Make your website take the personality test

Your website is just like any other member of your team… Okay, they don’t draw salary (in quite the same way) and they don’t turn up at the Christmas party clutching half a bottle of tequila. But they represent your organisation, its products, services, values…

The question is – what type of personality have you got fronting the most important doorway and window onto your organisation’s world and what kind of job are they doing?

Here in the lab we’ve created a personality test for your website. It’s fun and easy to do but it may also reveal some interesting facts about your site and the way it represents your brand.

There are 6 possible types. Is your website an ‘aging’ rock star, ‘Pretty Woman’, the technical genius, the selling dervish, the librarian or the gardener? And what do these personality types reveal about your site?


In our PDF you can read more about each type and how these personality traits may represent themselves (and you) online. Oh and it’s totally free as well as fun.

>> The CDA Content Lab website personality test

Are you a warden or a prisoner online?

stanford cartoon

The Stanford Prison Experiment looked at what happened psychologically when you placed some people in positions of power and other’s in positions of vulnerability (wardens and prisoners). Irrespective of their previous internal moral ‘clock’ – how would they behave?

The simulation carried out by Stanford University in the summer of 1971 was ended prematurely because of the impact it had on its university participants. Those students who were given the role of prison guards showed themselves capable of brutality. The students consigned to prisoner roles became stressed and depressed (as if their confinement were real).

Stanford, and the earlier Milgram experiment conducted at Yale University, opened up interesting questions, not just about the deeper, darker side of human nature but how we behave when we assume a role, or are put into a certain situation. As psychology professor Phil Zimbardo, who led the Stanford research team, puts it: “Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behaviour, more so that we recognize or acknowledge.”

Okay, now the digital communication segue…

While I’m not suggesting that digital content ‘controllers’ will ever resort to beatings and electric shocks, there is often a divide between those who police the content and those who do not. These schisms can exist between online content commissioners / editors and content producers / authors. Or between active members of the content team and ‘the rest’. The rest being anybody in an organisation that doesn’t take an active role in web, email, digital messaging strategy, development and delivery. It can also exist between on and offline teams (marketing, editorial, brand…).

The Stanford experiment didn’t end prematurely because the research team had learnt everything there was to know, but because they became alarmed at how quickly the abuse of roles and situations occurred.

So in any situation where there is authority and lack of authority there is the opportunity for abuse.

I can’t make over entire organisational hierarchies on the basis of the above premise, but I can suggest discreet changes to the way online content oligarchies are handled. That may seem a small change but just think about the influence your online content has on your brand and therefore on how wider audiences perceive your organisation. Plus online is relatively young and still relatively fluid. In-house content processes are not set in stone. Change them while you still can.

Where to start?

Who are the content controllers and what power do they have? A healthy content process has checks and balances in place reflecting different content steers. This shouldn’t be a cumbersome process but a light matrix approach to ensure that core organisational values, the needs of marketing and sales, corporate information, plus the rigours of online execution and presentation are held in balance.

When changes are made to online process and / or presentation – a new website, extensions to email campaigns etc – who is consulted (and who isn’t)? It’s hard for people to be all fired up about the company website if the only time they’re consulted about it is retrospectively: “Oh, the new website launches in 3 weeks. We need your new page content ASAP. Did you not get the email?)

How do you regularly test the water in terms of existing content processes and how they are viewed internally? Zimbardo points out that at some stage there is a shift from what’s reasonable to what isn’t. How would you know if this shift happened within your organisation’s digital content process?

If existing online content processes and manifestations aren’t working, do people (outside any content claque) feel empowered to say ‘this isn’t working’ or ‘our new website is rubbish’? If the emperor is in the buff you need to know quickly. Online is everybody’s business.

Checks and balances

A qualitative content audit can throw up weaknesses is existing systems. It needs to be carried out by an external team (but this could involve different departments or areas of online activity critiquing each other’s work).

Content should be reviewed against organisational values and Tone of Voice, online ambition and audiences. You may want to read an earlier post on personas (I’ve popped the link at the bottom of this post). I’ll work up a personality for any site I’m reviewing (as if it was a flesh and blood member of the team). If your website sat at the next desk, would you share your sandwiches with it?

I also came up with this acronym. I think you should be answering ‘yes’ to 6 out of 9 points.

1. Can a wide range of people within your organisation suggest a digital change and / or refinement and know someone will take notice?

2. Have they got a clear idea about who to approach if something isn’t working right – broken website links, poorly coded emails, spelling mistakes online… (or know where to find out)?

3. Are new digital projects only embarked upon after a well-rounded opinion-seeking process and shared collective understanding?

