We're used to categorizing people based on their affiliation to UB: Faculty, staff, student and alumni are a few examples of this. While this may give a basic indication as to why the individual may be coming to your website, it doesn’t really tell you what information they're looking for.
Mental models, a form of ethnographic research, can help you define the behaviors of your users. Mental models identify the common needs and behaviors of our key audiences, including the underpinning philosophies and emotions behind certain actions. We have created several models that apply to our audiences here at UB.
Match seekers include prospective students and faculty members who are trying to find out if UB, or your department or unit in particular, is a good fit for them.
Prideful belongers include people like alumni who have a special bond with UB or your department and are looking to connect or reconnect. Current students, staff and faculty members are part of this group.
Active supporters, just like prideful belongers, have a special bond with UB or your department. But supporters also are actively engaged in supporting UB through volunteering, donating, special projects or initiatives based on altruistic motives – making the world, or the local community, a better place and improving the lives of others.
While our main audiences are made up of match seekers, prideful belongers and active supporters, there are two other models that are not as prevalent, but also apply to your unit or department.
Pulsetakers monitor UB’s activities and progress in general or on a specific issue or research area that is important to them. They may have an affiliation with an organization, such as prideful belongers and active supporters, and may be considering an affiliation, as a student or an employee. Pulsetakers also may have no relationship with the organization, but are passionate about a certain topic that UB is involved in.
Solution Seekers need help from UB to resolve an issue or are in need of advice. They are either in the process of finding an answer or have recently found an answer, as well as those who provide those answers.
Keep in mind that the mental models we’ve discussed are not mutually exclusive. A visitor might transcend more than one category. Also, there may be other categories of visitors to your site that fit a different profile. The point is that your content strategy – that is, the content and messages you provide, and how you organize it – should be based on an understanding of the concerns and needs of the people who visit your site.
In addition to using the mental models to help define your audience’s needs, it is important to listen to your front-line employees. Your receptionists, recruiters, administrative assistants, customer-service specialists and other front-line employees deal with your target audiences every day. They know the information your users are looking for, the questions they are asking and the advice they are seeking.
Here are a few examples of people who typically visit university websites:
Each individual who comes to your site has a reason for being there. Rather than focusing who that person is, you should be focusing on what drives them to your site - what is their motivation for being there.