Friday, August 28, 2009

Content Strategy and the Problem with Personas

I'm surprised that I still see so much conversation about having a personalized user experience as a content strategy these days. If you have a large e-commerce site, or maybe a news related site, then you have millions of pages of content to work with and enough data to really offer a unique experience for every person like Amazon does. Most sites are just not like that. Does an online bank really have enough different content to try and create a different site for every user? Probably not.

But what many of us do have is user personas. If you are not familiar with personas then a quick Google search should get you up to speed. But basically, personas are a way to identify and group similar users with similar traits that are relevant to your site. For example “Frank is a small business owner. He is computer savvy and likes to do things himself. Frank likes control and options.”

Creating a different user experience based on these personas seems very do-able for most sites, but usually will require the creation of a lot of new content to fill in all the gaps for each user type.

The Problem that Can’t be Solved with Content

Here is the main problem I see with many persona-based content strategies:

How do you get people to accurately self-select themselves into a persona type?

The usual solution is to get them to register, and enter enough information so that the system can make a good decision. If all your personas are comprised of people with only positive personality traits, then this may work. But most persona groups are not like that.

Almost every persona group has at least one user that is something like this: “Gary is a technophobe who still likes his VHS tapes. He avoids risk, avoids change, and does not like investigating new and innovative features.”

What kinds of questions can you possibly ask during the registration process that would get someone to place themselves into that group? Few people want to willingly associate themselves with these kinds of negative personality traits.

Personas are great for use during design so that you make sure that a design can accommodate all kinds of users, but they may have limited ability to drive a content strategy for the creation of a “persona-ized” user experience.

If you are working content strategy for a project where different content is planned on being served to users based on user type, be sure to figure out exactly how you are going to automatically place each user into one of these groups before you get too far into development. Don’t let the designers and programmers assume that somehow the writers will magically solve this problem with clever content. Address it up front.

1 comment:

  1. The way to get people to describe their own negative qualities is to turn them into positive qualities. Fear of change = love of the familiar, and might be expressed as valuing stability, loyalty, comfort. You can see this in any of those personality type quizzes where you answer "a lot like me" or "the opposite of me" in response to statements like "I love to take risks and try new things." I doubt most people would want to answer such a quiz just to register on a site, but there is surely a way to use a similar approach.