Understanding the bias of your audience

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 12th, 2017

I have a diverse group of “friends” on Facebook. Some are family, some close friends, and some I have met through work or even through online groups and courses. They don’t see the world from the same perspective or through the same lens – at all. It can be very interesting to watch the differing opinions come out when something serious is going on in the world.

I think that stepping out of my own biases is important. I work hard to understand why people feel the way they do about a topic – and it’s not always easy to do when it appears that their values sit opposite to mine. I might not agree, but I do try to dig in and appreciate where they are coming from. As a global citizen and as a communications professional, I believe it is my obligation to put my personal lens aside so that I can better understand what their motivating factors are, especially for some of the more extreme opinions. It’s not comfortable or easy. (And I admit, there are quite a few ideologies that have recently become emboldened that I will never understand – and that I publicly push back against. But that is a blog post for another time.)

Often, a situation will arise or an incident will happen that has people commenting online – including on my Facebook page, which I take as a little microcosm of the world. And it is surprising how people can interpret what happened differently – usually in a way that supports their own belief system or narrative.

Even something as innocent as a little Facebook meme reminds me of how important it is to take the time to understand how your target market or audience sees the world and will view the information you want to share with them.

The other day, the image we have shared in this post was making the rounds on Facebook. It seemed like a pretty harmless little meme. Within a few days, two individuals on my Facebook page had shared it. Their description of it and the comments that were added by their Facebook friends were very different.

One person’s opinion was that when something happens on Facebook and people send “positive energy” and “love,” it is a useless, empty act that means nothing. Each of the comments on this person’s post agreed with him. It took on quite a mocking tone about how sending “positive energy” helps no one who has just experienced a terrorist attack, the loss of a loved one, or is having a difficult time.

Another Facebook friend shared the same meme – and said that this is exactly what is in her mind when she sees someone sending “positive energy” – that they are letting you know they are thinking about you and that they care. And the comments on her post supported that opinion.

As a communications professional, it is up to me to make sure that when a client is planning some type of announcement, campaign or initiative, we are all fully aware of what the response might be. And – even what might, to some, seem like a positive event or project could receive a critical response from others. You can’t make assumptions that everyone is on the same page or that they will see this (or anything) from the same perspective.

We have to be hyper-aware of any potentially negative or critical response and help our client to: a) understand why there might be this type of response; and b) to get ahead of it and be prepared. It doesn’t mean that we can make it go away, but perhaps there is a way to acknowledge and address the criticism(s) during the planning stage.

We all have biases and we see the world through our own experiences and belief systems. As communicators, we need to step into this and take the time to understand what that really means for our clients.

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