Developing an Online Profile for your Users

Recently I was invited to speak to a communications class at Northwest University. They wanted to me talk about connecting with people and how we can use technology to help aid us in building connections. I did my best to hold back the fact that I had spent my first four years after high school failing out of or dropping out of just about every college that would accept me. It was incredibly ironic that I found myself after all these years sitting in front of University students, teaching about technology and communications.
I enjoyed the talk and I had a blast taking the students through my audience profile building tools. We spent quite a bit of time building a profile, and then talking through the various ways that we could learn to understand who this person was.

One thing I noticed was that this was the first time the students had even considered putting together a profile for who they were trying to reach online.

For me, helping people build audience profiles is a key part of what I do. It’s important to start with identifying who you are trying to reach, or talk to. Marketing classes will talk about market segments and demographics as large groupings of people with the hope of building campaigns that appeal to the largest groups.

My argument against traditional marketing profiling is simple: when you aim for everyone, you get no one. It’s too easy for us to lump people together into this very diverse and large groups. But if we don’t start thinking about the people we are trying to reach as real people, we will fall flat. Our message won’t connect. It won’t come across as genuine. It will reek of marketing and will turn people away.

You and I are not General Motors, or Microsoft. You and I are real people, with real needs, wants, and desires. We also love, fear, and have insecurities about who we are.

That’s why I take people through audience profile building. I want you to focus on people, who they are, what they’re about, so that you can do your best work for them.

Building a Profile

If you’re interested you can download some audience profile building sheets at my other site, thisisastory.org. Dave Burton and myself have put together some great tools built around digital strategy and how to connect with people.

Building an audience profile starts with this idea: people online are real. Say that out-loud.

Someone online is reading your website, blog, or seeing your content. That person is a real person, they have all sorts of things about them that make them unique.

And it’s that uniqueness we want to understand so we can connect with. So to start building a profile, you need to start to think of ONE person who you are writing for.

Stop. Close your eyes. Who is that person you are writing for? What do they look like? What are they carrying with them?

Get into the details of these questions! They can tell you so much about who a person is.

About 30 minutes into the class, while we were still building a profile, we had a breakthrough.

“What does carrying an iPhone, Apple watch, and trendy workout clothes tell you about this guy?” I asked the class at Northwest. “Are there any assumptions we can make about him?” I continued, “What fears might he be dealing with based around what is only in his hands and what he is wearing?”

“He’s selfish.” One student offered. “He’s trying to stay relevant, the iPhone and Watch tell us he has money to spend, he also cares that people see him in trendy workout gear.”

They got it.

From that simple question we could then start to talk about the fears this person was dealing with and how if we were interested in helping him, we could create things in a way that was appealing to him.

Audience profiling building is only the first step in a series of steps to help you understand who and why you are trying to connect to a certain person. Are you asking the right questions about who you are creating for?

About the author

Jesse Orndorff

The founder of Glean, an agency for change. Formerly Innovation Program Manager at DAI. He's now focused on building technology and startups that work on challenging issues and doing social good.

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Jesse Orndorff

The founder of Glean, an agency for change. Formerly Innovation Program Manager at DAI. He's now focused on building technology and startups that work on challenging issues and doing social good.

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