The original fan community concept – artist fan clubs – have shifted from physical mailing lists to email lists and now to online messaging platforms like Telegram and Discord. Fan communities are highly desirable at the moment, allowing direct communication between the artist and their most devoted fans. But building your online communities on messaging apps can be challenging: you need to have a strategy both to onboard fans and to keep them engaged, a content plan and moderate the channels systematically to maintain a safe, spam-free environment for your fans.
Besides creating a space for the artist and their superfans to communicate free of algorithms, from a marketing perspective, it would also be highly beneficial to own first-hand data on who your fans are, what they are talking about and which of them are the most engaged ones. Levellr is a tool you can use to tackle all these problems and gain valuable insights into your audiences. Here’s how it works.
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok allow artists to build and grow their fanbases, however, artists need to rely on those platforms’ ever-changing algorithms hoping their content reaches their fans’ feeds. While some of those platforms have features like Direct-Message groups or similar, they’re not the first places we think about when wanting to build engaged communities. That’s where using platforms like Discord and Telegram come in place.
Discord is a messaging app where all kinds of communities hang out in ‘servers’ to chat, share content and more. It’s popular: with 390 million registered members, of whom 150 million are active monthly. Telegram is an online, encrypted and freemium cloud-based instant messaging service – similar to WhatsApp but more focused on privacy, for example users can communicate with each other without having the contact number of others. Telegram allows users to create groups and channels which they can use to build communities.
A key difference, Levellr says, between social media platforms and messaging communities is that on social media, it’s generally the artist talking at the fans, there’s a sense of hierarchy in that the artist puts out content and the fans are expected to comment on it, conversations take place when the artist is active, and it’s all about scale.
Messaging communities on the other hand, revolve around members chatting with members, about everyone being able to put out content and participate, it’s on-going and real-time engagement – and crucially, it’s about an artist’s most engaged audience rather than reaching mass-scale.
Levellr was founded only in January 2021 by Tom Gayner and Ben Barbersmith. Tom has worked in the community space for the last decade, for a company called Octagon, which is an agency helping brands such as Mastercard or Nike build community around sports and music entertainment properties. His co-founder Ben was at YouTube for 7 years, where he worked with labels, which is why he’s bringing in a lot of the music industry expertise.
Tom says: “In terms of why we started the business – it was based upon a pretty simple insight. Ben and I realised that when it came to conversations around topics that we’re passionate about, whether that’s me speaking about the football team I’m passionate about, my favourite series, or music, all those conversations have started to take place on messaging apps on our phones vs. social platforms. It felt like we were in a bit of a shift from open networks like Twitter and Instagram to more closed safe spaces and we can see that in the growth of messaging apps. WhatsApp has 2bn users a month, Telegram is now in the top 5 most used apps in the world. Discord has more teenagers using it in the US than Facebook.” Because that habit exists, Tom and Ben wanted to help more artists and creators build messaging communities with their fans – in existing apps, rather than trying to build their own apps.
Many artists are already using these channels to create a space for their superfans – and Discord is a hot topic these days. However, Tom explains how there are also many questions from artist teams such as: How do I get fans into my community? How do I then retain them? How do I monetise that community? Can I understand who those fans are? One of the big problems for labels, managements and artists is that they don’t know who their superfans are, because the big digital platforms are not giving them that data. The innovation that Levellr brings, is that by using its software, artist teams will be able to own first-party data of the fans joining the messaging communities and gain deeper insights than they would from just using native analytics. Levellr already works with all major labels and artists such as Fred again.., Mahalia, Maisie Peters, or Swedish House Mafia.
Levellr’s Features and plans
Let’s start with the key feature we’ve already mentioned: access and ownership of fan data, that Levellr clients will get access to through their dashboard. Levellr offers two sign-up flows for teams to gain this data.
One sign-up flow sits on top of Discord, and there’s a native opt-in within Discord. Here’s an example for Fred Again.., where his Discord invite link directs to this marketing opt-in. He’s asking fans for email addresses, and countries; so by joining his Discord, fans are also basically also joining his email list. If he decides to go to Australia on tour, he can segment fans within Discord and message them.
Tom says that this approach is very successful: “the average industry standard opt-in rate for marketing is around 2%, Fred has a 70% opt-in rate. It’s a very powerful way to start and understand and own your audience.”
