It’s been 12 weeks since I upped sticks from Whitehall and got stuck in to Helpful Technology. The work we deliver varies enormously and I am really proud to be a part of it: websites, intranets, training, crisis simulation and digital comms consultancy and planning.

Twelve weeks has given me enough time to get involved with projects spanning all of these. I’m really keen to make sure we are delivering more for the people we work with than an online channel, or a nice day out, in the case of training. That means getting down to some tricky conversations about their audiences, and what it means to be part of an online conversation.

To do this, I’ve found myself working with people on creating user personas. This is common practice for website development, but I’ve found it useful to apply these to social media projects too. There are some important caveats about personas. But above all, they’re a great way to get teams really thinking about their audience.

Broadly I use them in two ways:

1. Use website data and an organisation’s objectives to create personas for your existing and target audiences

2. Use social media data and experience to create personas that help teams understand how to handle conversations online

In both cases it’s a lot of fun, and helps take any fear or reticence out of a project.

A few weeks back I wrote a digital plan for a Big Scary Company who needed to listen and talk with people who lived in a particular area. Conversation wasn’t really on the agenda at the beginning of this project. The Big Scary Company assumed they would be hated online and had made all sorts of assumptions about what people were already saying.

In fact, a couple of days worth of research showed up some constructive conversations and a detailed understanding of the issues among the audience. Broadly there were six types of contributor to the online conversation, so I gave them some personas and descriptions, to make the scale of required digital engagement less intimidating.

  • Friendly faces
    • they aren’t natural supporters, but are willing to listen. Get them in for a coffee, invite them to stakeholder events.
  • Famous recluse
    • local media whose content ranks highly in Google, but they don’t know that. Nor do they have an active social media profile. Consider advertising around their content, in order to reach your audience. Look after them.
  • Back street heroes
    • busy facilitating local forums and administering Facebook pages. Difficult to find online as individuals, but help make the online conversation happen. Treat them like media – invite them to briefings and get to know them.
  • Networkers
    • their LinkedIn profile is a who’s who of local business, with some revealing connections to boot. Connect with them online and look out for them at events.
  • Estate managers
    • editors of parish websites that will never win any design awards, but are about the only place online for information about the community. Keep them posted on your work, share content for their websites.
  • Ones to watch
    • famous locals and restaurateurs who claim an affiliation to the local area, but don’t contribute to the conversation. Monitor and contact them if they express an interest in [the issue].

Creating pigeon holes for audiences with clever-dick titles may seem cynical. However, when you’re trying to help organisations think about their audience, this is far more effective than throwing Social Media 101 at them (yes, it exists), or drowning in influencer mapping.

And the Big Scary Company? They’re busy training up some nice friendly experts to become part of a conversation online, and getting in touch with some of these personas.

Lego characters

Every character needs different kinds of attention online