On default spaces.

how to make your online community more inclusive

We’re all being flooded with thousands of bits of information every second, but our brains are only able to process up to 60bits thereof. This means that our brains have gotten very good at making shortcuts and connections based off our previous experiences, which is great, but basically also the place where stereotypes and prejudice show themselves.

Image from Unsplash

I would venture to say that almost none of us are “immune” of these so-called implicit bias. (Not only) During the work in community management everyone faces two different types of bias:

affinity bias — referring to cliques, subgroups of similar minded group members who aren’t welcoming to newcomers
perception bias — referring to the opinion of a whole group, making it almost impossible to see the individuals independently of the group (this can be particularly hard when managing a community that is very international or super diverse-in-age)

Especially in the field of community management it’s vital to have good instincts and the ability to read people, but it’s also very important to make an effort creating an inclusive place for diversity.

Gordon Bellamy — professional gamer and lecturer at USC, founded the community Gay Gaming Professional — an online community where they focus on education, employment, expertise, and entrepreneurship.

One of the points he mentioned during his CMX Summit 2020 keynote session he held with Kobie Fuller, who among other things founded the networking platform Valence, that supports Black professionals, was the importance of so-called “default spaces”.

These “default spaces” should be spaces where none of the members have the feeling they can’t be themselves or they are facing judgement because of their age, sex, orientations and beliefs or because of their educational or employment status. It’s this feeling of default, that gives everyone the chance to truly be comfortable, Bellamy says.

The top three tipps on how to create default spaces within your community:

  • it’s not the same for everyone — understand the individual experiences
    Ask yourself: “How many people can come into your space and feel as though they are default?”
  • avoid ranking people
    Qualifying questions about jobs, education, age, etc. can intimidate people and make them feel judged.
  • make everyone feel seen
    Not everyone in your community is a white cis-male, be aware of that. Make EVERYONE feel welcome. Gordon Bellamy granted early access to non-gender conforming, non-binary and transgender members to counter the “default” of cisgendered men in queer spaces, for example.
Image from Unsplash

So to build more inclusive environments online (and offline too) it’s most important to understand that even though you may have ten thousand people in a community who all are super excited about dogs, each one of them has so much more to them. Each member “consists” of multiple identities, like age, sex, orientations, expressions, beliefs, etc.
Every single one of those identities define how the members interact and participate within the community — they are just brought together by their common interest in dogs, but that’s not their whole identity.

Failing to appreciate this great diversity and complexities of identities can lead to you not understanding or offending your community and ultimately keeping it from being the great default space it could be.

What are you doing to make your community a more inclusive environment?

If you are interested in the subject of community management in general, head over to my colleague Paloma’s article on how to deal with conflicts as a community manager? or learn how to develop a community management strategy like a campfire in Laura’s most recent post.

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