Before we launched WhichWayNC.com, we first chose a name, a logo, an editorial focus and a target audience for the project.
I had never been involved with coming up with starting an entire new project before. The main challenge was that we couldn’t just develop an idea that interested us. Our project had to be something that other people would want to visit as well.
The only constraints that our producers gave to us were that the project had to take a mobile-first approach and that the content had to be about North Carolina politics.
Unfortunately, “politics” is not always a buzz word that attracts ordinary people, even though it affects most aspects of our daily lives.
With this in mind, we started thinking about which sort of people might want to look at our site. To do this, we borrowed a term from the tech world called “use cases.” Use cases are imaginary people or types of people who might use a product or visit a website. Software engineers consider use cases to try to predict which problems might arise when real people start using a product.
For example, a software designer might not realize that if you highlight a whole webpage by accident and hit enter, the browser will crash. But by thinking about what 11-year-old Emma might do when she starts using the page, they can foresee problems.
As a team, we created five use cases to represent the sort of people that we thought might be interested in our site. We gave each use case a short biography and a name.
We started with someone who is genuinely interested in politics: Poli Paul. We described him as a 40-year-old political nerd, likely to share our articles with his friends online and show off his knowledge of politics. He would also likely comment, interacting with the conversation we hoped to provoke. He would be interested in our blogs and the well-researched information we would include in articles.
Our next use case was Media Michael. He is a 28-year-old media junkie who is tech savvy and familiar with cutting-edge journalistic techniques. We thought that he would be highly critical of our journalistic skills but looking for inspiration in the things that we do. Like Poli Paul, he would be highly likely to share our work.
Another use case shared some characteristics with many North Carolina residents. Daycare Deb is a 33-year-old mother who is concerned about the stability of the economy. She is a Pinterest user who is still relatively new to social media but excited about what she’s seen so far. She owns an iPad, which might make our content appealing to her.
Because we are a student-run organization, some members of our audience might be college-age students who have heard about us on campus. The two types of students whom we thought would look at the site were an average college student with only a casual interest in politics and an activist student who prided herself on her knowledge of current issues.
We called the average college student Ambivalent Andy. He is a 22-year-old who gets all of his political information from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. So although he is slightly informed, he requires concise wording and attractive design to pry him away from a corn hole game or his Spanish homework.
Hipster Helena was our other college student. She is 20 years old and a young opinion leader. She most likely has a Tumblr page and every other kind of social media profile. She is tech-savvy and a bit of a media snob. But she uses her skills to keep up to date on the news. She is passionate about social issues and wants to know all that she can about them. She will then use this knowledge to show off how cool and informed she is.
Keeping these use cases in mind, we focused story development around ideas that would attract the kinds of people the cases represented. We also considered the use cases in choosing the site’s tagline: “We make politics personal.”
Each time we pitched a story, someone would ask, “Who is going to read this? Media Michael? Daycare Deb? Definitely not Ambivalent Andy. There isn’t anything about about beer in the story.” If a story would not appeal to any of our use cases, we eliminated it from consideration.
To me, having this mindset for every story was a new way of thinking. It was never enough that a story was specific to North Carolina, related to politics and mobile-friendly. We also had to cater to our audience of use cases.