Think about your favorite web sites and blogs for a moment — the ones you read and visit on a regular basis. Now, think about the people who run and write for those sites. Do you have an image of them in your mind? Can you imagine what it would be like to meet and speak to them in person? Can you describe them in one or two words like “funny,” “smart,” “geeky,” or “obsessive?” Does this have any bearing on why they are your favorite writer or at least one that you follow on a regular basis? While having good content is best way to build an audience for your web site, having the correct persona to speak to that audience (or intended audience) is an often-overlooked key to your site’s success.
Your Persona Needs to Relate Everything to Your Topic
Your persona is not necessarily a simple, virtual version of yourself, nor should it be. People are complex; personas should not be. In many ways, your persona should be a more-focused, one-track version of one aspect of your personality. Is your web site or blog about your love for music? Then your audience has probably come to read about music, not your love of fine wines or a review of the movie you went and saw last weekend, unless you’re recommending types of wines to go with certain CD releases, or you’re providing an analysis of the movie score. You persona needs to live, eat, sleep, and dream your subject material even more so than the audience you are writing for.
Your Persona Needs an Archetype
Just as in literature, there are set categories that most on-line personas fit in to, and this should be one of your first considerations when developing your persona. Do you want to present yourself as a subject matter expert seeking to educate the masses with how-to posts and technical accomplishments? Are you a thinker that is constantly presenting ideas to solicit feedback from peers? Are you an enthusiast who is trying to share new discoveries and disappointments from a neutral or product reviewer’s position? Are you an editorial writer who is seeking to sway opinion and spur your readers into action? The possibilities are limitless, but it is important that you pick a position that will resonate with your audience.
Your Persona Needs a Tone
Once you have established an archetype, you need to find a voice for this archetype. Remember, your audience can probably find content similar to yours in any number of places on the Internet, so it is important to differentiate and sell yourself as much as you sell your content. Think about what your audience will respond best to. If your web site seeks to educate, a professorial tone is the obvious choice, but are you an academician, a nutty professor, or a mad scientist? If you’re an enthusiast, are you addressing your audience as a peer, a superior, or a neophyte looking for guidance? If you are an editorial writer, do you seek to motivate your audience through detached pragmatism or passionate emotion? It’s important to consider what your audience will respond to as well as how others who write within your topic are presenting themselves. Do you want your voice to be just like the others, but with a different perspective, or do you want your voice to be an alternative for those that may not appreciate the personalities that currently present your type of content?
Your Persona Needs Consistency
As the amount of material you produce grows, hopefully so will your loyal audience. This core group of readers will develop a set of expectations around what they find on your site. If you’ve established yourself as a storyteller, it’s probably not a good idea to suddenly start posting “top five” lists or quick infographics. Conversely, if you’ve set a precedent for short, concise, technical posts, then odds are your audience will not respond favorably to a long-winded anecdote about what you did last weekend, or why today’s topic reminds of you a humorous tale from your childhood. Again, remember that staying in character is just as important as staying on topic.
Your Persona Needs to Reflect You
The final consideration when developing your persona is how the real-life you relates to it. While it is certainly fun to create a persona that is 180-degrees different from your own, you should always assume your audience can spot a “phony” or “insincere” presentation. Remember that your audience reads your web site in part because they trust you. Presenting a persona that is drastically different from your own will not only become tiresome and difficult to maintain over time, but also risks backlash if and when your audience discovers that trust has been betrayed.