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How to Minimize Cognitive Biases in Your Content Strategy

by Megan Harris
April 7, 2020

As a marketing and customer experience leader in your organization, it is important to be aware of biases that exist and influence us every day. You must recognize the potential impact that biases have on many aspects of your digital strategy, including your content strategy. However, it can be difficult to understand cognitive biases and how they impact decisions if you’re not aware of them. 

Think you’re not affected by any bias or are affected less than other people? Think again! This is a bias in and of itself called bias blind spot. It is the tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself. 

So, even if you don’t think cognitive biases impact your content strategy, they do! 

Learn how cognitive biases may impact your content strategy, as well as steps to take to minimize them. 

What is Cognitive Bias?

Cognitive bias occurs when someone’s subjective reality outweighs the objective reality at hand. In other words, your perception of reality takes precedence over the facts and circumstances of the specific situation. 

The difficult thing about cognitive biases is that they are typically unconscious, so you may be biased without realizing it.

This can impact the decisions you make about your content strategy. You may be missing out on opportunities with your target audiences that are just out of reach because of the biases you have to overcome. 

Why Should You Minimize Bias in Your Content Strategy?

Although eliminating bias altogether is unlikely, minimizing its impact on your content strategy leads to several benefits such as.

  • Helping you add diverse outside opinions—When you consider bias from the beginning and make awareness of it part of your decision making, you base decisions on rationality instead of emotion.
  • Helping you avoid framing the problem in either a positive or negative framework—Although cognitive biases can lead you to tie your emotions to the challenges you face, it’s important to recognize that biases exist and to counter them with reasonable decision making.
  • Improving your focus on intentions and efforts—When your focus is on the problem and you minimize bias, you end up having clearer intent on the work at hand rather than letting outside influence or your own perception of reality cloud your judgment.

Cognitive Bias Examples

Some examples of cognitive bias that may occur regarding your content strategy include: 

Clustering Illusion

You are likely familiar with how “streaks” or “clusters” can occur in a set of data. If you aren’t, these occur when there is a human tendency to underestimate variability from a small sample of random data. The apparent “streaks” or “clusters” may signal someone to make incorrect conclusions, thus falling prey to the cognitive bias that is the clustering illusion

In your content strategy, this may occur when you review data and see a blog post with higher than usual traffic. If you have only been reviewing the traffic for a short period of time and decide that you need to curate more content around that topic, you may be missing other reasons why the post is doing particularly well. 

Did a news outlet pick up the content and drive more visitors? Did the subject of the blog post become suddenly of interest to the public and so the topic has started to gain traction? Are there other reasons the blog post is doing well, or is this an anomaly for the post? You can ask yourself these questions and others to determine if you are falling prey to clustering illusion and letting your cognitive biases drive your decision making. 

Recency Bias 

We all like new information and insights. It can feel empowering to uncover something we may have missed before or see new opportunities as a pathway towards new decisions. However, new information is not always better than the information we have already gathered. 

This cognitive bias, called recency bias, may lead you to discard or discredit the data you have already been relying on in your decision making because the new information can appear to be better, in your viewpoint. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. 

If recent data appears to be better than the data you have collected previously, take a step back and think about why you feel this is the case. Do you have data and facts to back up this assertion, or are you operating on bias? Keep this in mind the next time new data comes your way as you think about your content strategy. 

Anchoring 

Decision makers often have little time on their hands to weigh every option, so it can be tempting to act quickly. However, rushing to judgment and relying on the “anchor,” or the first piece of information offered, can lead to the cognitive bias called anchoring.

When you conduct keyword research, for instance, it may be tempting to go with the most appealing keywords or the keywords with the highest search volume. However, in your haste to work with the first information you have presented to you, you may miss out on a deeper dive into your keywords to uncover better, more accurate data that would better serve your organization’s goals. 

If you suspect anchoring is occurring in your decision making, determine whether or not you have done it before. Is the rush to judgment causing you to act rashly? If so, what can you do now to make sure not to repeat that mistake? 

First, make the time to review all of the information, not just the first piece of information you receive. From there, you can slow down and make a sound decision that is based on the rational, logical side of your brain instead of rushing. Depending on the circumstances, it may be helpful to ask for more time to make a decision so you can act in the best interest of your organization. 

3 Ways to Minimize Cognitive Biases in Content Strategy

Some ways you can lessen the impact of bias on your content strategy may include: 

  1. Conducting persona research—Many organizations think they know what their target audiences want, but solid data and evidence about what users are actually looking for, as well as research about their behaviors in the digital world, can better inform your decision making and reduce cognitive biases. 
  2. Conducting user testing—As with persona research, user testing can make a huge impact on your decision making based on evidence from the very people you’re looking to target in your content strategy. However, it can be extremely difficult to avoid bias in user testing, so follow best practices when it comes to setting up your tests so you can reduce the impact of biases on the outcomes of the test. 
  3. Take training focused on cognitive bias reduction—Recent research has shown that “one-shot de-biasing training can significantly reduce the deleterious influence of cognitive bias on decision making.” A recent study at HEC Paris, an international business school, found that “a clear link between cognitive bias reduction training and improved judgment/decision-making abilities in a high-risk managerial context.” 

If you have questions about content strategy and cognitive biases, feel free to contact the digital strategy team at Mediacurrent to learn how our digital psychology specialists can help you minimize biases and improve your research so that your decision making is based on facts, not emotions. 

Meet team member, Megan Harris

Megan is a hard working Digital Strategist who thrives on collaboration, clear communication, and transparency for her clients. Her extensive digital marketing background began 7 years ago and has encompassed a wide variety of sectors including SEO, Copy Strategy, Content Marketing, and Social Media. 

The work she is most proud of is helping companies gain freedom from worrying about their digital marketing. She says “it's truly been very rewarding to be part of teams over the years who have customer service at the forefront.”

Outside of work, Megan enjoys traveling. She has visited every state west of the Mississippi, with the exception of Hawaii, and is looking forward to visiting every state! 

Learn more about Megan >

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