Do you have an Alicia?

I do. I’m writing to her right now.

A blog post, like this one, is a well-understood example of communications. Communications is everywhere – it’s your grant proposals, your discussions with community members, emails to staff, conversations with partners, annual reports to donors. While audiences vary they are the number one point of communications and should always be in the front of your mind. But the words “audience” or “demographics” sound dry and not particularly human. How do you keep these vague ideas on the forefront of your mind as you craft your messaging?

This is where user personas help. If you've never heard of it, a persona is a mini-bio of a person (real or imagined). For example, say you’re creating an impact report. Who is it for? You could answer “it’s for my whole community” because that is who is going to receive it. But who are your most important audiences for that particular piece? Let’s say there are two: one is a large donor and the other is a community organizer you are trying to get more involved in your work. Make personas for each of them!

Personas are all about getting up close and personal. Here’s an example of the persona for the community organizer. Her name is Alicia and she works at a medium-sized nonprofit that focuses on creating a more just food system. She’s busy but she makes time for herself because she knows that you can’t create change in an overworked and frantic space. She believes the change she is working for can truly happen, and she wants to be inspired and hear from other people who also believe that. Yet she has a lot on her plate and doesn’t want to read long philosophical articles about things that don’t seem realistic.

Once you have a clear image of the person you’re writing to, add a photo or an illustration. Or better yet, just use a real person! Think about this person as you write and edit.

I always use a persona when I write these blog posts, and it helps me tailor the content to a specific person. What would Alicia think of this article? Does it speak to the issues she is dealing with on a regular basis? Would it help her do her job better or inspire her to try something new?

There are clear benefits to using personas: they orient your communications towards who they are supposed to reach. It is human and normal and easy for us to create content that reflects only the insides of our own minds and experiences and we ALWAYS have to balance that with listening to things through our audiences’ ears.

Have you ever used personas? If not I’d recommend it. And of course I would love an introduction to your persona if you have one.