Within Discord, there are two ways to understand existing fans – either via Custom Roles or Closed Channels. If fans provide their data, they can get rewarded with either of these incentives. Afterwards, the data comes to life in Levellr’s dashboards, where you can monitor your community’s growth by pulling together data on how many people signed up, their interactions over time, the messages sent and more. According to Levellr, anything over 10% as a participation rate is very strong as typically 90% of fans are just lurkers. So, you want to ensure the community stays active and healthy by monitoring these metrics. You’ll also be able to identify the community’s most engaged fans. You can reward your superfans with exclusive roles, early access to tickets and merch, or exclusive group chats, for example. Moreover, Levellr offers sentiment and keyword tracking to help understand what’s happening within the community and they’re building out commerce tracking to understand ROI from within the community
Levellr doesn’t only provide software to gather insights on an artist’s community, the company also helps artists set up a community from scratch, grow that community over time, and find moderators from the existing fanbase. Tom describes it as: “We’re taking over that community specialist role that labels and artists don’t have the time and expertise to do.” Currently, Levellr helps artists do this on Discord and Telegram, but they’re aiming to do this on WhatsApp too, as soon as the API allows it.
User tiers and service levels
Levellr offers two tiers which are a ‘Software’, and a ‘Software + Service’ tier. For the first three months, its ‘Software’ tier is priced the same as the ‘Software + service tier’ and then prices drop down significantly. The reason for that is that within these first three months, users get a customised white glove setup for their communities and initial community strategy led by Levellr. To start with, Levellr will build a community landing page to capture user data. You’ll be able to customise your welcome message to the fans and integrate them with your existing websites, apps and newsletters. You’ll start collecting marketing opt-ins from the artist’s fans and enrich the data you already have.
Levellr will also set up platform-specific bots and create a channel server map and rules. You’ll get access to custom roles, stickers and emojis and get help sourcing moderators from your artist’s fanbase. Additionally, Levellr’s moderation services monitor your communities 24/7 to keep everyone safe.
Community pre-launch training sessions with artists and social media agencies is also included. You can use Levellr on a pre-existing channel but if you haven’t started a community on Discord or Telegram yet, Levellr can help you build demand for it by launching an early access waitlist which the artist can share with their fans to build up hype.If the artist has existing subscribers on other platforms like Patreon, YouTube memberships, Kofi, or Substack, Levellr can help you create an exclusive Discord or Telegram community for those supporters too.
If you choose the ‘Software + Service’ plan, you will get everything included in the ‘Software’ plan plus ongoing community strategy check-ins, coordination and management of the community moderation team as well as guidance and help with your server’s evolution so, for example, setting up new channels, roles and bots. Levellr will sit in the moderator-only channel with the artist and their team and will be the ones that evolve that server over time. Tom says: “Community is a very living and breathing thing, it should look very different after month 3, after month 6, after month 9. We’ll bring in new channels and evolve the community based on the feedback of the fans and also the artist and the label.”
Pricing and competition
The pricing of the plans is as follows: £1750 per month for the first three months then £495 per month thereafter for the ‘Software’ plan, and £1750 per month on a rolling quarterly basis for the ‘Software + Service’ bundle. It’s all done on a rolling quarterly basis, where clients can jump between the tiers as needed so the company is trying to be flexible with customers and their budgets.
Levellr’s service is very comprehensive, but for those who don’t need such a hands-on approach, there are hundreds of popular bots that you can use to ease the workload of administering and managing your Discord server, and which can perform a variety of functions such as moderating or filtering. Some popular bot examples are MEE6, which scans chats for violations like outside links and spam, and can also be used to play music or assign participation levels to your users. It also integrates with YouTube and Twitch. Captcha.bot can verify which users are humans, and Statbot tracks user interaction, the number of messages, how many members are online and more.
Each bot is priced differently: for example, MEE6’s offers a $11.95 monthly plan, a $49.99 yearly plan and a $89.90 plan for a lifetime; and Captcha.bot offers a basic free plan, a premium $2.49 monthly, or $27.5 yearly subscription. Statbot offers four different packages ranging from $2.99 to $14.95 per month. These bots are useful for marketers only seeking specific services, or who have a lot more familiarity with Discord or Telegram. However, the key difference between these bots and Levellr is that with Levellr, artist teams will have access and own the fan data which is one of the key priorities for artist teams. Tom describes Levellr as “becoming the all-in-one bot.” He claims that some of the bots aren’t built so well, and some of them aren’t the most secure in terms of privacy, while Levellr is addressing these issues for the industry.
The takeaway, and future thinking
Levellr is a helpful tool to use if you want to utilise the power of building communities and the growing popularity of messaging apps. Levellr allows you to better understand the audience and gather their useful information – as well as identify superfans, and find out what your fans are mostly talking about. It replaces the need to add many separate bots to your server, and gives you more detailed analytics while helping to build and manage these fan communities.
The company’s future plans include: improving the DM functionality to allow artists to DM specific fans from the Levellr dashboard, offering a scheduling functionality to allow artists’ teams to post messages within channels at specific times, as well as introducing POAPs (Proof of Attendance Protocols) to reward a fanbase in channels – for example if a fan goes to 5 shows of the artist in a year, they can get access to a nexclusive channel etc. Next year’s focus will also be on how to help the indie market more specifically, which will be slightly more self-service.