Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Six Personas for Online Behavior

In developing personas for my own use, I went on a search for generic ones that could be adapted, and am consolidating my notes from multiple sources here.  In comparing the lists I found, there seen to be six common kinds of generic persona (and a handful of one-offs that I’m not preserving).   They are:

The Socialite

Individuals who seek to interact with others via text communication.  This can be private communication via email or text, or group communication through message boards and public posts (blogs, social media, etc.) 

The socialite may communicate as their genuine self, in a quest to find like-minded people, or they may interact disingenuously.  When they do the latter, they present a fictional self, which may be their genuine self with a few enhancements (how they wish to be perceived rather than how they are) or an entirely fictional self.   It is not who they are, but how they want to be perceived, that governs what information they share.

Because of this, it is unwise to trust a socialite or believe in what he says, as one can not be sure how much of his online “self” is a valid representation.

The Professional

Individuals who are seeking employment – whether as a permanent employee or a hired service-provider – share information about themselves with a specific objective in mind (to secure income).

While it is possible for the professional to present false credentials, this is rarely done because the consequences of discovery can be dire – the loss of employment and a tainted reputation.   However, this does not mean the online persona is entirely accurate: while outright falsehoods are rare, it is common to present only positive information, possibly with some exaggeration, and suppress anything unflattering.

While the professional tends to be honest, this persona also tends to be self-serving: their purpose of interacting with others is to get something for themselves.   Specifically, the professional will not be interested in any interaction that does not have the potential to lead to employment, career advancement, or bolstering their professional credentials toward one of those goals.

The Financier

The financier interacts with banks and financial institutions, tending to be more transparent.  It is understood that these organizations have access to records to confirm any claim, so making false claims is of little use. 

And, as with the professional, the discovery of false claims can have devastating consequences, so the financier may be selective in providing information or exaggerate to some degree, but most are honest in their financial communications.   Exaggeration may occur, but to a lesser degree and with plausible deniability.

The exception is those financiers who communicate with other people rather than financial institutions.  Often, they tend to see finance as a competitive game, and believe that they can “win” by causing others to “lose.”   Hence the conversation among customers on financial sites is untrustworthy: some people are clearly attempting to mislead others for their own financial gain, or to harm others to "beat" them in what is perceived to be a contest.

The Citizen

The citizen is an individual who expresses political and religious beliefs.  They may be seeking like-minded individuals, or they may be attempting to promulgate their world-view for others to accept or, at the very least, to contribute to the causes they espouse.

Citizens tend to be very clandestine about their personal identities – holding “the wrong” opinions can be detrimental to their social interactions, including their employment.   A person may safely communicate their genuine ideas when hiding behind a false persona, and will seldom be entirely honest about political/religious matters when communicating under their genuine identity.

In terms of honesty, the citizen communicates the truth “as he sees it.”  He may be ill-informed or employee specious logic, but most citizens genuinely believe the things they say to others online - though it is possible to adopt the manner of the citizen in an attempt to defraud others.

Some sources suggest a "miscreant" type of persona, who poses as a citizen but does not honestly espouse the beliefs they promulgate.   They are simply trolls, who delight in creating conflict and drama and do not have any genuine interest.   My sense is that such people may be considered to be a subcategory of "socialite," though "anti-socialite" might be a better term.

The Patient

The patient is an individual who seeks self-help information online, usually of a medical or health nature.  When communicating with experts (medical institutions, health insurers, etc.) they are largely honest – but there may be some deception, either to hide unflattering information or to gain access to more than they are entitled.

The patient represents an embodiment of needs – those that give care to patients are acting in a different capacity when offering information and advice (the professional or the citizen personas, generally).

The patient is also goal-focused, like the financier: he is seeking help with a particular topic and is not interested in interactions that do not serve his needs.

Those who seek practical information of a non-medical nature (for example, someone who needs help or advice for repairing their computer, finding a service provider, etc.) also fall under the "patient" category - the defining characteristic is not the topic, but the need for advice and assistance.

The Consumer

When purchasing online, consumers generally interact with merchants, and do so in an honest manner in regard to their needs – because giving an accurate representation of need is critical to finding a solution that will address them – but they may not be as honest about their finances, as they wish to appear less capable to pay in order to pay less (or to avoid being overcharged, at best).

The consumer, like the patient, is a person in need – when advocating for products to other consumers, they are acting as a professional or a citizen, with the same cautions and limitations.   General advocacy tends to be more trustworthy, but is often tainted by narcissism – the advocate is often justifying his own decision regardless of the functional outcome rather than evaluating it objectively.

The customer is goal-focused: he is seeking help with a particular need and has little interest in interactions that do not lead to the solution of his needs.


This six personas relate more to behavior than to people – a single individual may act in different personas at different times depending on their needs and interests at the time.

It also occurs to me that there is a great deal of overlap in these personas, and that they might be better schematized according to goal – the underlying motive for which a person is seeking to interact with others.   So I may need to reconsider this altogether – but for now, this seems adequate and helpful.

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