For several years, I’ve been using Reader Avatars (also called Reader Profiles or Personas) on my blogs – and I’ve found them very effective and helpful.
To create your first reader avatar, you’ll need to spend some time thinking and writing about a type of reader that you’re either attempting to reach or who is already reading your blog. Describe them in as much detail as you can – who they are, what their interests are, why they might be reading your blog and what their needs are.
(We’ve created a template you can use to help you do this, and I’ll be sharing some examples of my own reader avatars throughout this post.)
The idea is that you end up with a picture of who you’re writing for that you can then use to create posts that will resonate more strongly with your actual readers.Before I talk about the benefits of doing this and make some suggestions on how to create reader avatars for your own blog, let me show you one that I first created several years ago for my photography site
Grace describes herself as a Mom-a-raz-zo photographer because 90% of her photos are of her young children. She’s 34 years old and lives in London.
She is in the market for an entry level DSLR and lens to help her capture her kids growing up. She studies photography is high school so has a basic understanding of how to use a camera, but until now has been using an entry level point and shoot camera.
Grace reads dPS for two reasons - firstly to help make a decision about which camera to buy. She’s a little nervous about making the choice and is looking for the advice of others. She’s also looking to connect with other Mom-a-raz-zo photographers and to learn how to improve her portrait photography.
Grace is a photography book addict - she subscribes to a photography magazine and has an expanding collection of portrait related photography books.
Grace dreams about one day making a little money from her photography - perhaps using what she learns in photographing her own children - to photograph other families. Her biggest obstacles in achieving this are a lack of confidence (she worries a lot about what others think of her work) and the equipment (which she is saving for).
Grace is on Facebook, is a heavy user of email and has a Flickr account.
The profile above describes one of the types of readers that we have on DPS – people whose main use of their cameras is to photograph their kids.
The profile describes why “Grace” reads DPS, some of her dreams, the type of photography she’s into, how else she uses the web, a little about her demographics, the level she’s at, and so on.
Here’s another one from a different type of reader at DPS:
Keith is a first time digital camera owner. He’s recently retired and has bought an entry level DSLR to help him record an upcoming trip across the USA.
Keith reads dPS to work out how to get the mosts from his new camera, which to this point, he is using only in Automatic mode.
His needs and challenges are fairly beginner level and include learning about settings like Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO, knowing how to get his images off his camera and to store them safely, as well as basic composition techniques.
Keith dreams of taking great landscapes, macro photography and a little portrait work.
Keith is on a budget, living off his savings. He is willing to spend a little to improve his photography but researches all purchases carefully.
Keith has been online for years, but his preferred way to connect online is email.
Again – I’ve described another type of reader in a similar way to the first.
In each of these cases the reader profile is based upon a reader group already within the Digital Photography School community. If you’re just getting started with your blog, this same exercise could be done with potential readers – or the type of person you want to read your blog.
Why Should You Create Reader Avatars?
Hopefully you can already see some of the benefits of these kinds of reader avatars – but let me list a few of the things I’ve found most useful:
It makes your blogging feel more relevant and personal – I find that having a person (real or pretend) in mind as I write reminds me that there are real people on the other end of my posts. There are people with faces, names and needs – I find it inspiring to visualise them reading what I write, and thinking about them helps me to write in a more personal tone.
It informs your writing – having these kinds of avatars in mind as I write reminds me of some of the problems and questions that readers might have. That leads me to write write more practical posts that focus on real readers’ needs. Often as I write, I visualise the questions and reactions that these different readers might have to my posts – and then try to build answers to those into what I’m writing.
It identifies opportunities – although it was several years ago now, I still remember writing the first profile above (Grace) and realising that quite a few of my readers have mentioned their dreams of one day making some money from their photography. As a result, I created a section of the DPS forum specifically about making money with photography ... and later, we published an ebook on “Going Pro”. (Note the forums are currently closed.)
It can be helpful for recruiting advertisers – potential advertisers will want to know what type of reader you have. You can simply share your reader avatars with them: no need to think through a new answer each time. This also shows that you’ve thought about your readers and run a professional site.
It identifies ways to connect with your readership – you’ll notice I’ve included details in the profiles on what else the reader does online. It’s really useful to know what other sites your reader uses and which social networks they prefer as this can identify opportunities to identify places where potential new readers hang out.
How to Create a Reader Profile?
There are no real rules – you can see I’ve developed a certain style in my personas above. I added a picture to each of the type of person in the profile to further personalise it. I’d suggest trying to include information in the following areas:
Demographics – basic facts, like age, gender, nationality, and education level. You can use Google Analytics not only to see how many readers are coming from which countries, but also to see how your readers fall into different age categories, and what the balance of genders is. Google’s page on Demographics and Interests explains how this works.
Financial situation – are your readers well off, secure, or just about managing? This will obviously affect the types of products you choose to promote as an affiliate, or create yourself.
Needs and/or challenges – what are your readers struggling with, or what are they keen to know about? With photography, for instance, readers like Grace will want to know how to capture their children as they grow up.
How they use the web – you might want to think about the other blogs they read, the news sites they visit, the social networks they’re active within, and whether they tend to browse on a computer or on a tablet / mobile (again, Google Analytics can give you insight into this).
Motivations for reading the blog – for instance, are your readers hobbyists or taking their first steps into a career related to your topic? Do they read your blog to be inspired, educated, or entertained?
Level of experience with the topic – are your readers total beginners, highly experienced, or something in between? You may want to create several reader avatars for people at different levels of experience and familiarity with the topic.
Dreams – what do they wish they could accomplish ... and how can you help them get there? You might find that the emails you receive and the comments on your posts help you figure out what your readers’ dreams are.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list – if you’ve created a reader avatar (or several) before, please feel free to share your suggestions and tips in comments below.
Let me finish this post off with one last persona – again for DPS.
Gareth (39 and living in Denver) prides himself on being one of the first people in his friendship group to own a digital camera. He invested heavily in a Sony Mavica that had the ability to take and store 9 images on a floppy disk!
Gareth sold his extensive film camera kit years back and fully converted to a Canon DSLR kit which he regularly updates and adds to whenever a new camera, lens or accessory comes onto the market. He also collects a range of other cameras - Liecas, Holgas and other more obscure models. He has a high disposable income.
Gareth works as a successful freelance designer but had recently put together a portfolio site for his photography and is on the way to going pro as a photographer.
Gareth knows most of what there is to know about photography - he is part of dPS because he loves to show his work and help others improve their photography. He’s also looking to increase his profile and exposure as a photographer.
Gareth photographs everything - he particularly loves live music photography, urban landscapes and anything experimental.
Gareth is an early adopter in many areas of life - he’s prolific in social media circles, has his own blog, Flickr account and is active on Facebook, Twitter and regularly uses Delicious for social bookmarking.
Now it’s over to you. Have a go at writing at least one reader avatar for your blog ... and leave a comment below to let us know how you got on.