A website is more than another outbound communications channel; it is a critical business tool. For businesses it can drive sales, and profits. For associations it can drive membership, donations, engagement, and more. To do this, you need to know the usage characteristics of those for whom the website it built – why they use the site; how often they use it; where they use it and what else do they use if the site doesn’t fulfill their goals – and what are the tasks those users have that you can support through the site to keep them coming back (and tell their colleagues about it to boot)? All of this information can be organized into member personas of who uses your website – or more succinctly, website member personas.
Personas are a stand-in for a unique group of people who share common goals, needs and expectations. Creating member personas specifically for different association members and potential members can be an effective way to identify their expectations and needs and cater to them. Now, you may think you already know your members or users, but do you really?
An association may know the breakdown of executive memberships versus business memberships, and presumably this will tell you something about the kinds of tasks these users would have. You may sell books from your site, so you know some users come to buy books; others likely use the events calendar and other resources offered. You may also know that websites are expensive business channels to create, enhance and maintain and you have a number of other channels for communicating with your membership: two periodicals, special bulletins, reports, updates, regular meetings. When we look at who is using each of these – and by look I mean research who is using them – we learn a lot that almost always surprises us. Why? Because too often we build our association websites, e-commerce sites, and mobile sites based on assumption and opinion rather than research-based evidence.
Analytics alone won’t give us the answers to these kinds of questions. They’re great at telling us what has happened, but not why and we can’t use them to tell us how to design. In order to ensure that we are using our web channel as effectively as we can, we need to do user research to create user and member personas: design tools that help us focus the web strategy, content, layout, and navigation in the best way possible to meet the needs of those who truly do use the site to fulfill their usage goals. To get the most out of limited funding for web design, your knowledge of your site’s users and their tasks is as important as knowing who your members are.
Cindy Beggs, MLS, is Partner and Director of Experience Research at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.Akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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