Like your High School speech teacher told you, before you decide what kind of speech you are going to give, define who your audience will be. The same advice applies to social media channels. How do you define your primary audience and target your message? Buy using personas.
Personas are a composite fictional representation of your target audience presented as a narrative description. Good personas are based on primary user research for each major customer segment. Each persona is based upon user research, including survey research and actually speaking with and observing real users. The concept of personas came from work originally done by Alan Cooper around user interface design and laid out in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum.
Personas can be as simple or as complicated as needed. A basic persona is based upon a segmentation analysis. A simple segmentation analysis for a Web site or a social media effort – for example an assistance program – might include customer segments for people actually receiving the assistance, people and agencies who assist those receiving assistance, and others who are interested in the program. For each segment, information that should be part of the basic persona would include demographic information, content preferences, and key goals. More robust personas, based upon deeper market and audience research resulting in a deeper market segmentation analysis, can be developed but there is an exponentially higher cost for the deeper information you go after.
Developing and using personas in government is a five step process. Note that this assumes a citizen targeted program and not a business targeted program.
- Define your primary target audience. Start by defining who would be the primary beneficiary of the content and functionality you are providing. This is your first customer segmentation or persona. Define secondary target audiences by constructing an ecosystem of those people and groups who support, assist, or impact the primary target audience. These are your secondary personas There should not be any more that three or four of these.
- Gather basic information about each segment. This should include demographic information (age, gender, and other demographic information relative to the program), key attributes relevant to the program, and key goals relevant to the program. I know that there are limits to the amount of information that government can gather directly, but there are a lot of secondary sources that can be employed in this.
- Construct a narrative. Based upon the information you have collected, construct a fictional narrative that is a composite of the overall group. This narrative should read like a day in the life of this fictional person and how they interact with the program. Key attributes and key goals relative to the program should be called out clearly and if necessary, separately.
- Design content and functionality that is relevant. When it comes to selecting an appropriate social media channel, crafting your message or blog entry, or designing the content and functionality for your Web site, look at it through the lens of your personas to determine if they would find it useful and usable.
- Continue to test and refine your personas. Expect that things will change. It may be the program, it may be the administration, it may be your target constituency. To keep relevant you should periodically review the underlying data for your personas for indications of a shift. When you identify a change, you should go back and update your personas.
The bottom line: Before you start any social media or Web efforts, or even before you write a blog entry, ask and answer the question “For whom?”