How to Write Like You’re Talking to Real People
Or: The Basics of Audience Personas
Have you ever written a piece for your company’s blog and felt that it came out wooden and stiff? How about writing Facebook broadcasts that ended up being a bad sales pitch? Tweets like you’re talking to cardboard? Instagram pics that… You’ve probably already got something in mind.
We’ve all seen examples of poor performance that comes from producing content for “the website” or for “the internet.” Often you can see that it wasn’t written for anyone. You can do better.
Audience personas are tools to help you speak to your audience.
Audience personas are useful because they help you imagine who you are talking with. They can also help guide you to understand what you should talk about.
When you’re starting to build an audience persona for your organization or brand, you will want to start with some of the groups that already use your services or buy your products. Start by picking a significant group based on a common trait that they share. It might be age, gender, political affiliation, shared interest, values, etc. This is just a starting point, just pick one, and use it as your foundation.
Once you’ve identified the significant trait that is common in your audience, you will want to start fleshing out this person that you are describing. Surveying your audience would be a great way to start figuring out who is in your audience and what they care about. You can also use social media data, if you have that available, but for small organizations, surveys are a great way to start.
Based on your knowledge of your audience, start listing important aspects of this persona. Start with their name, age range, probable gender, relationship status, income bracket, place of work, the neighborhood or city that they live in, etc. You will be able to fill in most of these attributes through your existing audience information, although you can make some educated guesses on some of the less clear aspects.
Once you have the basic demographic information down, you can start describing this persona’s wants, needs, aspirations, and concerns. What would this person care about, what do they hope for or fear when it comes to the future? What do they read? Do they prefer to use phones, tablets or desktops when using digital devices? Do they go to the library once a month?
There really is no end to the descriptions you can use when building up a persona. Try to make them sound like a real person you’re describing.
After you have a rich background for this persona, explain if or why they care about your organization. Do you solve a problem they have or could have in the future? Do they currently use your services? Do you make some part of their life easier? Is there a reason why they might object to your product?
Once you’ve outlined these aspects of this persona, then you can start answering questions such as “How can we make our services more accessible to this person?” or “Where would this person hear about us?” or even “Who from our organization should be speaking to this person?”
Asking these questions will help you to move away from writing for “the internet” and towards writing posts for “Susan.”
In your blog posts you can be suggesting solutions to Susan’s problems. Or posting pictures on Instagram of your product at work for Gregg, because he likes to see things before purchasing them. Through creating these personas, you have built up a collection of characters that you can interact with as you create your posts and presentations.
Now, don’t think that because you’ve finished one persona, that you’re done with them. You should probably have at least one persona for each of your different stakeholder groups. These personas will guide you as you speak to each group, because you wouldn’t give the same speech to your clients and your board, or the same sales pitch to your customers and your funders.
These personas should also evolve as your organization changes and your clients shift, or as your information about your audiences improves. If you aim for minor updates to the personas every 3 months, with large changes every 2 years, you will be able to have detailed and accurate personas for your team.
Below is a sample audience persona for Gregg.
Age: Mid 20s
Education: Graphic Design Certification from College
Work: graphic designer in a mid-sized firm, freelance photography on the side
Income: 40,000 – 50,000
Rents an urban apartment and lives alone
Values: Opposes big business, supports minority rights
Cares and Concerns:
Worries about his impact on the environment
Volunteers with local annual mental health march
Wants to see social change, but unsure of how to do it
Avid Instagram user
Has Facebook, but says he doesn’t use it
Reads the BBC and CNN news online
Primarily accesses the internet through his phone
Skims WikiHow articles when he’s bored
How he connects with our organization:
Our organization has an impact with local youth who struggle with mental health
We use visual storytelling through our Instagram
With this information, you have a decent image of who Gregg is, and how you should be trying to talk with him. By using profiles like this, you can understand what would be useful for your email subscribers and social media followers. These profiles will also help you present stories from your organization that have the potential to be picked up by the media.
One thing to remember as you set up these profiles, is that you shouldn’t get so detailed that you restrict yourself to a single fictional persona. Personas are a useful tool, but don’t let them prevent you from trying to speak to different audiences.
Now you should be ready to create your first audience persona. If you need help setting up your organization's audience profiles, contact me and I will see if I can help you through the process.
Just remember: Keep it simple.