Can Online Personas Improve your Collaboration Behaviour?

When we hear the term “Personas” we often associate them with profiles that marketing organisations develop to categorise the buying behaviours of consumers for targeted attention. Personas are therefore strongly linked to behaviours. In the world of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) we are also very much interested in the collaboration behaviours that have been facilitated by the ESN.

The idea of developing a way to profile ESN behaviours comes from one of our customers, Liz Green, who is a social media strategist at Telstra, and a leading facilitator of their Yammer installation. We liked the idea and decided to design and incorporate an online persona classification based on some of our core social networking analytics, which we are sharing here.

Here is the framework of Personas that we designed:

The vertical axis partitions those that are active on the platform from those that have minimal interactions. We identify those users who have interacted on the platform less than once every 2 weeks and classify them as “Observers”. For those that have interacted more than once every 2 week, we then break them up according to our Give-Receive balance measure. The give-receive balance was inspired by Adam Grant’s In the Company of Givers and Takers and Sandy Pentland’s The Science of Building Great Teams, where they find that those organisations and individuals that balance their giving and taking/receiving are the strongest performers. Our Give-Receive measure simply balances contributions made e.g. a posts, replies, likes etc. and received e.g. replies received, likes received etc.. We classify those active participants that are able to balance their giving and receiving as “Engagers”. The Engager is our aspirational profile, in that we believe these people are the heart of the network, successfully balancing talking and listening online.

For those people who are active but lean toward the “Receiver” side, we label “Catalysts”. These are people that are able to attract significant responses (replies, likes, etc) from relatively fewer contributions. You might consider a popular blogger or tweeter as catalysts for change. It is a skill and plays an important role in energising the network and attracting new participants.

For those active participants who fall toward the “Giver” side, it infers that they make far more contributions than they gain reaction for. We further partition them into “Responders” or “Broadcasters”. We use a Posts/Reply ratio measure to partition those that mainly contribute through Replies (Responders), from those that mainly contribute through posts (Broadcasters). Responders provide value through providing visible listening to contributors. They are like the ‘care givers’ in the community. Broadcasters tend to favour posting original content over participating in conversations. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, there is likely to be other channels available for broadcasting, while the ESN should be prioritised for conversation.


For the community manager we believe that these personas can be used to characterise the overall network at a given point of time. We would envisage targets being set for Engagers (maximise), Observers (minimize), Broadcasters (limit), Catalysts and Responders (encourage). We would also encourage individuals to look at their own persona, and adjust their online behaviour toward the role they feel they are best placed to play and contribute.

We have now tested our design on several data sets. The detailed results are beyond the scope of this post and will be reported later. It is worth noting though that the overall profile make-up will change with ESN maturity and also the time period selected for assessment. With SWOOP we have already started to enable individuals to monitor these personas in real-time, enabling individuals to make adjustments as they see fit. Likewise for the community manager, it can provide an indication of trends that could be either amplified or dampened as appropriate. For consultants or advisors that assist organisations on their efforts to improve collaboration, the personas will also be a great way to target interventions where it will provide the greatest return.

So what do you think? Would you or your organisation benefit from online Persona profiling?