The best way to understand an aspect of someone’s life is to understand them better as a whole person. The same principle holds true for content strategy: it’s much easier to understand audience interactions with your content when you have an understanding of the people behind the clicks and visits.

Content personas provide holistic context and perspective that shape and guide your content strategy. Instead of trying to generate broad appeal for a generalized audience, personas maximize impact by allowing you to develop content that appeals to specific affinity groups.

In business as in life, there are no shortcuts to getting to know someone. Creating a workable persona is a major undertaking. Whether you’re developing formal personas for the first time or looking to improve and update existing research, here are a few important things to keep in mind:

Beware of Data Overload

As much as we’d like to believe that big-data technology fuels data-driven decision making, too much data can actually hamper objectivity. When faced with a mountain of data, we are more likely to make snap judgments or lean heavily on our intuition. The resulting personas provide little guidance and can even leave you worse off than you were before.

Keys to Success:

  • Understand the business KPIs for your content before you begin.

  • Limit audience segmentation to only key features that closely correlate to target KPI goals.

  • Focus on designing content that appeals specifically to people who share these key features.

Avoid Conjecture

As much as personas are fictionalizations, they should always keep a strong hold on reality. Personas are composites of your audience; not figments of your imagination. Using old data, anecdotes, or stereotypes to fuel your persona is the quickest road to self-deception. The resulting glut of content is boring, reductive, and pandering at best and downright offensive at worst.

Keys to Success:

  • Make sure empirical data is at the core of your persona research.

  • If you have a hunch about your audience, let it inspire you to dig deeper for observable or measurable proof.

Get Creative

Despite what some would have you believe, unlimited budget isn’t a requirement for creating useful personas. Much of the information you already collect about your website visitors and customers can help you build personas. Use social media insights and analytics tools to create a holistic view of your followers and fans. Offer incentives to readers who complete short surveys on your website. Don’t forget the power of face-to-face conversations. In-person interviews and focus groups can be a huge asset in getting a better understanding of your target group.

Do you use personas for your content development strategy? What elements do you find necessary for building great personas?