It’s time you face the facts—your online community is biased. Customers bring their own bias when they engage on the platform and community professionals build in bias as they create the space and social norms. Biases are there, baked into your community from all sides—there’s no getting around it.
Biases aren’t always bad. In fact, community builders often work to create certain biases that encourage behavior they want to see in the community. For example, a ‘family friendly’ community might encourage limited participation during the weekend or after working hours, creating a “spending time with family” bias. It is subtle but sets an expectation that drives the way members engage.
But other biases—especially those we aren’t even aware of—can severely hurt your community and customer experience. For example, if your industry is predominantly male dominated, assuming that every customer is a man doesn’t leave much room for women to participate or join in the future. Or, assuming that everyone sees color the same way you do can make your site impossible to navigate for people with impaired vision or color blindness.
Intentional or not, it’s important to be aware of your biases and the biases everyone involved in the community brings. Who are you including and who are you excluding? User experience is a vital part of defining answers to those questions. From the visual design to how you word your code of conduct, it all impacts customers one way or another.
Before diving into combating biases and ensuring everyone can engage in your community, let’s look at exactly what biases—especially unconscious biases—are.
Unconscious Bias And How it Affects UX
So what is unconscious bias? At its core, unconscious biases are short cuts our brains make to help us process information and make quick decisions. Historically, unconscious biases were used to keep people out of danger—it’s what kicks in your ‘fight or flight’ reaction if you see something dangerous, like a bear in the woods. But unconscious biases pervade all aspects of our lives and can get in the way of making fair decisions or assessments.
That’s because unconscious biases can impact everything—from your first impressions of people to design decisions or word phrasings. A lot of what we deem as ‘common sense’ ideas are actually biases at work—many of them unconscious and potentially at odds with others perspectives.
Creating an online community that takes into account the bias of every user is impossible. But you do want to create an online community that your customers, specifically, will benefit from. If your industry uses certain terms, for example, it’s probably fair to say that people in your community will be biased towards using those terms. But if most of your customers are on the east coast, and your community is biased towards east coast working hours, it might be difficult for you to increase your west coast customer base if every time they log on no one is there. Or if many of your customers are older and less tech savvy, assuming everyone knows how to use your community without help may hamper engagement.
That’s why, if you aren’t aware of inherent assumptions, you could be cutting people out, limiting your community’s growth, value and potential.
User Design Can Broaden Your Community
Here are four UX tips to keep in mind to combat bias while creating your community:
1. Know you have biases
It’s impossible to spot biases if you don’t know they’re there. So the first step is to just acknowledge that you—along with everyone else—have blind spots. You also need to look for patterns that will help eliminate assumptions. Do you tend to use certain words when writing to your community? Or, when making marketing materials, forget to take into consideration the size of the font? And when your customers interact, are they biased towards direct replies or do they post responses to the wider community?
These types of decisions—conscious or not—can have a big impact on a user’s experience. The only way to manage biases and ensure you’re promoting positive behavior is to begin increasing your awareness and spot them. AirBNB created a great tool to help people get outside their own heads and think more broadly about user experience.
2. Educate yourself and engage members directly
Fill in your blind spots with education. What does your community look like to someone who is color blind? Do minorities feel welcomed to participate? By putting yourself in other people’s shoes, you’ll begin to realize opportunities in your community that you’d missed before.
A great way to educate yourself is to start asking community members for their impressions of the community. Do they have trouble navigating? Do certain people hesitate to participate? Are their elements they particularly like or dislike? Start your research with an open mind and be sure to ask a wide range of people about their community experiences.
It’s important to have a diverse team surrounding you, helping you make decisions, to ensure .
Even if you’re a community team of one, spot check yourself by asking a colleague for their thoughts on an email or what they think of your new community design. But don’t stop there. Ask one or two other people to make sure you have well rounded feedback. Yes, it might seem like a little extra work, but in the end, that iteration will strengthen your community.
3. Keep testing
Something that seems like common sense to you might not be to someone else. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean you should keep doing it that way. Keep testing new ideas and questioning your assumptions. Every year when you do a community audit or spring clean, bring in other people—colleagues and community members—to question the status quo and make sure you’re not overlooking an obvious fix.
Tell Us What You Know
Have you had any experience with identifying and working with or eliminating bias from your community? Let us know. We’d love to hear about it and share your knowledge with others!