Society is changing. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26th that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. This is just the latest example. As a society, we’re becoming more inclusive, and less tolerant of bigotry. The internet has brought people together in new ways and exposed us all to new and diverse points of view. Over the coming years, businesses will be divided into those that were able to adapt to this changing culture and those that fell behind. It’s crucial to the long term health of your brand and business that your community strategy keeps inclusivity in mind.
Don’t Rely on Outdated Demographic Breakdowns
It wasn’t too long ago that online communities were seen as a completely male dominated space. If you’d told people in a 2000 era online community that 76% percent of women would soon be active on the biggest social networks, you’d likely have been laughed at, or accused of being overly PC. The reason these networks thrived is because they realised the obvious: shutting out 50% of the population is a bad idea. If you bought stock in the idea of inclusivity at that time you’d have seen a pretty incredible return on your investment.
The same thing still happens in online communities today. Many (but not all) communities have at least ditched the most overt “boy’s club” behaviour, but that’s a minimum standard rather than an end state. A truly inclusive community needs to make an effort to include everyone. Don’t assume that because the demographic have previously skewed a certain way (e.g male, white and heterosexual for motorbikes enthusiasts) that your target market is that limited. It may be that your biggest demographic is simply the only one that isn’t turned off by your branding.
Figure Out Your Community Pain-Points
You don’t need to march into your community, start handing out copies of The Female Eunuch and demand that everyone takes mandatory sensitivity training. Inclusivity doesn’t have to mean alienating your existing user base. Instead, look for pain points and address them.
- How are people welcomed into the community? Not just by the CM or moderators, but by other users.
- Are your community guidelines set up to protect your members adequately? Are they enforced as such? Blanket “Try And Be Nice’ rules can leave unpleasant users with plenty of room to be toxic.
- Do minority members of your community suffer from microaggressions? For example, do female members have to worry about being hit on? Are LGBT members the frequent butt of “friendly” jokes? Are transgender members referred to using the correct pronouns?
- Are the people you take feedback from (eg, the moderating staff) a good cross section of the community you want? Are you only hearing feedback from one type of person
How you handle these problems is going to depend on the particulars of your community, but you don’t need to be too aggressive in trying to solve everything too soon. Tackle these problems steadily and consistently and you’ll see better results than with a jarring culture shift.
You Don’t Need to be Inclusive to Jerks
Inclusivity is important, but it’s supposed to serve the community rather than hamstringing it. Don’t let the fear of being inclusive prevent you from calling out toxic behaviour no matter who is taking part in it. I’ve made the mistake myself of allowing people to behave badly because I was worried that stopping the behaviour would make the community seem less inclusive. All I did was make the community more welcoming for the obnoxious and unpleasant. The real endpoint of a well-run and inclusive community is that everyone can feel equal and be treated as such.
There’s No Finish Line
We’re only really scratching the surface of what it means to be inclusive as a society, never mind any one community in particular. You’ll never hit the perfect balance and you shouldn’t expect to. It’s ok to make mistakes. What’s important is to have inclusivity on your radar and to constantly strive to improve it in your community. If you can do that, you’re way ahead of the game.