Using user persona work, journey mapping, surveying and other methods to understand community


(Jess Williams) #1

Hey everyone,

I’m Jess and I’ve been building communities and working with content for about 20 years now. Both of the main communities I worked with were niche, primarily communicating via forums and events. I had the pleasure of running a community advisory board and spent the last couple of years really digging into user persona work, journey mapping, surveying and other methods of truly understanding member needs of a community with 1 million users. It was some of the most rewarding work I’ve done.

I’m currently looking for a new role while working on meeting people in the industry and soaking up wisdom. Very grateful to have found FeverBee.


Introduce yourself (or at least just say hi)
(Sarah Hawk) #2

Welcome Jess.

Wow, that sounds absolutely amazing. Are there any insights that you can share?


(Jess Williams) #3

Thanks for the welcome, Sarah.

Happy to share a little more – I’m a huge advocate of trying new approaches to deeply understand your community. Metrics only tell you so much, and sometimes they are taken out of context by so many people that the true pulse of the community can actually be contradictory to the numbers staff pass around. (X number of members visit the forums each day so we are rocking it!..But how many are truly engaged and actively pushing the business forward?)

So, having a community advisory board meet up with key stakeholders and department heads can really help keep that human interaction and mutual understanding at the forefront. It also helps develop trust and empathy. A member who rants on a forum thread will give much more constructive criticism to a developer over Skype when they see the dev really wants to listen and learn. A stakeholder will (hopefully) get better at clarifying business goals when sitting in a Q&A session with their members, rather than writing a bland blog update. It’s a tough program to facilitate, but the benefits are enormous.

Persona creation and journey mapping are a passion of mine, and something I sort of “took from the playbook” of designers/marketers. It’s the best way to truly be in touch with not only what your members expect, but what their goals are within the platform. We think we know what they want, or what we’re driving them to want, but persona work keeps us focused on who the members really are at the core. It gives staff a way to identify with them. It takes away the guesswork.

But it takes time. You spend a lot of time using your instincts to narrow your member base into segments, interviewing/surveying with insightful questions, and following up as you start to have “ah-ha!” moments. There’s a lot of member buy-in/participation if you’re authentic – which most CMs are.

After all the data pours in, you have to validate it (with key member-facing staff and community advisory), then publish it in a format stakeholders will hopefully want to hang on their wall as a reference.

Journey mapping is similar, but focuses on a key business flow, like member engagement in a new program or member flow within a service offering. You need to work closely with the designers and devs to map the current process top to bottom, then go out and figure out what the user is doing within that process. What are their goals? Their expectations? What touchpoints are they actually hitting? Metrics, interviewing, testing, shadowing all help with this activity.

A lot of this work is typically done in a different role (marketing, UX, etc) but I find community managers are a perfect fit here because they have incredible insight and instincts around their community.

As you can see by my long post, I’m very passionate about it! :smiley:


(Sarah Hawk) #4

Note: I’m splitting this conversation out into a topic of its own because I think it has value.

Wow. I’m envious of the opportunity you had to dig into that kind of stuff! Sounds amazing.

What mix of people/skillsets were on the advisory board with you? And was it a fixed term project, or does that community have the board indefinitely?

I love this.
@richard_millington has dreamed forever about some kind of machine-learning based system which uses data to provide insights. Sounds like an automated version of the work that you’ve done, to some degree.

[quote=“jesswlms, post:182, topic:2430”]
A member who rants on a forum thread will give much more constructive criticism to a developer over Skype when they see the dev really wants to listen and learn.
[/quote] Ping @MHCommMgr


(Mark Williams) #5

Oh, I want this too! One metric that I was never able to nail at my former role was identifying the “upcoming” answerers - the nascent ambassadors to be - in a large collection of users. I always felt that if AI can tell me what to buy from Amazon, it should be able to comb the data for this.

I also dream of a 3-D game engine based reporting system, but that seems even less likely.


(Duncan Field) #6

This is an amazing idea. In sports analytics, for example, often the underlying numbers can compete with the ‘eye test’. Basically what may be apparent by looking through and seeing who stands out may not actually represent who is the most active (and in the most meaningful way). The problem then is whether the eye test makes a person more valuable ambassador!


(Duncan Field) #7

I’d love to hear more about journey mapping, it’s a little intimidating to approach without having gone through the process before


(Jess Williams) #8

What mix of people/skillsets were on the advisory board with you? And was it a fixed term project, or does that community have the board indefinitely?

We had a mix of both old and new members, from each segment of our memberbase. They applied for the position with a short essay and then the community was able to give input (vote) with staff ultimately choosing members who best represented the community as a whole and who would be the most vocal. :slight_smile: It was a fixed term of 12 months.


(Sarah Hawk) #9

This article outlines the basics from a general UX perspective. I’d love to hear more from @jesswlms about how she translated it into a community specific exercise.


(Jess Williams) #10

That’s a great resource, Sarah.

Regardless of why you’re creating it, a journey map must be a tool to help define strategy and set goals. It can’t be used as a simple diagram referencing the user flow – which is what many devs and product managers will think this is, at first. :slight_smile:

A community-focused journey map is used to enlighten, inform and foster empathy. Stakeholders may have never really looked at the experience from a member’s perspective in this way before. In the best case scenario, it’s then used as a tool to discover ways to make changes to the member’s experience or support the experience they have (if you find they are happy and just need some improvements).

Many traditional journey maps are specific to the design of a product or platform. But in my experience, community journey maps can be focused primarily on programming and engagement flows, with supporting changes to the design or technology as needed.

An example might be a journey map for an artist’s community forum that maps the experience in which a new member begins uploading their artwork for community peer feedback. This is probably a tough hurdle for new members, and you would definitely want to understand why so you can begin creating a strategy on ways to improve the experience. It’s probably not going to need drastic design or development changes, but rather programming and engagement improvements. Maybe some incentives. Gamification. Who knows. What are these members feeling? What do they expect to happen? How long does it take for them to do this and what is the business objective on improving that timeframe?

In the simplest terms, you would map the flow with your UX and dev teams (how does a new member actually do this from start to finish) and then begin interviewing, observing and studying the behaviors and expectations of the members have during this important engagement process. Putting the pieces together as outlined in the article Sarah linked is very similar.

So at the end of the day, you just need to remind your stakeholders that your community members are customers and your journey map doesn’t have to only influence the design and/or development, but also engagement, training, marketing, programming, etc.

Hope that helps a bit.


(Rachael Reilly) #11

I love the questions that you’re asking here. We are in the early days of our community and I’m spending quite a bit of time working on more detailed User Stories. We have a lot of pivotal decisions to make and I want to make sure we’re making them with our members and future member’s best interests at heart.

Thanks for sharing Jess!


(Jess Williams) #12

Happy to help, Rachael. Those early days are exciting and full of so much discovery!

And I’m glad you brought up User Stories – we had a great “meeting of the minds” with our product team when I started creating the user personas and journey maps. They had been working on new user stories that would help them prioritize the roadmap and I was able to feed validated data to them throughout the process. The personas and journey maps really complemented their work and brought a new perspective to both teams!

Best of luck to you!