rob. “To date, everyone’s been very well-behaved, polite, respectful, etc. We don’t seem to have a spam or self-promotional issue.”

That’s all I needed to hear. Too many rules stifle the enjoyment of what is, essentially, a big table full of mates in a pub.

Step 4: When the time is right, shut the gates

Now, speaking of rules, we did have a little incident earlier this year.

As noted, I’d been leaving a free invitation to my Discord server on every video, which meant literally anyone could hop on board. That had never caused any issues, and, indeed, is the key reason the server grew so quickly. But, inevitably, one idiot did decide to jump in and cause some minor text-based havoc.

With the user in question swiftly removed and banned, I decided to bring forward my goal of shutting the gates to the Discord server and, instead, linking it to my Patreon membership tiers.

That was the right time for our server, and you’ll know when the right time is for yours. Essentially, you need to ensure that there’s enough members and enough of a daily buzz to make it worth anyone’s time to actually pay for access. Remember – there needs to be plenty of value on offer if you’re asking people to part with their hard-earned money.

Thus far, it’s worked pretty well. I currently have 12 lovely paying patrons and the server itself has continued to evolve fantastically.

Linking Discord to Patreon is pretty simple, too – there are some great instructions here.

Step 5: Remain engaged

I often feel guilty that I’m not doing enough on my Discord server. But I genuinely can’t keep up with it. And nor can I lay claim to having done much more than simply set up the server in the first instance and encourage people to join. The members have made it what it is.

I’m deeply grateful for what that community has turned into, and for the support I’ve had from Rob and Andi. Consequently, it never feels like an effort when I do get involved – even if it’s after a long night’s editing.

If your Discord server experiences similar growth to mine, never assume your work is done. Chip in on conversations, share your own stories and give them an occasional glimpse behind the scenes. Oh, and never feel bad about sharing your content on there, either; some of the best criticism and ideas for future videos I’ve received have come from my Discord crew.

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