Want to get to know your audience a little better? Personas helps identify characteristics, needs, and goals to help you connect with your audience in the most meaningful way. Here are some ideas to get you started...

You’ve heard us talk about personas before. We gave you lots of reasons why personas are useful, and how they can benefit your organization. But let’s get tactical here. Aren’t you curious how you create a persona? If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Here at Fastspot, we often do large-scale website redesigns for content-rich sites with a complex set of target audiences (each with their own set of needs and goals!). This article will be focused on creating personas in this realm. You can adapt these methods for use with smaller sites, web applications, services, and other experiences.

When beginning the persona process, the first task is to figure out exactly who your target audiences are. You’re probably pretty familiar with the people who visit your website at this point. Make a list, and then make it longer if you need to. The next step will be to prioritize these audiences based on your business goals.

For example, if you are a liberal arts university seeking to increase the yield of your applicant pool, then prospective students seeking a liberal arts education would be a major target audience. If you are a museum looking to increase membership, your top target audience may be people who have visited the museum in the last 12 months.

As you can see, the variables may change. Keep in mind those who are a part of your community already, as well as untapped audience members that have the potential to become more connected to your organization.

Once you have listed your audiences in order of importance, choose five or six audiences that you would really like to dig into and explore.

All set? Great!

Breaking down personas piece by piece

Now that you’ve got your refined list, let’s walk through the components of your first persona.

Name

Seems simple enough to come up with a name, but soon this name will come to humanize your persona. No longer the “prospective student” target audience member, this persona is now Tom, or Mary, or Malik.

If you’re totally stuck on what to name your persona, simply pull up a search for popular baby names. If you already know the age group this person will be in, search for popular names from the decade they were born. Or just pick something! You can always change it later if it doesn’t feel right.

Role

Who is this person in the context of your organization? A high school student looking to apply to college? The parent of a prospective student? Someone who has visited your museum or attended a performance at your venue? A staff member of some sort? Clearly identify their role in relation to your organization.

Personal Details

How old is this person? Are they young, old, somewhere in between? What is their gender, their ethnic background? Are they married, divorced, single? What’s happening at home? Do they live with their parents? Do they have children?

Brainstorm some ideas on what makes this person who they are. Think about their social structure at home, work, and in their life. Where do they live? What is that community like (urban, rural, etc). What is their job? Do they work full-time or part-time? 

What is their personality like? What are they curious about?

Image

Now that you have a mental picture of who this person is and what their life might look like, it’s time to put a face to a name. A real photograph will really bring this persona to life. You can look into their eyes and begin to imagine their complex thought processes, their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. 

Not sure where to find appropriate imagery? Stock photography that you have a license to use is always a good first option. You may also search the Creative Commons on Flickr for headshots and portraits of people with your designated demographic criteria. i.e. “middle aged male” or “female college student.” Get creative, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

As you start locating images that resonate, save all relevant images a folder for later use. You may find that your initial selected image isn’t really right, or you may decide to create new personas in the future.

Important: Please be sure to find photography that has been specifically designated for use in the public domain. Yes, you are creating a character of sorts, but it’s important to be respectful of the real people that may not have consented to their photograph being used.

Quote

Coming up with a quote is another step towards personifying this archetype. What might this person say? Will this be their opportunity to express frustration? Enthusiasm? Curiosity? Write out a few different ideas that would sum up their thoughts, or at least open the door to learning more.

For example, a parent of a prospective student may say something like this:
“I want to make sure that this school is a place where my daughter will feel happy and want to stay focused on her studies.”

If you have time and budget to do some research, make some calls and schedule some interviews to talk to actual parents (or other users that best reflect your chosen persona). You may be able to get a real quote that would be perfect in this instance. Otherwise, reflect on what you are hearing from your various feedback channels: through inbound calls or emails, customer feedback, other staff members, visits to the campus/venue, etc.

Goals

This is where you can start thinking about big picture goals and aspirations for your persona. What are they aiming to accomplish? What would help them get there? Spend a few minutes framing out their future story and what they would like to achieve.

Once you’ve established a foundational story, explore the reasons why this person would need to visit the website. What might they be looking for? How might the website support them? Think about all of the reasons this audience member might be interacting with your website.

For example, a museum visitor may want to plan a visit. They may also want to see what is currently on exhibit, or how they might buy a gift membership for a friend. Think about the story behind the story that is bringing to the website.

As you formulate these goals, you may find hidden opportunities for content pathways that you haven’t landed on yet. Be sure to capture them.

Pain Points

Acknowledge any struggles that your persona may encounter on their quest to achieve their goals, in life and on your website. Identifying where things are going wrong will help you surface ways that you can make their experience smoother.

As suggested in the quotes section a few paragraphs back, this is great content to get directly from users. You’re likely already familiar with the problems people are running into, but if you want to keep digging, find opportunities to elicit feedback from the target audience that correlates to your persona. Learn from your community through your social media channels, on-site feedback surveys, or the people in your organization who field complaints or questions.

Hidden inside almost every pain point is an opportunity to set things right! Flip the script on the pain points and you’ll be turning frowns upside down in no time at all.

Actions

Start by thinking about the actions this persona takes in their day to day life. How do they behave? What do they do?

Break these actions down into specific tasks that your persona will take, based on their goals. For example, that museum visitor planning a visit to your museum may want to purchase tickets or sign up for email updates.

Continue to list out as many possible actions as you can think of. See if you can break down actions into even even smaller actions. Ultimately, you’ll pick the most relevant to your persona and their respective narrative, but this exercise will be a great guide if you find that it’s time to refresh your information architecture.

Congrats! You’ve got a persona on your hands!

Now that you’ve walked through the many facets of your persona, you should have a much more complete picture of who is visiting your website and how you can best meet their needs.  You have a deeper understanding of their personal narrative, their emotional state, and what they’d like to do on your website.

Your persona has a name, an age, feelings, needs, concerns, hopes, and dreams. Keep this persona top of mind as you design new features on your website, update copy, or even rebuild your site from scratch. And don’t stop with one! Take the time to craft personas to represent each of your top target audiences. You’ll find parallels between them, and plenty of opportunities to personalize and improve the experience for each one.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published July 27th 2016