Interesting meme hitting the interwebs and the office cubicles these days: applying persona research to social media. I guess social is truly becoming business these days, with folks applying such techniques to our efforts. It’s cool. Seriously cool. And it justifies my existence as Chief Listener ;-)

In past lives I’ve enjoyed the focus of redesigning web sites for users. Whoa. I know. Cutting edge, right? I even worked in “war rooms” with giant workflows on the walls illustrating different user personas. It might seem like a pain in the ass, but it’s so worth it. Especially as social business matures beyond the “buzz and broadcast” mentality prevalent today.

The parallels to web design circa 1999-2005 is amazing. It was the wild west. The graphic designer’s playground. The user’s nightmare. Sometime around ’05, experience and site growth taught us that people can’t find what they need and that splash pages are useless. We started to design with user goals in mind. Enter the persona. And perhaps the first serious use of web analytics and content strategies.

For a refresher, A List Apart features this gem on audience personas today. And last month, UX magazine featured a great piece on user experience for community design.

Like web analytics of early web design days, social listening has largely focused on deriving some measurable goal from social media marketing activity. More recently, though, some specialties and a deeper appreciation of analysis are emerging. For example, listening is being more strictly scoped around actionable engagements, while the more measurable activities (anything that can be counted or manipulated with math) is taking a more analytic form. There’s a third pillar coming together around comprehensive and contextual evaluation of one’s influencer community.

TIP: Persona workflows often mirror conversion goals you can measure with Google Analytics or whichever web analysis tool you might use.


But how does one measure or even evaluate who an influencer might be? That’s a tough one to answer. You actually need to do your homework on this idea. It’s not enough to say “Influence_Man” has 10,000 followers and therefore is someone you want to curate your message. He just has a big megaphone. Consider the context of that influence and then map it to Influence_Man’s original content. This is one way to identify (and develop) a persona, using social data. Other ways are more traditional, thinking of a typical user and his or her needs and mapping those needs to actionable content.

Outside of the ubiquitous ideas around social media personas, there are 6 I focus on that I’ll highlight below. If you’re not thinking about social media personas and leveraging social analytics to understand these audiences, add it to your list. As important as focus groups and perhaps more intimate than the web design personas many digital marketers have developed, social voices are very distinct. It can be a very left-brain, right-brain exercise.

Before I explore these personas there are some “social media personalities” I want to re-define. These aren’t personas themselves, but we’ll talk some more about these peeps in context.

  • Lurker
  • Curator
  • Hater
  • Friend
  • Status Seeker
  • Evangelist

Each of these personality types is important to each of the personas I outline below. You’ve seen them before, but they cast too wide a shadow across user behavior. With social media, each contains clues (subtle and blatantly obvious) about user need or sentiment. Educate the lurker. Embrace the hater. Entice the curator. Reward the status seeker. Be a friend. Excite the evangelist. These are all somewhat generic, yes? These personality labels describe the ways in which people behave on social sites. Now consider each with these specific roles:

  • Customer
  • Partner
  • Employee
  • Competitor
  • Thought Leader
  • Decision Maker

For any, consider the nature of user behavior through social networking sites:

  1. What are the user’s content preferences? How does she consume information? RSS? Blogs? Email? Does time on site reveal anything?
  2. How might the user find, consume, or share information? Is she a “curator?” Do web logs reveal search patterns? Does she solicit advice on sites like Quora?
  3. Where is the user’s natural watering hole? We each have our favorite source for information. Are you mashing web traffic, event registration and social listening data together? Can you map that data to a customer profile? His or her social graph?

Customers (and Prospects) are looking for information. It could be anywhere in the purchase making cycle: point-of-need, support, events, upgrades, and so forth. They could be looking to network with peers to solve a problem or to find inspiration on tasks. Customers might very well blog about their experience with you, or look to blogs to decide if you’re worthy of their business.

Partners are looking for an edge. They have their own experiences to tout, but are also looking over their shoulder at the other guy. They want customers (and prospects) to see their products & services work with yours. They want to position themselves as thought leaders when it comes to working with you.

Thought Leaders & SMEs know their stuff. And if you’re lucky, they work for you (or a partner). This lot writes a lot about their favorite topic. They express their knowledge that is actionable to their audiences. They’ll research new trends and apply what they learn to their work and to the marketplace. SMEs will often serve as your go-to-person for a variety of customer support issues.

Executives & Decision Makers make calls and write checks. These are folks the influencers influence. They want to know that their people know what’s what. They want to look to their peers to see that they themselves are making the right decisions. They want to hear analysts and experts laud their choices (directly, or through the satisfaction of like mindedness).

Employees are your first line of influence. And expertise. If they smell something fishy, you shouldn’t whip-out the potpourri. Ask them why and fix it. Improve it. They have a vested interest in your content. They take pride visualizing themselves in your image. Use their feedback and institutional memory as a filter. As as asset. Most importantly, your social content will be used by employees. They will share if it’s good. Let them share. Encourage them. Give them resources to share. Give them transparency into planning and processes.

Competitors should keep you honest. Either through competition, FUD or mere presence. They’ll also copy and steal everything they can. Expect it. Do it. With very few original ideas in this world, crowdsource best practice for connecting with online–and social–audiences. Follow them on Twitter. If your boss won’t freak out, engage them (nicely of course).

All of this is agnostic to any particular social site. Some social channels might be suited more to one type of conversation versus another, but it’s incumbent on you to understand there’s a difference. Social listening will help you evaluate both the conversation and the nature of the channel. Context will help you evaluate personas. Your products and solutions will color that context and (hopefully) align with customer need.

Have fun with this process. I’ll bet a fiver that you’ll start out with an idea for a cool Facebook tab or Twitter contest, but your persona development efforts will tell you to do a better job socializing whitepapers, events or how-to videos. Or both. That’s part of the adventure. In fact, an a brainstorming exercise, try framing the discussion around a Mad-Libs or Choose Your Adventure format.