How To Resuscitate Boring Content With Audience Personas

Writing-300x240If you ask someone who works with web content on a daily basis: “What makes good content?”, you’ll probably get an answer like “Good content is fresh, relevant, interesting and useful.”

That’s all well and good; of course everyone’s interested in fresh ideas, relevant information, interesting facts and things that make our lives easier. But after you’ve written dozens of “10 Tips To…” or “5 Best Ways To…” or “20 Great Quotes About…”, it can be difficult to come up with new ideas for content that drives clicks, engagement and leads. The results? Stale, boring content that people are happy to just ignore.

Too many organizations end up with the “boring content syndrome” because writing good content is getting more and more difficult as more and more people collectively write millions of pages every single day. In every given field, a few content producers get the majority of eyeballs while the rest struggle to attract a few dozen views.

What are these content producers doing that makes them stand out? Many of them are considered “experts” and carry an enormous amount of trust with readers. But how did they build that trust in the first place? By understanding what their audience needs and giving it to them. And although not every blogger and YouTube star on the web has done a persona-building exercise, most of them have an innate understanding of their audience’s needs, values and desires. In short, they have a mental picture of that “audience persona” and they cater to it every time they write a post, record a podcast or film a video.

Personas to the rescue of boring content

When faced with stale content, readers think: “This doesn’t call to me. This is boring. This doesn’t answer my questions about this topic.” You want to avoid these thoughts at all costs, because they mean that readers probably won’t come back to your website anytime soon. This can be simply because your voice doesn’t appeal to them, but when your content doesn’t appeal to anyone, then you have a problem. By trying to talk to everyone, you end up attracting no one at all.

That’s why getting a clear, functional audience persona can help you produce content that attracts and, most importantly, retains your audience for a very long time.

The persona is a basic communication and marketing technique that is also very useful when planning and producing content—whether for marketing or other purposes. It is one of the building blocks of content strategy and management. And a good persona can rescue boring, ordinary content from disappearing in the big black hole of unread stuff on the web.

The basics of personas

Personas are like novel characters: they have a specific age, gender and personality. They turn a general concept of “audience” into a concrete individual who you can relate to more easily.

Your audience persona should tell a story about a typical person in your audience. You begin with basic information like name (because real people have names!), gender, age and profession. Then you can add in more details about education level, income, marital status and living arrangements. Try to imagine a day in the life of this person: what books or magazines do they read? Where do they get their coffee? What’s their favourite TV show?

Try to think of a story related to the product or service you sell. What situation would make them look into what you offer? What challenges do they face and how would your product or service help them?

To put it all in perspective, here’s an example of a persona I would develop for Social Media Camp

“Julia is a 37-year-old marketing manager for a retail company. She has an undergraduate degree in business and considers herself at mid-career level. She especially enjoys creative planning, design and media relations. She has a good relationship with her superiors and is considered a thoughtful and fair manager by her subordinates.

She considers herself computer-literate but has had issues keeping up with the rapid changes in her field, which her schooling did not train her for. She knows about all the social media tools but she finds herself stumped when trying to use them strategically and for the benefit of her company. She has trouble trusting so-called “experts” from the web and would rather like to learn in a workshop or conference environment with established professionals in the field.”

As you can see, I did not focus too much on Julia’s personal life because it has little bearing on her interest in Social Media Camp. However, I used a detailed description of her work life and challenges to establish the reasons why she would like to attend SMC: her desire to learn from established experts and her preference for real-time, face-to-face environments.

Un-boring your content

With this persona in mind, I can now craft content to appeal directly to several of her needs. Speaker profiles and interviews would establish trust in their expertise. Testimonials from past attendants and summaries of past conferences would give her a better idea of the learning experience. She would find that content useful, and SMC would be able to convince her of the value of attending the conference.

It’s also good to think in terms of multiple audiences. Some products or services appeal to different people for different reasons, so building several personas and crafting different content for each can also be a successful strategy, especially if they use different channels.

If you don’t use personas in your social media planning, now is a good time to start. Who’s your audience? What do they need? What do they care about? When you answer these questions, you have a much better chance of getting them hooked to your content for a long time.

Social Media Camp

Canada's Social Media event of the year, coming May 1-3, 2014.

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