Using audience personas in ongoing nonprofit communications planning: Q&A

Oct 16, 2020

How can audience personas support your nonprofit communications on an ongoing basis?

Audience persona development is an integral part of my website content planning and branding work with clients; personas ensure that the plans we make and messages we develop are relevant and useful. But what value can audience personas offer beyond the current project? I advise the nonprofit communicators I work with to treat the audience personas we develop together as living documents to be revisited, enhanced, and referred to in ongoing communications planning.

To help shed light on the value of continuously using personas, I’ve asked Markus Stadelmann-Elder, Director of Communications at Maytree, for his insights. Several years ago, I worked with Markus to develop Maytree’s website content strategy, and he has continued to use the personas we created as part of that project, over the years.

In this Q & A post, Markus explains how and why he uses audience personas in his ongoing communications planning.

Q & A with nonprofit communications leader @markii_swiss: the ongoing value of audience personas #NPMC Click To Tweet

Q & A with nonprofit communications leader Markus Stadelmann-Elder: the ongoing value of audience personas

When we first developed Maytree’s website content strategy, one of our first steps was audience persona development. How did these personas help you at the time?

“Developing the personas really helped us shape our site’s final navigation and the type of content that needed to be written.

It made us aware of who we’re talking to. Because when you create a website (or any type of communications piece), you don’t just do it to push whatever content you have to the outside world. Your website becomes part of your ongoing conversation with your audience.

So it’s always about communicating with someone. It’s having a conversation with a real person. And those people live busy lives, they have their own concerns, and they will have their own expectations when looking at and reading your content.

For our website, we needed to understand – and acknowledge – that.  We needed to have a picture of the person in our mind when we started writing and publishing our web content.

Creating the personas for the website was also helpful to get colleagues to review the website with the perspective of their audiences in mind. So everyone would ask: ‘Would my audience be interested in this content?’ ‘Will they find it useful?’ ‘Will this content answer their questions?’ ‘Will they know what to do next?’”

You’ve said that you continued to refer to the personas we created in the years since developing your website content strategy. How have the personas helped in your other work since then?

“I’m frequently looking at my personas – in fact, I have them printed out and pinned to my wall (when I was still in the office – now during COVID-19, working from home, I can access them on our Google Drive).

Before working on any bigger communications project, I will ask myself:

  • Who is this for?
  • What questions will we answer?
  • What action do we want them to do after reading this piece?
  • Where will they be when they consume our content?

I want to be sure that I keep them in mind as I put together my communications products, so I know that I’m creating the right type of content, use the right kind of language, and the right kind of media.

Personas also help with timing of when we may publish our newsletters or reports. We will ask ourselves: ‘Is this actually the right time of day – or day of the week – to release this report? Will our audience be around and have time to read it?’”

How often do your revisit and update your personas? What prompts you to make updates, and what have you added or changed? Why?

“I’m revisiting and reviewing our personas at least once a year. That way I can make sure I’m still communicating with the correct people.

I’m also talking to my colleagues to see whether our personas still resonate with them. This way I know whether we need to adjust how we communicate, whether we need to update our web content, add a new section, or change the navigation.

We may also realize that we no longer need to communicate with one persona as our work has shifted. Instead, we need to create a new one to reflect our work.”

'One of the biggest advantages of working with personas: It focuses your communications. It frees you up as you write. You know exactly who you’re communicating to. #NPMC' Click To Tweet

Have these personas helped you to make decisions about communications plans or tactics? If yes, how so?

“Yes, having personas in place has definitely helped me make better decisions.

We may decide on how we promote a new report (if that particular audience is not paying attention to mass emails because they’re just too busy, we have to find another way to get their attention). Or we may increase the use of a particular tactic, because it’s been very effective (and abandon another one).”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the value of audience personas for nonprofit communicators – or about the process of developing them?

“One of the biggest advantages of working with personas: It focuses your communications. It frees you up as you write. You know exactly who you’re communicating to. They become your friends – so you’re having a good conversation with someone you know.

It’s actually a very fun process to develop your personas. But it’s never really done. They won’t be perfect. You will have to experiment a bit and explore. You always learn more about your core audiences. So you can (and should) add to your personas as you go along.”

Don’t let this valuable tool gather dust: use the audience personas you've developed to support your ongoing communications planning and development. #NPMC Click To Tweet

I hope this interview helps you to see the value of using personas on an ongoing basis. Thank you to Markus for sharing his insights and approach.

It takes time, effort and collaboration with your colleagues to create audience personas. So I encourage you to leverage this investment, using your personas whenever they can support your communications planning and development. Don’t let this valuable tool gather dust!

Do you need my help with building stronger communications foundations?

I offer website content strategy and messaging platform development as core services because the work and elements involved provide the foundations for strong future communications and content. The value of both the process and components – including audience persona development – can extend into, and support, all of your communications planning.

If you’re looking ahead to a new website or messaging platform, check out my Nonprofit website content strategy package and Branding through messaging package. Then, if you’d like to talk more, book a free consultation with me.

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