Friday, September 24, 2010

Personas for Your Social Web-based Business

A persona is a useful concept and tool for web application design.  Wikipedia defines a persona as an

artifact that consists of a narrative relating to a desired user or customer's daily behavior patterns, using specific details, not generalities.
I present a few abstract personas for social web sites.  The goal of any business should be to profit from satisfying real customer needs.  Stripped of their context, these abstractions sound a little crass, but they may be a useful starting point for thinking about the community of diverse individuals underlying a social web-based business.

Mr. Read-mostly.  He has an interest in your topic and will find you by googling or clicking on a link--because he is a big surfer dude.  He likes to browse, scan, and read here and there.  If your content matches his interest, if in addition to surfable, it is really solid and seductive, he may stop and smell the flowers.  Mr. Read-mostly may appear as Mr. Read-only but he will expose his true identity and share a little, a comment here and there, a vote-up on someone's comment, post a question (not an answer), or even a short review if he is really inspired.  Can you hold his attention long enough to inspire him?

Why care about Mr. Read-mostly and his little uncertain contribution?  Because en masse, his/their little contributions add up to something big.  Clay Shirky eloquently explains in Here Comes Everybody which I will paraphrase.  The contributions in large online communities  follow power law distributions.  A small number of individuals make disproportionally large contributions. A large number of individuals make very small contributions, but those small contributions add up to a large number: the long tail of the contribution curve.

Mr. Big-share.  Mr. Big-share has a strong interest in your topic either because its of hobby of his or because its is his profession.  Maybe he gets paid for his expertise.  In addition, Mr.  Big-share has an incentive to share online which is probably a combination of factors.  Perhaps he shares in order to promote his professional expertise.  Perhaps in order to network with other professionals.  Perhaps in order to extend and refine his knowledge (the best way to learn is to teach).  Perhaps because of the sense of connection of others with a similar interest.  Perhaps a touch of vanity:  to inscribe into some page on the web:  "Kilroy was here."

Design your web business so that it is free for contributors.  Then leverage the contributions to deliver a fee-based premium service for a small group that have a problem that matches your solution and a budget to pay for it.  This is the freemium business model.

Mr. Loose-change.  This guy has a little bit of money jangling in his pockets--5,10, 50 dollars for your troubles.  He views your thriving community as "social proof" of the value of your premium service.  Make the premium truly useful to him and he'll part with his change today--and tomorrow.

Mr. Deep-pockets. Deep works for Pockets, Inc.  He and his team are impressed with your offering and would like to bring you in-house.

The key to building a successful social web-based business is understanding the diverse needs of an entire community of different personas united by some common interest.

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