If fostering diverse and inclusive spaces in the real world is important (which, it is), it’s just as important to build diverse, inclusive online communities. Today’s article will help give you a better sense of just how important diverse online communities are—as well as how you can intentionally build a more diverse, inclusive online community of your own.
Why diversity and inclusivity are essential to online community growth
When you set out to intentionally build a diverse online community, you set yourself (and others) up for success. By fostering a diverse community, you not only help transform the predominant online (and IRL) culture into something more representative of our human species but also open up more pathways and opportunities.
In other words, building diverse online communities helps shape the larger digital landscape into a more welcoming, inclusive, and better place for all people. Not just some. And not the same ones who have always had access or felt welcome in these spaces to begin with.
Aside from helping make the world of online communities a better, more diverse space, the benefits for your specific community are numerous.
Diverse online communities make it easier for humans with all kinds of different intersectional backgrounds (religion, ethnicity, experiences, ideas, identities, race, class, gender, and more) to gather around a core subject, product, brand, or affinity, and converse, share ideas, innovate, create change
See where we’re going with this? When you make it a point to build a more diverse online community, you in turn get to experience the beautiful (and beneficial) results of various perspectives coming together.
Likewise, your community actually gets to experience these results as well! This means a more meaningful, connected, and engaged community—a win for you and your members!
Some other direct benefits of building a diverse online community include:
- More tolerance of varying viewpoints, which in turn encourages community members to share ideas and contribute without fear of judgment or alienation. Basically, diverse online communities help create environments where people feel more inclined to share, be heard, and be seen. All of which simultaneously contribute to deeper, more sustainable community growth.
- Exposure to different cultures! This one is particularly important for people who don’t get enough exposure in their daily lives.
- Bolsters community growth, which in turn helps support the longevity of your online community.
Diverse, inclusive communities = strong, meaningful communities
One of the foundational steps to building a diverse and inclusive online community is to take a step back. When you’re zoomed in on your community—and the common ground they share with your organization or brand—it can be easy to forget how all of those people who make up your community are also multidimensional humans with multiple other identities (gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, class, ability, and beyond).
Each of those identities (all of which intersect and thus create hyper-personalized identities for each individual) has a direct impact on how a member engages—personally, professionally, and online.
Sure, your online community may be unified through the shared ground of your brand or organization, but the complexity of what each individual brings to your community space far outweighs the shared subject matter of why they are there in the first place. When individualized human complexities aren’t recognized (and celebrated!) within an online community, the result can feel alienating, canceling, and exclusionary to a variety of members.
Your online community members… are more than just members
Much like you are more than your role as a community manager, your community members are more than just members. They are real humans with lives and intersectional identities that exist outside of their affinity for or connection with your organization. To work towards building the kind of diverse community that both recognizes and celebrates its members beyond their community roles, think about creating a space where everyone feels welcome and encouraged to share their whole selves.
Some of the ways that you can promote self-expression—and help individuals feel seen and heard for who they are beyond their online identities—include the following:
- Encourage members to complete their profiles and submit a fun and candid profile picture. Doing so helps build both trust and a feeling of belonging and inclusivity among community members.
- As new members join your community, do your best to introduce each one of them publicly. Whether in the comments or in the post itself, you can also ask new members to share a bit about themselves.
- Be sure to give community members the information and tools they need to create new topic threads and discussions (ie: include instructions on how to start new discussion forums). If any of your members feel like the subjects or topics they’re interested in aren’t readily available within the community, giving them the tools to create their own discussion forums, threads, and documents will only empower them to further build the community and make it their own.
While it can feel like a lot when you first begin, taking the time to learn how to intentionally build diverse and inclusive online communities and digital spaces is worth the effort. It’s also an ongoing process, as the landscape of inclusivity is ever-evolving.
In addition to the points we’ve already touched upon, use the following list to help get you started in building a more diverse online community where inclusivity is the norm.
- Before members even join your community, you’ll want to make it clear that inclusivity and diversity are your top priority. These are two things that members should come to expect as integral to your community. Period.
- As we mentioned earlier, every member is different. They each arrive at the community table with a unique background, identities, and set of experiences. Because of this, it’s imperative to remember not to engage all members in the same way. That is, take the time to find out more about each member, including how they like to consume information, and then think about how to best engage them through their lens, not your own or anyone else’s. Your community members, indeed, are not a monolith.
- Create and share inclusive content! We cannot emphasize this one enough.
- Just like IRL, dare to choose proactivity over passivity. Always. Sometimes this might mean taking the harder route. But, that route is almost always worth it. Making proactive action a practice is something that will contribute to helping build your community into the inclusive, diverse space you know it can be.
Diversity in online communities creates value + longevity
Ready to start building (or rebuilding) your community into a diverse and inclusive online space for all? We are, too! And remember that when you do, you’ll be part of something bigger. You’ll help shift the online community landscape from one fueled and powered by the dominant culture, to something much more safe, inclusive, diverse, and welcoming for all. You’ll contribute to creating more online communities where all members feel heard, seen, and celebrated. And, in the process, you’ll also help solidify the longevity of your (now more) inclusive, diverse online community.
Cheers to that, and you!