4. Little digital errors (page not found, spelling errors, broken links…) rarely happen.

5. Large digital errors (website down, email campaigns producing little or no response…) rarely happen.

6. Everyone takes an interest in what rour company is doing digitally, even if they’re not actively involved.

7. No faction, department, skillset, business unit, or organisational activity feels excluded (frozen out).

8. Guards need walls. Are the processes and decisions made about how your brand is communicated online done in clear view?

9. Eyes (2), ears (2) mouth (1). Is your organisation watching and listening to what’s been done and said online rather than simply talking about it. You should watch and listen more than you speak.

Internal link

>> More about personas

>> The 7 ages of content maturity table (towards the end of this post)

Find out more about the Stanford and Milgram experiments (I’ll open these links in a new window):

>> Stanford Prison experiment website

>> The Stanley Milgram Experiment

Personas grata

The internet, the web, the online… thingy can be likened to a teenager. It’s all about peer pressure and fitting in. (I haven’t quite figured out what the internet equivalent of spots is yet, but I suspect it has something to do with your server eating 1-in-50 emails and visiting websites that want to dump 20 cookies on you before delivering up anything useful.)

Teenagers also have their own language and regularly adopt words in weird combinations in order to keep parents and other ancient adults out of the loop. Yep. Very much like the web then.

Which is why, frequently, you feel that every article, white paper and blog is running with a very limited vacabulary. Do you remember the early days when it was all ‘super highway’ this and ‘super highway’ that? It wasn’t that long ago that ‘the digital space’ became the synonym for online. If you’re you still using ‘the digital space’ I’d stop now if I were you. It’s so, like, yesterday.

So, where am I going with all this? Well, the big word is currently, in my humble opinion, ‘personas’. If you want to get down with the digital posse you need personas, brand personas, multiple personas… Your digital strategy isn’t worth doo doo unless you’ve got a few personas to back it up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love personas. CDA loves personas. In fact we’ve got a half day internal workshop about them tomorrow (which is why the subject is so front of mind). But personas are not a miracle cure. You can focus the mind wonderfully by using them but you have to ’employ’ them. It’s not enough to simply have personas on the payroll.

We always talk about your website being your most important and expensive employee. Your website probably costs more to maintain than your CEO but it would be cheap at twice the price.

How many people does you CEO meet in a year? How many times does he, or she, get to truly demonstrate what your brand is?

Your website is out there 24 hours every day, being reached by people all over the world. Hopefully it’s the living embodiment of your brand; demonstrating usefulness to everyone that comes into contact with it. If the previous description doesn’t sound like your organisation’s website, for goodness sake get a grip. You can’t have a rubbish website in the current economic climate.

Well personas should be right up there on the payroll. They should be getting great benefits packages, including top of the range medical insurance. They should have corner offices and every lunchtime the CEO should rush down to get them sushi from that great Japanese restaurant on the next block. Love your personas. But make them work hard.

If created well and treated with respect, personas bring the real world into your organisational netherspace. You can destil the key attributes of hundreds, thousands, millions of your most important users and prospects into a handful of personas. Give them names and faces. Create back stories. Breath life into them. And then AND THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT – listen to what they have to say.

Next time the head of sales (or, even worse, the CEO) goes on a jag about why the current product brochure should be put on the web in its entirety, bring out Don who runs a 3 year old SME on the west coast and has been buying your products since he started. Don recently halved the number of staff in the warehouse and is moving over to JIT. He needs another brochure like he needs a hole in the head.

Or the head of marketing has become obsessed with social networks and wants the entire business promoted in a 3 minute flash movie on MySpace. Bring in Jodie, who was recently nominated for business woman of the year and has a pathological dislike of anything that’s just fallen off the back of bandwagon.

Personas visualise your users and put a pulse behind your empirical and statistical data. You can convene them in a nanosecond and unlike focus groups they don’t need sandwiches at lunchtime, or have their opinions hijacked by a retired SAS officer called Kevin.

But personas must be real. (Okay, they aren’t really real but go with me on this one.) Because personas are so popular agencies are conjuring them up like magician’s rabbits. Abracadabra! There’s your personas. All website ills magically cured. Not.

We’ve been working with personas and feel they only earn their keep if you’ve really worked them through the scenarios that touch your business. Run a few situations. Then run some more. Do your personas stand up? The process is a bit like Second Life but not quite so dorky. That’s really what tomorrow’s workshop is going to be about – working out permutations of personas, scenarios and online positions. Creating a virtual grid that mimics the big picture. This will act as both a test environment and also a way of defining persona work for clients. I’ll let you know how we get on.