6 Steps to Building Community Member Personas
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Last week David outlined the 9 step process we’re using to launch a new community, guided by the community canvas.
The second step in our process was to conduct research and develop our community member personas. This is a critical step!
It’s impossible to build a successful community without knowing exactly who you’re building it for and why. Personas reveal gaps in knowledge that need to be filled in, assist us in writing all marketing copy, and help us determine programming for the community. Consider your Community Member Personas a compass that you can come back to every time you have to make a strategic decision for your community.
Today, we’re going to walk you through the 6 steps we used to develop our community personas. In following articles, I’ll also share how I gathered the data used to populate these personas, as well as the lessons I learned (and mistakes I made) while working through this exercise. If you don’t want to miss those follow up articles, subscribe here.
Alright, let’s dive in!
How We’re Creating Community Member Personas
To clearly define the identity and needs of our community members, we used the“Developing Community Member Personas” activity that we use when working with clients and students.
We’re exploring two possible membership levels for this new community: Basic and Premium and needed to create personas for each.
Ultimately there were six personas created; three for the Basic membership and three for Premium membership.
Here’s one of our personas, so you can see an example in complete form:
Here’s how we created them…
Step 1: Choose a Name and Tagline to Describe the Member Persona
First, I chose a name and a tagline that would represent each persona.
Why we do this: It’s important that your persona has a name so you can quickly identify them. Personas are also meant to represent an actual human, so giving them a name makes it feel more real. The tagline helps you remember which persona you’re referring to.
I’d recommend revisiting this after you fill out the rest of the persona. I did this when I created a persona for “Casey, the Front Lines Champion”. I learned through creating the persona that Casey is a Customer Support Representative with 5–7 years of experience and recently took on some community building tasks in addition to her standard role, which helped shape the tagline.
Step 2: Define their Demographics
Why we do this: Demographics provide more context around who this person is and helps paint a better visual of what their life is like.
Demographics were pretty straight forward to fill out since there’s a lot of consistency in our community when it comes to job title and work experience.
Not all of our Member Personas had something under “Other Demographic Info”. An example of useful info here: for Taylor the Dev Expert who is a Developer Evangelist, I listed that they have a 6 year background in development and have worked in community for 2 years. A good rule of thumb here is to think about any additional information that will help you better understand this person’s perspective that isn’t covered in the other worksheet fields above.
Step 3: Fill out your Members’ “Needs and Goals”
This is perhaps the most important part of your community member persona.
Why we do this: Whenever you’re making a decision about your community, you should always ask “how does this help our members solve a problem or accomplish their goal?”
I reframed “Why would they seek community?” to “Why would they seek membership?” since our Personas are specifically for our Membership community and Membership is the product.
I found that this portion of the exercise challenged me to validate that our Membership is indeed a tool for our community. We want this to serve all of our members — not just one type of person.
Before this section, I didn’t think about how Taylor probably struggles to find support for their specific role. There are plenty of resources for developers, and for digital marketers, but not as many for someone who lives in both worlds. This gave me another wave of excitement about what we’re building to serve our community.
We also learned that some people find more value in the community, and others are just looking for quality content and resources to stay at the cutting edge of the industry. Always a good reminder that your members might be there for a range of different reasons, both emotional and transactional.
Step 4: Describe Their Technical and Communication Patterns
Why we do this: It’s crucial to meet your community where they exist to make it easy for them to engage. If most of your personas are heavy mobile users but your community platform is exclusively desktop, that could be setting yourself up for some major cricket chirping. This also gives you a chance to identify any overlap between your personas, such as a platform like Slack or other related communities. It can make your platform decision easier and give you a leg up on where to find people that would benefit from your community.
I found that our personas were all using Facebook groups, which validated our plan to start our community there during launch. This allowed us to quickly check that box and feel good about moving forward. We also learned that a lot of members expect us to use a more custom community platform in the future, since they view those platforms as a more premium experience.
Step 5: Describe Their Potential Roles in the Community
Why we do this: Every role in your community’s ecosystem is important, from passive to power user. Communities only work when people are contributing, and you can challenge that assumption in this section by defining exactly how they’ll participate.
Not every member has to create content. It can feel counterintuitive that passive users, for example, have an important role. It’s easy to think that the more visible engagement, the more impactful that person is. However, they’re a perfect example of someone who is consuming your content and possibly even evangelizing it offline!
It’s important that you launch your community with a good grasp of what the potential roles might be, so you can have a baseline of health as your community is growing. That way, if a certain persona is posting only every so often, you can rest assured it’s part of their predicted behavior.
The question about what other communities they may be a part of was particularly useful for me here; this helped me think through what our Membership community would be able to provide that other communities don’t. Our Persona named Jordan, the Offline Gatherer (who is an Events Program Manager for a large company) is probably part of an events professional organization. This sparked the idea that Jordan may have plenty of existing frameworks specific to events, but could be seeking fresh tactics to build community through in person events. That’s something we can provide.
Step 6: Summarize Them in One Sentence — Ideally Using a Real Quote
Lastly, I pulled put together a single sentence for each Persona that cut to the chase of this person’s motivations for becoming a member.
Why we do this: This piece is especially helpful to use as a sort of “first question” to ask when using these personas in action. While people are certainly complex in their motivations, this is a good tool to stay organized and keep from overwhelming yourself with all the information you’ve created for this person.
As we have members of our community applying for membership who maybe have a job title that isn’t under one of these personas, I can use the What Matters Most answers to find the one that most aligns with where the applicant is in their motivations, so we can ultimately best serve them.
That completes our first post on Community Member Personas! Stay tuned for an upcoming post that shows how I gathered data to populate these personas, as well as the lessons I learned (and mistakes I made) while working through this exercise.