A rogue Digital Jedi

Bias effects everything. From what we wear to how we design websites. And I am as guilty as everyone else. I think I know what an audience will react to. I think I know what will look good. I think I know what channels certain audiences will use.

But I don’t.

I found this out the hard way on a recent trip to a Uganda where I helped a local children’s charity to develop their communications.

One of the charity’s objectives was to help students find skilled employment. To help them do this we organised several workshops on CVs and interview skills. The challenge was ensuring that the students attended these events.

Easy. I thought.

  • I drafted a short and simple email and sent it to all participants.
  • I designed some clear graphics on Piktochart for Twitter.
  • I posted about the event on our Facebook page.

Except nothing happened. Nobody responded or reacted.

That is when I returned to basics. This was a different audience and my assumptions were no use here. I looked into statistics and quizzed students. I looked on Ugandan Facebook pages at what was being shared and liked. And I realised two things:

  • I was using the wrong channels
  • I was using the wrong content

Very few people in Uganda use email as a primary source of communication. I discovered later only 10% of our students checked their email once a week. Contrary to the UK, Twitter usage in the country was also extremely low. Instead the primary channels of communication for under 25s were WhatsApp and Facebook. However, this was not always the case and very few people had access to data or – if they did – had a very limited amount.

Therefore I devised a new plan which would incorporate WhatsApp, Facebook and some good old-fashioned offline telephone calls.

I also noticed that the graphics which gained the most traction online were inspirational quotes. In my opinion, these were poorly designed and not very user friendly. Often the text blended into a garish sunset or letters overlapped each other. But the important thing was that – despite my opinion – this approach seemed to work.

I had to let go of my precious design instincts to engage people. I had to go against my very training like a rogue digital Jedi. But it worked. By using these channels and this content, 90% of our students attended the event and the key communications outcome was achieved.

Bias will always exist. But you can fight it by listening to audiences and understanding that a Jedi doesn’t always know best.