We recently worked on a number of projects where we have been developing personas. This can be a powerful tool in bringing focus and clarity about what content to develop and how to present this, especially for larger information sites run by teams with lots of stakeholders.
However, some recent experiences suggest organisations don’t know how best to use these.
When you ask staff within organisations “do you know what personas are?” they invariable answer ‘yes’ – however, our experiences suggest this is often not the case. While conducting interviews with senior staff of a client and showing them the personas we had developed they would often comment that they did not cover this or that type of user. When questioned about the goals of the missing users it was clear that these were identical to the ones covered by the personas.
What they did not understand was that it is the goals that matter, and that distinguish different personas, not the user types. By meeting the goals of the persona you meet the needs other user types with similar goals.
Staff then only have to hold a small number of user types in their heads when thinking about what and how to develop content. Once this point was understood they were very happy to accept that the personas were appropriate.
Push vs Pull content
Another issue to emerge is how little staff in many organisations understand about how digital media works – even those will responsibility for it! We were developing some personas to cover a campaigning organisation client’s digital channels (i.e. the web site, email marketing, social media channels). Many of the staff we interviewed as part of the project talked in terms of how they wanted to use these channels to get their messages across. i.e. what they wanted to ‘tell’ the users. They did not make a distinction between PULL channels – e.g. the web site - and PUSH channels e.g. social media.
Most of the time users come to website because they have a specific task they wish to achieve: they are goal orientated, they have not come to browse the site content. Clearly, this is not always the case (think Daily Mail or BBC) but this was certainly the case for this client. Therefore, all the website can do is to provide the content needed to address the user’s task and make it easy to find this.
Thousands of hours of watching goal-orientated users on websites shows they can ignore pretty much anything not related to their task. With social media and email marketing (like offline marketing) it is possible to PUSH messages at users, the ones that the organisation wishes to get across.
Whether a user will engage with this message depends on if it is presented in a way that resonates with a user’s values and motivations. In this case we developed personas that identified both users’ goals for their PULL channels and their motivations and values indicating what would evoke a response to PUSH communications.
Therefore, to get the most from your personas people throughout the organisation need to have a detailed understanding of both ‘how personas work’ and ‘how digital media works’.